99% Invisible at TED

I’m really excited to share with you the TED Talk I gave earlier this year at the main TED conference in Vancouver.

It was so much fun to be on stage and I was so pleased the organizers encouraged me to perform the talk in the style of the radio show. I even got to sneak in a “This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.”

The talk is ostensibly about the graphic design of flags, but it’s really about using the “rules” of flag design to evaluate all forms of design and the connection between design and civic pride.

I hope you enjoy it and please share it with your friends!

There are plenty of people who aren’t inclined to listen to a podcast, but this video might get them hooked.

Want to get involved in a SF Flag redesign? Autodesk and 99pi want to keep in touch with you. Go to San Francisco Flag and sign up!

Comments (41)

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  1. Matthew Hicks

    Great presentation! I shared on FB also. This really made the episode about flags come to life.

  2. Absolutely wonderful, Roman! The first time I could “hear an episode” without having to pause my iPod to run to my laptop to pull up the epi-show notes.

  3. sunil shahi

    Wow that was awesome. Really enjoyed it.

    However, I was hoping that you would talk about Nepalese Flag. Really wanted to hear your thoughts on it.

  4. James

    It was great to see how portable you are. What is the iPad app that you used for the soundboard?

  5. Kieren

    Fantastic TED talk, absolutely loved it! And thanks for the mention on the South African flag, it is a beauty.

  6. Thanks for the video! I adore the terrible designs you highlighted. We in New Zealand are running a flag design competition, and bad designs are in abundance. I’d be interested in your opinion of our options, actually.

  7. Brandon

    This is quite the supplement/companion to your vexillology podcast. I love it so much now that you’ve put it as a symbol of civic pride on the city level. I’m always asking myself this question of how we can start to concentrate on the smaller things in life…

  8. Nice to actually put a face to that voice for once!
    I tried to look up my city flag and it is quite the vexillological oddity. Turns out the technically correct way to say “Pensacola Fl” in flag is to display a set of five different governance flags.

    Pensacola Has ruled by quite a few countries since it was founded earning it the tag line “City of five flags” Most government buildings display a Spanish (Isabella and Ferdinand personal flag) , French (kings flag, not national), British, Confederate (Stars and bars, it used to be the battle flag but that changed recently to much controversy) and United States Flag. Fortunately no one ever uses the official flag itself, which is all five of those stuck together.

  9. Roman, you probably can’t see it, but I’m usually giving you a standing ovation at the end of every 99PI episode I listen to. It’s usually in the form a big stupid grin as I’m driving to work in the morning.
    Your work is now inspiring me with my own podcasting project (in the midst of its initial production preparation). Instead of a straight-up interview with the organization’s leader, it will also combine on-site interviews and soundbites by others who are involved and influenced in the organization.
    Thank You! (cue the applause)

  10. Frank

    Firstly, excellent TED talk. Secondly, the New Zealand government is holding a referendum on our flag. No one is really too sure why. The biggest complaint about the current one seems to be that ‘it looks too much like Australia’s’ which is maybe a fair point. But then again, we have the same heritage as Australia, the same general global location and very similar cultural values. It’s no surprise our flags look the same, I happen to like it and I’d stand by it as an excellent symbol of our country. What do you think?

  11. Wonderful presentation! Like you said, some people are sensitive about flags. You did a great job to take a sensitive topic and make it light-hearted yet brings your valuable points across :)

  12. Can anyone direct me to a comprehensive explanation of what all the different elements of Milwaukee’s flag mean? I can’t seem to find this info. Most especially, I want to know about the element in the upper-right quadrant in the central gear – the one that looks like a man in a flying saucer with a genie lamp on it. I don’t even have any guesses about what this element might mean…

  13. Bryony

    The only episodes I listen to (of 99% Invisible) is if Roman Mars is speaking for most of the show. Anne Hepburn (or Ann Heppermann?) and others have such piercing voices compared to Roman’s. I wish they would let him cover every single episode! He has the most beautiful voice on the planet.

  14. Javier

    Hi Roman, I’m a huge fan of the podcast and was really glad to see the TED talk. I was really curious to see how you organized your talk, would you mind going through the process sometime? What do you have of the printed pages? What App did you use for the sound bits? Greetings from Mexico and thanks!

  15. Seriously? Five rules? I’m addicted to this 99% and I appreciate everything you’re saying. But there’s something simplistic about this critique. These five rules seem to suggest that all flags should be an exercise in minimalism. Yet the overwhelming variety of flags, many of which are richly illustrative, is why flags are fun. And have a rich history. At least give examples of the flags that use illustrative assets (and even include text) but are still cool as hell. Mexico. Brazil. California. Yaroslavl Oblast (so cool). Uganda. The original “DON’T TREAD ON ME” flag, Saudi Arabia. Some of these don’t follow even one of the five rules… but they’re all a delight.

  16. That was so good Roman. Nicely done. I love the fact that you posted this rally cry to fight the good fight on what would be the 90 b-day of Malcolm X. “Good flags. By any means necessary.” Ha!

  17. William Solberg

    Thanks for this lesson. But I find your appreciation for you example flags a bit off-putting. To wit, I find the colors and images hitting my senses as overly aggressive and mean looking. Why can’t a flag look more friendly?

  18. Tim Jaques

    I agree with the premise of this talk about ugly flags, names, seals, tiny little people and animals, etc, but I like the San Francisco flag. It has a genuine retro look to it I find appealing. I wouldn’t change it. On the other hand, i find Chicago’s flag, which is praised up here, looks like the flag of a banana republic. And while you praise the Canadian flag, as a Canadian I’d have prefered if in 1965 they’d have gone for blue instead of red borders, to represent the oceans.

  19. This TED talk helped energize a movement to redesign Milwaukee’s flag! There have been over 1000 submissions from the public, and I’m honored that my flag design is one of the 5 finalists up for vote. You can learn more about the symbolism in my flag design here: http://robertlenz.com/mkeflag – and don’t forget to vote! Milwaukee is a great city that deserves a truly great flag!

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