Here’s a trick: if you want to design a kickass flag, start by drawing a one-by-one-and-a half inch rectangle on a piece of paper.
A design at these dimensions held 15 inches from your eye looks about the same as a three-by-five foot flag on a flagpole a hundred feet away.
Your design has to work within that tiny rectangle, because unlike other designed objects, a flag is usually seen at a distance. It is also often in motion and partially obscured.
Given those limitations, it’s surprising how simple and compelling.
Vexillologists — those who study flags — tend to fall into one of two schools of thought. The first is one that focuses on history, category, and usage, and maintains that vexillologists should be scholars and historians of all flags, regardless of their designs.
The other school of vexillology, however, maintains that not all flags are created equal, and that flags can and should be redesigned, and improved.
Ted Kaye of the Portland Flag Association — the largest subnational flag organization in the country — is one such vexillologist. Kaye has a word for these activist vexillologists of his ilk who go out into the world and lobby for more beautiful flags: “vexillonaires.”
You’ll remember from episode #6 that the principles of flag design, according to the North American Vexillological Association, are:
- Keep it simple
- Use meaningful symbolism
- Use two to three basic colors
- No lettering or seals of any kind.
- Be distinctive
For some reason, cities of the United States seem to have a lot of trouble with principle #4.
The city of Portland, Oregon, didn’t have an official flag until 1969, when a group proposed a flag to the commercial club of portland. Portland’s mayor at the time brought in the Portland Arts Commission, which brought in local graphic designer Doug Lynch to work on the flag. Lynch asked the stakeholders what was important to them in a flag, and also did his own search for powerful visual imagery for the city.
Lynch came up with an abstract flag design, with blue lines representing the Columbia and Williamette rivers, bordered by stripes of gold representing commerce or grain growing along the rivers, all flowing into a white four-pointed star representing the city. The background color, green, represents the forests.
The city council took Lynch’s flag design and plopped a city seal on it. The flag was rarely flown.
Nearly thirty years later, Doug Lynch, then in his mid-eighties, went to a meeting of the Portland Flag Association. Lynch explained the story of his botched flag to the gathering of vexillologists. At the end of the presentation, Lynch talked all about the changes he wanted to make to the flag (including taking the seal off), and regretted that there was nothing he could do about it.
The vexillologists — nay, vexillonaires — sprang into action. This elite team of historians, manufacturers, and designers agreed to come together on behalf of fixing Portland’s flag. They went to Portland city council and testified on the flag’s behalf. The new/old flag was adopted a week later, and it’s been representing Portland ever since.
Roman Mars spoke with vexillologist and vexillonaire Ted Kaye at his home in Portland. When Roman arrived, he found that Ted had flown the San Francisco flag in Roman’s honor, because that’s what kind of guy Ted Kaye is.
I’m totally digging the updated Portland map. Thank goodness justice was served ;)
I thought Wisconsin’s was already bad. I shouldn’t have looked up Milwaukee’s http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/71/Flag_of_Milwaukee,_Wisconsin.svg/800px-Flag_of_Milwaukee,_Wisconsin.svg.png
On the other hand, Madison, Wis. has the 11th best city flag! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Madison,_Wisconsin
New Zealand is in the process of discussing a new flag, some of the proposals are pretty terrible…. help! Scroll to the bottom
After listening to this great episode I looked up the flag of my city (Louisville, KY). Imagine my dismay when I learned that in the very same year that the city’s flag was ranked as the 9th best in the country they changed their elegant, simple, and beautiful design to a seal-tastic monstrosity. I’m so depressed.
Denver beats even Chicago…..
The City of Orlando’s flag is pretty awful: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/41/Flag_of_Orlando,_Florida.png
Grand Rapids has a pretty kick-butt flag! A little shocked it was ranked 105th, but glad it hasn’t shown up anywhere on the “awful” list.
After finishing this podcast the only thing running through my mind was that 99pi need there own flag. Maybe through a design competition through a site such as 99designs?
Here’s a Connection between this episode and one of my other 99pi episodes http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_flag_debate#/image/File:Koru_flag.svg
*one of my other [favorite] episodes.
Kind of digger Denver’s flag: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Denver#mediaviewer/File:Flag_of_Denver,_Colorado.svg
Had to look up the Seattle flag after finishing the episode. It’s actually quite pretty except for the dumb letters messing up the center of it! :(
Hm, the Google Maps icon seems to have recently changed (I just noticed it). It now looks more like the Portland flag.
Coincedence? You Decide!
Splendid enough flag, but why is the cross oh-so-slightly off-centre?
Isn’t the flag in the cover image being flown upside down?
Indeed it is!
I like the Hundertwasser NZ flag! Probably a little too kicky and not Union-Jack-y enough to get chosen though…
That same photo (as cover image) appears on Wikipedia and is marked “(seen from back)”.
That doesn’t explain it: the green square should still be on top next to the flag pole. The flag really is upside down.
Eeww, Sam and Vera, two of the worst mayors Portland has had. I can’t say I’ve ever seen the flag, but now it will only serve as a reminder.
The Sardinian flag seems to contravene all rule, still, I think it’s one of the best *ever* and I’m not just saying so because I am Sardinian: who wouldn’t want a pirate flag? Have a look
I can’t resist showing off the Scarborough flag here, because it’s awesome… even though Scarborough (a suburb of Toronto) isn’t actually a proper free-standing city anymore:
The cliffs in the flag are a defining geographic feature, kind of like a scaled-down version of the white cliffs of Dover.
It’s also neat because it has a strong cohesiveness with the Toronto flag:
Toronto’s is clever because the white lines suggest the distinctive shape of (new) City Hall, and also form the letter “T”.
Maybe the prominent maple leaf in both of these flags is a bit on-the-nose, but hey.
I live in Durham, North Carolina, and I love our city flag. Not only is it bright and distinguishable at a distance, it’s mainly displayed in a cool vertical format:
“The City Flag was created by designer Al Nichols who was the winner of a flag contest held by the City of Durham. The simple, yet bold flag communicates the “New Spirit” of Durham.
“The flag’s colors represent the following:
Royal Blue – courage
Red – action and progress
Gold – high quality in all growth
White – high ideals
“The Seven Stars on Durham’s city flag are symbolic of the New Spirit of Durham in seven areas:
the arts, commerce and industry; education; medicine, human relations; sports and recreation, and the preservation of Durham’s rich heritage. Also Durham’s birthday, April 26th, is under the constellation of Taurus, The Bull. A cluster of seven stars is located on the shoulder of the bull and is called the “Seven Sisters” or the Pleiades in Taurus.”
I love Durham’s flag too! One of my favorite flags in the country. Sadly, Chapel Hill and especially Raleigh have pretty bad flags (not a fan of NC’s either but I doubt it will ever change… it never has). I hope to see these cities put some effort into their flags in the future. Having a good flag can be a source of civic pride, for cities like Chicago and Washington DC.
Seattle’s isn’t so good, but I think it has potential.
Replacing what’s currently inside the “wreath” with something simple might do the trick, although maybe it’d still be too busy. But if nothing else, I like how unique it is.
Like many listening to this stream, I decided to look up my city’s flag. I never see it around so I wasn’t expecting much.
It is truly hideous. -_-
Oh, you’re in Boise as well? I agree, the flag for the City of Trees isn’t all that great.
go dc! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_the_District_of_Columbia
people love our flag so much its a popular tattoo.
i generally agree with the point about not including seals, with one distinct exception:
Of course, it was designed by a architect during the cities art deco building boom.
What music was used in this episode?
The South African flag is, to my eye, exceptionally beautiful – and it uses more than 3 colors.
I agree with regard to South Africa’s flag. I would call these sensible guidelines rather than rules. And aside from having six colors, it follows the other guidelines in being simple yet distinctive.
St Louis has one of the classiest flags among US cities I think.
I totally agree regarding the South Africa’s flag! Although my favorite flags is, without question, the Sami flag, used by sami people in Norway, Sweden and Finland….simple, meaningful and beautiful:
The ultimate test for how well designed a city’s flag is, is if the local sports teams implements the flag into its logo. The two best examples of this is Washington DC (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/2/2d/Washington_Capitals.svg/1280px-Washington_Capitals.svg.png) and Philadelphia (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/3/3e/Philadelphia_Union_2010.svg/1024px-Philadelphia_Union_2010.svg.png)
Like a colorful little off-center swastika.
Roman, while Maryland’s flag doesn’t follow many of the basic rules for good flag design, it’s incredibly captivating and easily recognizable. What are your thoughts?
City of Toronto flag… Follows the rules and looking good! If you’re not familiar with Toronto the shapes represent both the shape of New City Hall and the letter T.
Inspired by flags, but also mostly by this episode, I created a Twitter account just for posting updates about flags and other vexillological topics: https://twitter.com/FlagsForDays Hope you like it!
I was inspired by this episode and the other flag design episode to tackle my city’s flag. Here’s my redesign of the city of Saint Paul’s flag: https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-YUq7mS7-49c/Vhh4A-MeLUI/AAAAAAAAh3k/VUwtpyNsWWo/w900-h600-no/StP.png
I was inspired by this episode and the other flag design episode to tackle my city’s flag. Here’s my redesign of the city of Saint Paul’s flag:
There’s a citizen-backed effort to change the flag in Dallas, Texas. Check it out! http://centraltrack.com/Culture/8414/Full-Mast-/A-Proponent-For-A-New-Dallas-Flag-Hopes-To-Force-The-Citys-Hand-With-A-CrowdFunding-Campaign
Here is a sad case of going from great to bad. I was always proud of the Des Moines flag until they changed it in 2009.
Old Flag https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Des_Moines,_Iowa#/media/File:Flag_of_Des_Moines,_Iowa.svg