Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Thoughts About Flags

I watched a fascinating TED Talk the other day by Roman Mars titled "Why City Flags May Be the Worst-Designed Thing You've Never Noticed."

Chances are that you, like me, have never given flags much thought beyond saluting Old Glory when the national anthem is played, but there's actually an area of study called vexillology, the scientific study of flags and related symbols. Who knew?

Mr Mars' TED Talk describes how terribly designed most flags are at the city, as opposed to the national level, starting with the five principles of flag design:

1. Keep it simple (so that it catches the eye without overwhelming the viewer with details); 

2. Use meaningful symbols (that viewers will understand and relate to);

3. Use two or three primary colors (to keep it bright and visible without being "busy");

4. Use no lettering or seals (because they can't be read at the distance from which we usually view flags); and,

5. Be distinctive (so that viewers will recognize it immediately).

The city flag of Washington, DC, is - according to these principles -  an excellent flag ...

It has two colors, no lettering or seals*, and is simple and distinctive. It's symbolism is meaningful, being based on the coat of arms of George Washington, without the lettering or seals ...

Now, all this talk about flags has gotten me to thinking about our own Star-Spangled Banner, Old Glory. How does it shape up with the principles of flag design?

It's simple, just stars and stripes, and it uses meaningful symbols - 13 alternating red and white stripes for the 13 original states, plus 50 stars representing the current 50 states of the union. It uses three bright primary colors, has no lettering or complex seals not readable from a distance, and is distinctive without being gaudy. As flags go, it's a good one, and it looks great floating in the breeze against a blue sky.

But has it stood the test of time? Is it still meaningful, or does it need to be updated for an America that Betsy Ross never imagined? As you might suspect, I have a proposal for an update ...

First of all, I think the colors need changing ... nowadays a lot of people think we put too much emphasis on white, and we don't like to think of the violence and spilled blood that red represents. And because our country and its reputation have taken some pretty hard knocks in the last decade or so, I propose we change the basic colors to black and blue.

We can keep the stars, because stars are great symbols ... but one for each state is too many. My new flag keeps 13 stars - one for each of the original 13 states - and scatters them willy-nilly across the face of the flag to indicate that the states object to being ordered around by the federal government, and are always trying to go their own ways. And finally, because we need a symbol with deep and mystical meaning to modern Americans, I've added a pair of crossed AR-15 assault rifles.

That's my proposal for a new American flag. It's simple, uses meaningful symbols, has three colors appropriate to today's America, uses no extraneous lettering or seals that can't be seen from a distance, and is distinctive.

So what do you think? Leave a vexillatious** comment right now, before your interest ... flags. And if you'd rather consider coats of arms instead of flags, go back and read my March 2009 post in which I designed my own coat of arms.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* There was a bill before the DC Council a while back to add the words "Taxation without Representation" to the DC flag as a protest against the District's lack of representation in Congress. The Council approved the bill, but the mayor never signed it. "Taxation without Representation" was later added to the license plates of cars registered in DC.

** I made that up.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

1. Many of the city or state flags simply use the state seal against a blue background. Too busy.
2. The black and blue flag is fitting (sadly), but why the original 13 stars?
3. Could one of the NASCAR-loving states simply use a checkered flag?

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Minnesota made the hit list, according to a prof in Wisconsin:

Mike said...

So you got me looking at flags and I found out that St. Louis County doesn't have a flag. I may have to fix that.