363. State Flag Revisions: Arizona
Dec 16, 2011 at 05:49PM

One of my favorite places in the world, Sedona, AZ. (Photographer unknown.)Now, here's the first state we've come to in which I've actually lived. Better than that, I worked at an agency, Moses Anshell, whose client was the Arizona Office of Tourism. Having more than three years under my belt, traveling all around the state, I feel confident that I can make a solid improvement over the current state flag.

Let's talk about that current Arizona flag for a bit. No kidding and oh so appropriately, you can trace the origins of this banner to a rifle match. Yup, a 1910 National Rifle Match in Ohio. As the story goes, the Arizonan contingent noticed that most of the other state representatives had flags under which they competed. They, at that point, did not. But you better believe that by the 1911 National Rifle Match, there was going to be an Arizona Flag. You see, no self-respecting group of Arizona men will stand for being out done by any measure. So during that year, team captain and Arizona National Guard Colonel, Charles Wilfred Harris, worked with Carl Hayden (Arizona's first Congressional representative) and drew up plans for a flag. Hayden's wife actually sewed the flag and it was carried—as planned—for the first time at the 1911 National Rifle Match. According to Wikipedia, Rachael Berry, a suffragist and the first woman elected to the State Legislator in Arizona in 1910 (Arizona's first year as a state) also is reported to have co-designed the Arizona flag, most likely with Mrs. Hayden.

The flag consists of a sunrise—itself comprised of 13 red and gold stripes that represent the original thirteen colonies—a centered copper star, and a bottom field of blue. The red and blue was determined to be the same official colors as the United States flag. Oddly enough, there is no official breakdown for the gold or copper and that's why when you travel around Arizona none of the signs or flags or logos of the state look the same. One person's copper is the next person's orange. Or brown.

The Current Arizona State Flag:

Here's the interesting part. The flag was officially adopted in February 17, 1917, despite a large group of dissenters. The Governor at that time, Thomas E. Campbell, even went as far as refusing to sign the bill. So, as far as I know at this point, it's the only flag to have been adopted without the signature of the acting governor. 

She's not a horrible flag, but personally I find that the red and gold, plus the copper and blue fight each other visually. And even though I like the idea of a metal element being represented, stars are way over done in the flags and we're going to remove them whenever possible. At least stars of the five-point variety. They seldom have a reason for being other than maybe to pull from the US flag. The biggest flaw in the flag is that it doesn't really represent any of the unique and interesting things about the state; of which there are many. I want an Arizona flag that really stands out and when looking at the collective 50 for someone to be able to point and pick it out without a doubt. "Darn straight, that's the Arizona State Flag.

Now, here's the major discovery of this project to date. In 2001, Arizona's flag was voted as 1 of the 10 best flags on the continent (say what?) by the North American Vexillological Association (say what what?). First of all, what the heck does Vexillological mean you ask? Vexillology is the study of flags, apparently, which is cool because that's kind of what we're doing right now. And we now have a word for it, even if we never remember to use it. This, um, group ranked Arizona 6 out of 72 North American flags on the basis of design and quality. No word on how they quantified quality, but here's the top and bottom performers according to their standards. 

Of course, the North American Vexillological Association has a flag too:

The fact that this organization exists blows my mind. They have a national conference every year and pursue the scientific study of flags by promoting and publishing all sorts of flag-related cooperation. You can check out their website and even join, for a mere $40. And because we're trying to be thorough here, I've found a book they've published called, Good Flag, Bad Flag—How to Design a Great Flag. Well, shoot, let's take a look inside. Here are their rules on how to design a flag. Perhaps, I should straighten up and pay attention.

The 5 Basic Principles of Flag Design:

Amazing, am I wrong? See what happens when you start digging around, behind the history of things? Any way, I'm pretty stoked that this organization exists. Can't wait to crash their next conference.

Getting back to the task at hand, we need to figure out what we're going to do to Arizona's flag, even though it scored so well in NAVA's rankings. I'll have to dissent on that one, much like former Governor Campbell. The State can do much better. And we will.

Arizona offers a lot of visual imagery from which to choose as potential flag elements.

  1. Saguaros. Even though you can find them in a small part of California, Mexico and New Mexico, this cactus thrives in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and comprises one of the view vistas that I have personally seen that has taken my breath away. I highly suggest a trip to the Saguaro National Forest. It is truly a remarkable experience. The only problem with them as an icon, they're used to death. I personally had to put them on more pieces of collateral than I can count.
  2. Monument Valley. It's true that Utah has some amazing views of this national treasure; a lot of the best views are from the Arizona side of the border. And compared to anything else found around the country, it quite possibly could be the foundation to a flag design. Perhaps.
  3. The Grand Canyon. Now, here's one thing that Arizona definitely takes pride in, however, it would be very difficult to represent graphically since it's basically a huge hole. (Another life-changing experience, absolutely, but visually it's difficult to represent. But you should absolutely see it at least once in your life.) The best part about The Grand Canyon is the scale and that is something very difficult to render adequately for our purposes. There probably is a way to pull this off, but it would take some serious work. I'm trying to keep these redesigns executable within an hour or two or ten. 
  4. Petroglyphs. Definitely a possibility.
  5. Kokopellis are an option to consider, however tacky two-cent tourism traps sell a whole bunch of crap that takes the form of kokopellis. Usually they're made in China and not by any Native American. (Something to look out for when traveling in the southwestern United States. Do yourself a favor and find the authentic tribal shops.)
  6. A wide variety of flora and fauna could be used as well. 
  7. Mining and cowboy-related history could potentially be reflected in the design, but it could be argued that other states own that more. 
  8. Some cool facts about Arizona: it has more designated tribal land than any other state, the oldest known Native American settlement, it's the unofficial hummingbird capital of the US, and has the world's oldest Rodeo located in Prescott since 1888. 

In short, there is no shortage of symbols. However, if you check out the tourism department's mission on the Arizona state government site, it says that its job is to promote Inspiring Unforgettable Southwest Moments. And I think we'd do well to communicate that southwestern vibe in the state's flag. Of course, we're not designing a logo—which can be a bit more complex—we're looking for a set of colors, iconography and other elements that will let someone know from where this flag comes; at a moment's glance. 

A good example of this can be found in Arizona's major city, Phoenix. I wanted to remember to post the City of Phoenix's flag, because I actually think it's a pretty good example of a nice municipal banner. It's simple, clean, uses a color that you're not used to seeing in flag, and ultimately conveys the city almost immediately with no words. Sure, there are some lines and forms within the bird phoenix that could be cleaned up, but it's still a nice example.  In case you were wondering, as was I, the City of Phoenix flag ranked 4th behind DC, Chicago and Denver in Nava's city rankings. Should have been higher. This is the kind of simplicity that I'm shooting for, for the state flag. 

I wanted to go back and look at the petroglyphs, which can be found all over Arizona but specifically the Hohokam and Petayan work at the Painted Rock site, with 800 unique carvings. There are animal, human, element and carvings of undeterminable origin. All, in a weird way, exactly the type of graphic you'd want on a flag. They can be found all over the southwest, well preserved by the climate, but also all over North America wherever native peoples took to carving on rock. There is something about them however that directs your mind towards the southwest, good for our purposes. 

Painted Rock Petroglyphs:

Here's a National Geographic video about the Petroglyphs in the Verde Valley:


Perhaps my favorite (though useless in flag-terms) petroglyph yet:

So after looking at the petroglyphs there does emerge one symbol in particular that might work for the Arizona flag; that of the sun. You'll see it take many different forms, but all easily recognizable. And a case could be made for Arizona owning the sun as a symbol, or at least sharing it, more than any other state. Florida and maybe even California could stake a claim, but they have other qualities that would win out for their flags, so we might be on to something here. Something native, something warm, and something symbolic. Of course, New Mexico, Arizona's neighbor, uses a sun in their flag, so we'll have to make sure we stay away from it in terms of the final look. I'm okay with neighboring states sharing some meaning, if it makes sense. Now that I think about it, the two states share a lot of things in common, so maybe their flags could be related too. We'll have to work on keeping them distinct, however. 

The Sun Petroglyph Recreation at Painted Rock:

I sketched over a few more sun petroglyphs as well:


I know one thing for sure, as demonstrated nicely in the above image of the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site signs, I want to use copper, or at least a copper color in the flag for sure. You see it in the landscape and it's a mineral that played a large part in the state's history. The color even shows itself in the architecture, both modern and also at the rusting mining towns strewn all over Arizona. Even the red rocks of Sedona, are actually more copper colored because what we see as red is really the iron oxide on the surface of the rocks rusting due to the moisture in the air. Not exactly copper, but close enough to hone in on an official color. 

As a matter of fact, if I had to put together a mood-board for the color palette it would look something like this: A little bit of the open road, a little bit of the unique landscape, and a little bit of modernity. 

Color Palette Arizona Flag Mood Board. 

So, a case could be made that we're taking two things from the current flag. The copper focal point and the sun, but we're putting a twist on those two elements to make them more Arizonan in nature. I didn't intend for that to be the case coming into this project, as I was determined to throw out everything with this particular flag. That being said, I do like having a foot in the past, even if it's not obvious. Putting all of this together, here's what I've come up with for the new Arizona flag. 

The 2012 Arizona State Flag.

So let me explain. I've used copper as the field color for two reasons: 1. It's rarely used in flags. 2. It's prevalent in Arizona like I mentioned above. The other colors represent the sun and the turquoise dots represent the 21 federally recognized Native American tribes that call Arizona home. The icon itself is a combination of two petroglyphs found on actual rocks in the state, an ancient symbol for the sun, which of course is a star as well. I think we've done pretty well here. And we avoided using the saguaro, which would have worked, except everyone in Arizona would have made a collective sigh and rightfully so. Onto Arkansas, friends. 

Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.