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Saturday
Jan142012

371. State Flag Revisions: Delaware.

Delaware. Where do I begin? My only experience with Delaware was going with my brother to a Nascar race for a few consecutive years in Dover. To get there, it seemed liked you had to drive for days through rural farmland which of course isn't true. You could drive the length of Delaware in a few hours, easily, it being the second smallest state in the union. (96 miles in length.) I also know that Wilmington—a city pretty darn close to Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey— sends out a lot of bank junk mail, since it's a major financial hub. Discover, I'm looking at you. One more thing, I remember in Wayne's World both Wayne and Garth had trouble figuring out what Delaware stood for as well. 

Wayne's World Chroma-key Delaware Clip:

Delaware was originally settled by the Dutch. Well, not exactly, it was originally settled by the Lenape and Nanticoke tribes then settled by the Dutch in the 16th century. The first state we've come to of the original 13 Colonies, Delaware had a state seal all the way back in 1777 and ten years later became the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States. 

The current Delaware state flag features the original seal, set in a 'buff-colored' diamond, itself sitting in the middle of a colonial blue field. Those colors were chosen to represent a uniform worn by then General, George Washington. The seal, basically a coat of arms, is quite the busy design featuring two figures ( a farmer and a soldier) along with other occupational symbols for shipping, hunting and cattle ranching split into the three sections, one for each county. The words, liberty and independence, are written on a banner at the bottom of the figures' feet. 200 years earlier those words probably had more urgency to them, though I'd argue they're more important than ever. 

The Delaware State Seal / Coat of Arms:

Interesting note about the seal and a few details that don't show up on the flag. The seal has three years listed on the bottom. Originally, they were 1793, 1847, and 1907—all years when the design of the seal was altered. In June of 2004, a bunch of sixth graders got together and decided that these years were not significant and should be replace with the years 1704, 1776, and 1787. The year that Delaware established it's first General Assembly, the year The Colonies declared independence from the British of course, and the year that Delaware become the first state, respectively. Eventually, the students from Bayard Elementary School took that idea to the Legislative Hall in Dover. One by one they stated their case and by the end of the day their bill had passed unanimously. Incidentally, the student credited with leading the cause, Yaxier Torres, just graduated from Smyrna High School, in Smyrna Delaware. And because the internet is crazy, here's what his class predicted for his future, "Yaxier Torres will join the 6th season of the hit reality show The New Jersey Shore via the channel called Musical Television and then be kicked off because he isn’t really from New Jersey; but that’s okay because he’ll marry his fellow cast member who goes by the alias “Snooki.” Kids. 

Seen here at the Smryna High School Prom, themed—When in Rome, is Torres. Again, this is why the Internet can be a dangerous thing. 

Thank Yaxier Torres the next time you see him: (He's first on the left.)

Anyway, back to the flag. The seal, without the years and the words set on the perimeter, makes up the primary element on the flag. There's enough symbolism here for ten flags and since one of the main things this project has set to correct, are all the blue flags with state seals. Something has to give. This flag was literally designed by committee, established to design a flag for the state in what I'm calling the Great Flag Rush of the US States, 1911-1913. You won't learn about this in school though. 

The Delaware State Flag:

Like a lot of the flags we've visited so far, there is a huge amount of variation from flag to flag. The standards are so loose that you can really end up with two flags that look only vaguely similar. Just so you know, here's the entirety of the flag bill. 

Tuesday
Jan032012

369. Ad Trends 2. Turning Something Good into Something Bad. 

Sometimes the industry in which you work can really trouble you. Advertising might do this more than most, though I'd argue that only 10% of any craft or business is exceptional, maybe even less than that. It's just simple mathematics that the other 90-95% shines a mediocre (or bad) light on everyone else, even the folks trying to do things right.

Increasingly, advertising is borrowing from stuff found on the Internet. This isn't necessarily new or troubling in itself, as advertising has always co-opted current events or the zeitgeist to connect with the public and in some way share something about their product. However, I would argue that this borrowing is becoming increasingly blatant. At times with good results, where the advertising actually adds something to the on-going conversation surrounding the 'viral' or meme work. Oftentimes, however the results are absolutely terrible and I think the bad results are starting to outnumber the good. Or maybe I just got up on the wrong side of 2012. I'm not sure, which.

Now, this example I'm going to show below isn't the worst offender, by any stretch, but it does illustrate something that is actually kind of embarrassing for the rest of us that work in this business. You start with something funny, artistic, and relevant to what's going on in the world... and spend thousands (probably a few hundred thousand) to turn it into crap. I hate using that word, but it's entirely accurate. I feel like I have to explain to my friends, that no, advertising isn't always this easy or bad, after seeing this series of spots run over the holidays. I know there are a million ways an ad campaign goes bad, but if you are going to take something created by someone else, and use it for your own purposes, it should at least be as good as the original. That's the starting point. Anything below that is failure. 

It was in mid-2011 that Fog and Smog, a rapping duo from LA and SF respectively, dropped "Whole Foods Parking Lot" on the world. It had great production value, and even though it featured suburban-looking white dudes rapping (a least favorite thing I would be hard pressed to find); it was pretty good. Good partly because it was self-aware and self-referential to all the bad, white rapping viral videos out there, but also because it struck a chord with people who have found themselves in a Whole Foods parking lot, or jamming into an aisle at Trader Joe's. The parking lot in the video, I actually have been to, and it does in fact 'get real' there. Maybe the toughest parking search ever, and inside is ridiculous. (The corner of Rose and Lincoln in Venice, btw.)

Just in case you were stuck under a boulder:

So, even though not entirely an original setup — it speaks about a truth. A small first-world truth, but that's what makes it funny. Fast forward to the recent Holiday Car Ad Extravaganza Season, and Hyundai (and the agency presumably) pay Fog & Smog to star in their car ads. Up to this point there is no problem here, really. Except for maybe the fact that the original spot featured quite predominantly a competitor's car, the Toyota Prius. Toyota using these guys would have made much more sense and quite honestly, they dropped the ball by not doing so. Even Whole Foods, to show that they have a sense of humor, could have done something with it. But I'm okay with the rappers, a term I'm using loosely here lest I lose any credibility in my neighborhood, taking the opportunity to cash-in on something they did originally to gain some kind of exposure in the first place. I don't consider it selling out, if you never really stood for the opposite. They deserved being picked up by somebody based on what they did. It's solid. And I would have loved to work with them, as they seem like a cool bunch of folks.

But this is what Hyundai turned it into:

And the follow-up spot:

Now, one could blame the artists themselves, but once they are paid to do a job, the responsibility of quality moves to the buyer, and that's the agency and client. These spots are so forced and so awkward to watch that like I said, it truly is embarrassing. And one can't help but compare the spots to the original reference, which is vastly superior. I don't think that the duo would admit it, but this second round is so bad, it makes them look less talented. (They feature the spots on their site, which I understand.) What's worse, is that if you had never seen the original, and I'm guessing a large swath of middle America probably hasn't, the spots just come off even worse; a car company (and agency) desperately trying to be cool and doing the exact opposite in the process.

What's worse still is just about the time that these spots aired, the duo released another music video (I guess it's a music video) called, Yoga Girl. And although it's not quite as good as Whole Foods, it certainly has its moments lyrically and visually.

Fog & Smog's Yoga Girl:


I think agencies need to be quick and ready to respond to something the gains traction online, particularly if it involves any of their clients' businesses, or is just so interesting that it provides an opportunity to do something even better creatively. This post is a word of caution however, that you had better do something good with it, or risk losing your Madison Avenue cred. I believe the industry is filled with some of the most talented, interesting and creative people and the work should reflect that, even with increased (amateur?) competition for people's attention.

I believe the agency of record (unless I'm wrong and that is entirely possible as such things are tough to keep track of these days) is Innocean Worldwide based in Huntington Beach, CA. Hyundai dropped Goodby a year or two back.

There are so many ways this could have been good. I actually wanted it to be good, but realized quickly that was not to be. And with more and more of our creative content being produced and distributed online, I'm afraid this is going to be the case with more and more advertising responses as well. This is the sound of me sighing. *Sigh*

I know there are a bunch more recent examples of this, a few of them good, so I'll add more as time goes by. Stay tuned.

Monday
Jan022012

370. State Flag Revisions: Connecticut.

Image courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.And thus begins the State Seals on Blue Background series. I doubt many folks will be too offended when these flags are changed (unlike most of the flags we've already visited) and besides, the seal can be used elsewhere—it's just not appropriate for a flag. If you're more than 20 feet away from these flags, you'd be hard pressed to tell them apart. From the onset of this project, I knew these were the ones that would need the most help and they will get it. Connecticut is the first flag in the second row, below. 

I can see why some states put their names on their flags now: (At least you can differentiate between Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Oregon.) 

Where do I begin with Connecticut? I don't know too much about the state, one that I have primarily just driven through on trips between New York and Boston. I think it has a unfair reputation of harboring some fairly snobby people and if memory serves it was something like the sixth or seventh state to join the union. (*Correction: it was the fifth.) According to the state's site, Connecticut gets its odd name from: Quinnehtukqut -- Mohegan for "Long River Place" or "Beside the Long Tidal River. Personally, I think the original spelling may have caused fewer misspellings since nobody really pronounces that inner c. Connecticut is our third smallest state (5,544 square miles), more than doubling the area covered by Delaware, itself almost doubling that of Rhode Island. Other than that, it's a rather picturesque state, like a lot of the original colonies. 

According to netstate, Connected ratified the United States Constitution in 1788 and 100 years later they were still without a flag. The Anna Warner Bailey Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, now centered in Groton, decided that this needed to be changed. They approached Governor O. William Coffin with their thoughts on the subject and persuaded him to take action. According to the Anna Warner Bailey Chapter's web site, they were responsible for the design of the flag. Who are we to argue with them? In 1897, it became official. 

Evolution of the Connecticut State Seal: (1639—left, 1711—center, 1784—right)

The current Connecticut State Flag uses the state seal, itself a rather pleasing design as far as state seals tend to go. The seal features a large white (silk) shield, outlined in gold and silver and adorned with oak leaves and acorns (important, but we'll come back to that last detail.) Within the shield are three grape vines, each holding three bunches of grapes. The vines are said to represent the three oldest settlements; Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford, but also could be for the three separate settlements which had been absorbed into the state by the time the flag was made; Connecticut Colony, Saybrook Colony, and New Haven Colony. The three vines are also symbols for religion, liberty and knowledge. The other main feature of the flag is a banner proclaiming the state motto: "Qui Transtulit Sustinet" or "He who transplanted still sustains." 

The Current Connecticut State Flag:

There is definitely some abiguity in terms of the design elements here. The state law does require an odd size for the flag, a fly of 5' 6" with a hoist of 4' 4". This is noticeably more square than the standard 3:2 ratio. (Since there is no reason for this size difference, we're going to recommend sticking to the uniform proportions.) The shield is only described as a 'rococo design' of argent white silk, while the grapes and oak leaves/acorns are supposed to be rendered in 'natural colors'. The banner at the bottom is only described this way, '...shall be a white streamer, cleft at each end, bordered by a band of gold within fine brown lines, and upon the streamer in dark blue block letters shall be the motto..." You could design a totally different banner and as long as it met this standard, I suppose it would legally be the Connecticut state flag. 

The wording of the 1897 law wasn't quite clear enough and was updated in 1990, but it still didn't fix the issues above. Can you find the differences between the two?

The seal actually looks pretty good in application seen below carved into the Capital Building in Harford, and inside embroidered into the carpet. Designer types will quickly notice the differences in the banner, odd how loose these flag requirements are, no? Maybe someday a state will have a branding department. 

Connecticut State Seal Carved and Embroidered:

So, they have a seal, but what should they do with their flag? Fortunately, Connecticut has a rich history and one particularly interesting story from which I think we can start to build a design. 

The Charter Oak is the state's tree, but that begs the question — what the heck is a Charter Oak? You won't find it listed as any of the varieties of the North American oak because it's not actually a sub-species. The Charter Oak refers to one specific white oak (the quercus alba mentioned in the 1990 law above) that played an integral part in the beginnings of the state. According the state government's site, The Charter Oak was a 12th or 13th century white oak, that at one point in 1687 was the secret hiding place of the state's self-governing charter, preventing it from being captured by the English Governor-General. This oak was unusually large and located on what the English colonists named Wyllys Hyll, in Hartford. 

The Charter Oak:

The Charter Oak, oil on canvas, Charles De Wolf Brownell, 1857. Here's what happened according to ct.gov, "Two English kings, a royal agent, a colonial hero and a candle-lit room are the figures and backdrop in one of the most thrilling chapters of America's legend of liberty. The refusal of our early Connecticut leaders to give up the Charter, despite royal order and the threat of arms, marked one of the greatest episodes of determined courage in our history.

On October 9, 1662, The General Court of Connecticut formally received the Charter won from King Charles II by the suave diplomacy of Governor John Winthrop, Jr., who had crossed the ocean for the purpose. Twenty-five years later, with the succession of James II to the throne, Connecticut's troubles began in earnest. Sir Edmund Andros, His Majesty's agent, followed up failure of various strategies by arriving in Hartford with an armed force to seize the Charter. After hours of debate, with the Charter on the table between the opposing parties, the candle-lit room suddenly went dark. Moments later when the candles were re-lighted, the Charter was gone. Captain Joseph Wadsworth is credited with having removed and secreted the Charter in the majestic oak on the Wyllys estate."

Even if this account is over-blown, you have to admit that this is a good place to start for a symbol worthy of the flag, not to mention early American independence. The tree itself fell during a storm in 1856, and was subsequently made into the desk of the Governor of Connecticut, as well as the chairs for the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Senate. That's pretty cool. The tree also lives on in various scions across Hartford. (Scions are grafts of a desired tree and another plant's working root system.)

The day the Charter Oak Fell:

One of the Charter Oak Chairs:

Looks like we have our symbol, but we have to be careful here. What might work on a quarter (CT's state quarter featured the Charter oak, as well as half-dollars from the 1930s) may not work as well on a flag. I would say that the City of Oakland (CA) flag does about as good of a job as any, in featuring a tree as an icon. 

City of Oakland Flag:

Oddly and crudely drawn, it has a charm that can't be denied. I wouldn't want our flag to be derivative of this, and because it's Connecticut we're talking about here; it should be more refined, almost collegiate in style. Also, even before putting pen to paper, I want to add depth to the Charter Oak concept in some way that references the story. It's a dramatic tale and one that will make for a handsome banner. One with even more meaning and purpose than the grape vines represented in the original flag. 

To tease the final result, here's a rough sketch of initial thoughts. Final flag coming over the next few days or so. (Whenever I can get to it, honestly.) 

Okay, so here's what I did. I wanted to incorporate some element of the Charter Oak into the design, but also wanted the ability to represent other parts of the state. During sketching, I came up with this idea of combining a quill (representing the State Charter being signed) and that of an oak leaf (instead of a feather.) The great thing about the sketch, is that I could also see the leaf, yes representing all the natural wonders of Connecticut, but the river valley in particular. The vein of the quill leaf, and its tributaries do just that albeit with subtlety. This new icon represents the impact of a single act, hiding the charter in the Oak, and how that event helped write the state's future. The colors chosen are for the fall folliage, and the river itself. We'll call it the Charter Oak Quill and call it a day. It's simple. Has meaning. And will make a great new flag for the state.

The 2012 Connecticut State Flag:


Saturday
Dec312011

368. State Flag Revisions: Colorado.

For those of you who may have thought the California flag redesign process was borderline indulgent, than Colorado's redesign will be more to your liking. No part twos or threes and probably a lot less talk for that matter. I will say that I believe this redesign may be one of the more controversial, since the current flag is simple and graphic in its own way.

Let's get the history of the flag down first. According to netstate, Andrew Carlisle Johnson designed the current flag and it was adopted by the Colorado General Assembly on June 5, 1911. This happened about 35 years after the territory officially joined the union. (Good luck finding anything at all about Johnson, he could have had a design background or simply have been in the right place at the right time. Heck, he could have been a negro league all-star pitcher, for all I know. I couldn't find a thing.) Anyway, we have to rewind four years prior to this, to see what his design replaced. Or at least a recreation of what it replaced. We'll come back to this later, but note the details in the shield.

1907—1911 Colorado State Flag:

There is scant detail about how the current design came to be. The design itself is fairly simple and easily recalled. The flag's hoist is divided into three equal segments of blue, white and blue representing the clear blue sky and snow-capped mountains. Sitting on top is a large red capital C with a gold counter (empty space) that symbolizes the red earth and warm sun. Sounds pretty simple, however, on two occasions the flag law had to be refined in order to eliminate issues with the colors in 1929 (the red and blue were made to mimic the US flag) and in 1964 to correct issues with the size and placement of the C. 

An early variant of the flag, featuring a centered C:

The Official Colorado State Flag:

One reason why they needed the 1964 revision to the flag law:

I can see some designers out there saying that the current flag is perfect, or maybe just good enough. After all, it's simple, symbolic and easily recognizable, right? For me, although this flag isn't bad per se, it does lack any purpose and real representation of what Colorado is. Not only is it boring, it lacks soul and I don't think anyone—well, any normal person outside of Colorado—could correctly answer with 100% certainty that this flag wasn't for Connecticut or Chicago or Czechoslovakia  for that matter. Simplicity is usually a good thing, but it's not everything. The current colors also do nothing to help the flag do a flag's job. We need something more modern here as well. 

The answer comes from the original flag's crest, and pretty much everything else that comes from Colorado; which is remembered for one main thing: gorgeous, huge, epic, purple, mountains that you can't find anywhere else in the states. 

This direction does have its issues. Mountains in Colorado are well-worn territory. You might even say they are cliche, but some things are cliche for a good reason and I think the Colorado Mountains are one of them. They're an easily rendered, somewhat unique, powerful symbol for the state that will separate their flags from the flags of the 49 sister states. A purpose I'd argue trumps all others. But lest anyone out there say that I don't really understand the overuse of mountains, check out this gallery resulting from just a few minutes searching online.

The mountain of mountain logos of Colorado:

Normally, I'd use this kind of argument against using an element in a logo or design. (And I did just that a few flags ago in reference to saguaros and kokopelli's in Arizona.) This time, I feel like the references only reinforce how much mountains have come to represent the state and keep in mind that the flag doesn't compete with these identities, only with that of the other states and cities. I'm feeling pretty good that this is the direction to go, especially if we can argue that we're actually taking an element out of the 'real' original flag of 1907. Which we will be doing by using the mountains. 

To get a better sense of what the mountains mean to Colorado as a symbol, we need look no further than the song, America The Beautiful, penned by Katherine Lee Bates. The song was written based on her experience visiting Pikes Peak during a 1893 teaching stint at Colorado College. In fact, the song was originally titled, Pikes Peak, then America before getting its current title. Now, there's a little trivia for you.

We don't have to deduce much further to realize that the purple mountain majesties Bates described were none other than the Colorado portion of the Rocky Mountains, and it's even more clear after reading her journal entry about her Pikes Peak trip. "One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse." This has to be the basis for the flag of Colorado, am I wrong? 

Commemoration plaque atop Pike Peak:

So, we're going to use this as the basis for our new Colorado state flag. Actually, it's going to BE the flag. I was inspired by a alternate logo for the Denver Nuggets that had a simple mountain with a highlight and shadow side; and I thought I could take that idea and build an entire design out of it. The color decision was already made by Mrs Bates as described above. The only other decision we had to make dealt with the proportions. In the end, I think we've found a few nice solutions for Colorado. Something they can own. But I thought I would try something different with this state's process. I have posted four versions—all using the same basic elements and derivative of the thinking and research found in this article—and want you to vote on the one you like the best. Simply go to my Facebook page and vote for your favorite, it's that easy. The winner will be the 2012 Colorado Flag or at least help influence my decision.

 

(And not that you're asking but I'd also recommend to Colorado that they change their license plates to purple too, because really Vermont owns the green mountain thing. Branding works, folks.)

 

The 2012 Colorado State Flag options:  VOTE HERE.



Saturday
Dec312011

367. California State Flag. Part 3. 

I had no idea that working on the California flag would take so much time, energy and work to get down to a new design. (I was a bit nervous about it all in the beginning if you recall. Chalk one up for instincts.) One thing about working on a design in your own state is that you can really do some nice legwork, actual physical reporting. Over the past week I traveled down to Monterey and visited the Colton Hall Museum, the site where the California State Constitution was signed way back in October of 1849. There's a small gallery of artwork and a recreation of the meeting room, complete with old letters and books of the time.

Colton Hall Museum, Meeting Room Recreation, in Monterey:

As it may have looked back in the 1800s:

Of particular interest to me—and to this project— and the reason I traveled down to the museum in the first place was to get a look at the original Charles Nahl watercolor of the California Grizzly used by Don Kelley as one of the two main references for the bear currently displayed on the Bear Flag. I couldn't get any great shots of it due to the way that it was framed, but hopefully you'll get an idea of what Kelley was working with. 

The Original Charles Nahl Watecolor of the California Grizzly:

In my best infomercial voice, "But wait—there's more!"

I also drove down to Santa Barbara for a little vacation and besides capturing a few amazing beach shots, while on the pier I noticed a row of flags. And because I'm working on this project I quickly realized (and blurted out) that those were the 12 flags of California's history. I also had the chance to impress a few folks nearby, by knowing the Russian-American Trading flag off the top of my head. Little did they know.

12 Flags of California in Santa Barbara:

It's quite cool to be able to experience some of the history behind a flag in person, and it's a shame that I can't travel around the country and do the same thing for each state, because I'd do it in a second. Anyway, I thought you might enjoy a little more background behind California's banner. Now onto Colorado. For real this time.

Finally, here's a little taste of the beach life I experienced while doing this homework. (Zero photoshop work on this guy, by the way.) Nice gig if you can get it.

Friday
Dec232011

366. State Flag Revisions: California. Part 2.

This is part two of the California Flag Project. We left off with a good idea of the variation between all of the California flags out there. Most due to a lack of standards, so let's start off Part 2 by adding more standards to the state's banner. 

As currently stated in the law, there is still variance for where exactly on the flag certain elements are placed in reference to each other. Looking at the hoist requirements, one could easily move the type and the grass vertically wherever they wanted and still fit the standards. Using the 5/12 distance from the red field to the bear's eye is hardly adequate, especially when the bears are all different. In place of this mandate, I added a 1/16 gap between red field and the baseline of the type as well as another 1/16 hoist gap between the cap height and the bottom of the grass element. When added to yet one more additional measurement—a 1/32 gap between the bottom of the grass element and the bottom of the bear—the placement of all the elements are now exact. The type and grass no longer can move around, and the only effect this had was to nudge the bear upward just a smidge, roughly by 1/64 hoist. The star and red field remain unchanged in their position. This will go a long way in formalizing the flag, even though an extremely minor correction.

The image below shows how this works, using the silhouette from the University of California's bear reflected vertically, so that it faces the correct way. (It was just easier to use at this point.) 

Now, let's get back to the typography. Yes, my goal was to use a typeface that Don Kelley might have chosen as his condensed gothic of choice. I covered a few of those options in Part 1. The winner, in my opinion from that list is, Akzidenz Grotesk, the first widely used sans serif typeface developed when California was beginning to get its independent legs around the end of the 1800s. This face influenced a lot of the 1950s sans families that you use today. There's a little bit of dissonance here, if I were to be honest simple because the version of A-G that is most prevalent today was actually developed in the late 1950s by Bertold. It's not bad. 

I would prefer a typeface that was a bit more squared-off and one that had slightly greater coverage across the page, and was playing around with Folio, even though that was originally design in 1957, some four years after our standards were written, but close enough not to ruin any verisimilitude of the design. (Yup, I'm contractually obligated to drop that word once a year. You're welcome.) We'll clean up the kerning and maybe, design an alternative R shortly. 

Comparison between Folio and Akzidenz Grotesk (both bold condensed): 

Saving the bear for last, let's get that field of grass under his feet corrected and standardized. According to the California Government Code Section 420 (1953), the one we've been referencing all this time, it is put forth that, "...the 12 grass tufts in the grass plot..." should be seal brown. There's no word on anything else except the sketch. A lot of flags don't have the tufts at all, some don't have 12, and some tufts are rendered so poorly it's not quite clear what they are. Over the last few days I did find another great gallery of California flags — scroll down to the bear flags and you'll see all the different renderings of the grass. Seems like we should respect the drawing of 1953 and clean it up a bit. Let's try that. 

I found a much, much better version of the official bear sketch by Kelley via the Bear Flag Museum's textural reference library. This will speed things up quite nicely for both grass and bear.

Improved Sketch Reference:

Pulling up the sketch in detail, I noticed a lot about the character of the strokes, more rounded and brush-like that I expected — almost like a thick sharpie effect. I tried to stay pretty close to the outer shape of Kelley's sketch and mimicked the placement of the tufts as well. I dropped the outline of the grass, mainly because I think it's visually distracting and is a source of a lot of bad variations. We're going to hearken back to the original, but also make things bulletproof for the next version. It's going to look good no matter who prints it. So, I had one option that was faithful to the sketch, and then I wanted to try a few more modern interpretations of a grass plot, with and without the infamous tufts. Those two options are at the bottom, sandwiching plots from a few of the flags flying around these days. 

Grass Plot experimentation:

I'm not sure that the tufts would have been something that I would have included initially. I'm still open to removing them, just not sure how that's going to net out. One thing I'd like to correct is the visibility of the grass, since flags are most often viewed from a distance. With that taken care of, we move onto the bear, which was demonstrated in the previous post to be a source of much discrepancy. 

In the case of the bear, I simple want to keep as close to the above sketch as possible. A lot of the variations are simply cartoony looking simplifications; inappropriate for a state flag. We'll clean up the lines and try to keep it true to the original. 

So what does this all look like? At first blush, not so different from the original, but we've made a lot of changes and rules so that there is no reason for a flag company to make an inaccurate flag from this point forward. 

The 2011 Standardized California State Flag:

This standardized flag keeps most of the rules, the official colors, the proportions and pretty much everything else that the current flag has, its just all more refined and organized. This is something we could take to the state and have them further define their flag statutes. This is desperately needed as you can tell by now. There are, however, a few things about this flag in general that feel odd to me. The colors are the first thing. Although there is precedent in keeping the same colors as the country that you are fighting to gain your independence from, it feels odd to me. The state's colors are blue and gold and I think that reads as more Californian. I also think there are a lot of details that could easily be removed from the flag, and it still retain its personality. So that's what we're going to do in order to serve the purpose of this project — to really tick people off by changing their state's flag. Well, not really though it does seem to stoke the fires a bit. 

On a somewhat related note, I have always loved the blue and gold (or gold and blue) plates of the state. I was rather disappointed that by the time I moved out here they were making them white with that bad California script in red. This flag project will help rectify that as well, in spirit anyway. I think seeing the old plates in movies as a kid may have influenced this opinion now that I think about it. I even use it on my bmprstkr project. 

Real California plates look like this:

The other details that bother me in the current flag are the tufts within the grass, and the grass plot shape itself. The tufts are an unnecessary detail that simply adds complexity without reason. Now, if they represented the counties in California (there are 58 of those) or maybe 12 influential figures in the past, that would be different. From what I can tell, they are simply a detail in the sketches that made its way onto the flag design. We're dropping them. A third detail that I'd like to add back in, is the weird terminal on the R. It's weird in the original, and will be weird in this version too, but after all the research, I find myself missing it and there is nobody here to talk me out of it at the moment. So let it be written. And in regards to the bear's eye, it's an element that feels weird too, like Monarch is staring you down, so we may drop the internal details of the bear and keep it a silhouette.

The 2012 California State Flag:

So obviously, we have kept the main elements of the flag, minus the red bar at the bottom, with revised—and what I would argue is a more appropriate—color scheme. The bear is simplified and all in all, I think it makes for a striking alternative to what we have now. I was tempted even to drop the California Republic type element, as one of the 'rules' of flag design (vexillology) is to eliminate all words and letters. But the spirit it conveys is something that I would claim is just as important in such a symbol. 

This one took a much longer time than any state flag to date. Mostly, because I had to sort out their current flag (You're welcome Governor Jerry Brown) before making the adjustment. But I had fun preparing this and hope you had fun reading it as well. Even if you hate the new one, at least I leave you with a better more specific current flag. Now, onto Colorado we go...

Wednesday
Dec212011

365. State Flag Revisions: California. Part 1.

Boy, the research article alone for this state flag could very well go into a bound book the thickness of your average family bible should I not edit severely. I quickly realized there's a lot more to this westernmost state's flag history than a long-time east-coaster might initially think. I'll try to summarize the best that I can, in the hopes that what we learn can eventually lead us to a solid new design. I have to admit that I'm a little nervous about this one. Not sure why exactly. Perhaps because I have called California home since returning from Dubai in March of 2010? I don't know, but here goes nothing, home state. Glad to be here. Hope I can do you proud. 

California's history saw a lot of flags flying around. Going all the way back to the 1540s, you had the Spanish Empire Banner ruling over the territory. There was a brief period where the Flag of England flew over Drake's Bay for a mere 37 days in 1579. In the 1800s the Russian-American company had a charter and flew their own flag, which was different than the flag of Russia that also flew over California around the same time. In the early 1800s the familiar baby blue of Argentina's flag could be seen, as well as the familiar red, white and green of the Mexican Empire and the Mexican Republic. Something called the Fremont Flag few for just a brief period over the winter in 1845—46. This flag was the creation of a topographical engineer and was loosely based on the US flag mixed with a few Army regimental designs. And of course, the United States flag few over California in 1846 and at other times throughout history.

But the California flag, as we now know it, got its start during something called the Bear Flag Revolt. (The revolt was named after the flag.) Americans who proclaimed California’s independence over Mexico raised a crudely made flag of brown cotton, red flannel and roughly painted symbols over the town of Sonoma on June 14, 1846. The words on the flag simply said, California Republic. (Fairly weak at the time, the Mexican forces didn't put up much of a fight.) This flag is often referred to as the Todd Flag because it was designed by William L. Todd, a first cousin to Mary Todd Lincoln whom you may better know as Mrs. Abraham Lincoln. C'mon, isn't history great? 

The 1836 Lone Star Flag of California:

The red star in the upper corner of the Bear Flag was actually made with blackberry juice and was suppose to reference the long star symbol of Texas, a state facing similar struggles with independence, as well as another earlier flag in California's fight against Mexico, this one down in Monterey in 1836. (It was called the Lone Star Flag of California, above.) The bear, a symbol of strength and resistance was made in the same way, but really looked more like a humble cow or other livestock. According to netstate.com, "Native Californians looking up at it were heard to say ‘Coche[sic],’ the common name among them for pig or shoat." Not quite the symbol of strength, but hey, what can you do with unbleached cotton and blackberry juice design critic hotshot? The original flag was unfortunately lost in the great 1906 earthquake and resulting fire in San Francisco. Darn it — I was hoping I could go see it.

The First Bear Flag of California:

I'm afraid that the kerning doesn't improve much over the years.

This flag was kind of the viral cat-themed YouTube video of its day, quickly gaining in popularity and reaching meme status. Everyone was doing their own version. Take a look at just a few of them via MilitaryMuseum.org

By 1911, however, California adopted a version of the original Bear Flag to represent its statehood, at the behest of The Native Sons of the Golden West, a group much like the Daughters of the Confederacy mentioned in the previous Arkansas post. It did take all the way until 1953 for the government to actually put some graphic standards in place for a more consistent flag, putting an end to the crazy versioning we still see today on brands without any guidelines. Back then, the State Purchasing Department was growing frustrated with the wide variation between flags made by different manufacturers.  The 1911 law never showed any reference photos of the bear or flag for that matter, and was written using only 100 words. And a picture is worth 1,000. Ooops. A mild oversight.

The Bear Flag as it looked in 1899:

1900-1930 California Bear Flag via Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-2031:

So what brand standards did they bring to this flag in 1953? Well first of all they decided on a model. A real-live (well stuffed) model bear, a California Grizzly named Monarch. Monarch was captured in 1889 by newspaper reporter Allen Kelley, (I didn't realize reporters were bear hunters, but hey it was 1889!) Kelly caught the bear and was paid in advance by none other than William Randolph Hearst. The name Monarch comes from a Hearst owned daily, the San Francisco Examiner nicknamed (probably by Hearst) "The Monarch of the Daillies". *Note: I did not expect to have so many celebrity cameos in so many of these flag articles. Anyway, the bear was subsequently moved to Woodwards Gardens in San Francisco, and then to the zoo at Golden Gate Park. The bear died in 1911—the same year the flag was originally adopted—and was then preserved at the Academy of Sciences. So, it makes sense that a visage of Monarch has proudly strutted on every official California State Flag ever since. Sadly, California Grizzlies became extinct in the wild sometime around the early 1900s too. So Monarch was truly one the last of his kind. 

Monarch still stands at The Academy of Sciences here in San Francisco.

The person in charge of the 1953 flag standards was an artist named Don Kelley, who called himself The Most Displayed but Least Known Artist. Kelley studied Monarch, then stuffed, as well as the illustrations of a German artist named Charles C. Nahl, an engraver and painter whose work you can, and I did, find in Hutchings Illustrated Magazine of California a series of books from 1856—1861. Check this out, the original bear etching that inspired the current flag. See Nahl's signature bottom left. Cool, am I wrong?

Charles C. Nahl's California Grizzly Etching:

So Kelley had his bear, and now had to set the proportions, colors and dimensions of the flag to settle this wild west situation with the flags. He decided on the cable colors for the flag, which you can see below along with the modern equivalents, and further down you can see the result of Kelley's work.

The sketch included in the 1953 Law:

So, now we have some order, but why is it still difficult to find the official Flag? There are still tons of versions out there, most with the bears and typography rendered quite differently. The bear issue, I get, at least for the 1950s. Now, we should be able to create an official vector Monarch, right? And unless my research abilities have proven me wrong, why on earth don't we have an official typeface to go along with the rest of the standards? Sure, the sketch will get us close, but this is long overdue. Maybe I'll use this article to sponsor a bill to remedy this. (That'll be a nice portfolio piece, for sure. Note to self.) The original law only mentioned condensed gothic letters. Check out the variations in the image below, which includes a flag provided by the official state library in the middle, one that most closely reflects the flags flying over the capital on top, and one you'll find listed as the official flag on everything from Wikipedia to other state agencies.

Some Variation Still Exists:

This is a branding problem folks. California has something like the eighth largest economy in the world; it should have some tighter brand standards for an icon that functions much like a logo. Even if we just did that, we'd go a long way in doing our jobs here. This link will give you an idea of the wide variety of flags out there. As best I can tell, this is the official California State Flag, or as close as we can find.

The Official(?) California State Flag: 

 

Let's discuss what works with the flag. Clearly the issues working against it are the loosely defined typography and even more loosely defined rendering of the bear and grass. The flag, even with these flaws, is one of the standouts in a sea of official seals on blue fields. The color palette borrows from the Mexican Empire, without feeling derivative. The bear is, or at least could be, a strong symbol of power and resistance, much like it was originally meant to be. It only needs some guidance really. The red bar, whether or not it stays, matches the star and together anchors the design. There are even rules for negative space built into the design, so it's not like this is a hot mess like Arkansas. (Sorry Arkansas folks.) Now, we could overhaul this and do some pretty cool Californian designs here, but I think we'd be better served fixing up what needs adjusting, and making this unique flag design stand a bit more proudly. 

Now, let's deal with the typography.

Again, the only mention about a particular typeface was pretty vague in the flag law, "condensed gothic letters." That just won't fly today. I'm not sure at this point, if I plan on keeping the letters on the flag or not, but I want to decide on an appropriate typeface to do the job, should I need it. I'd like to honor the process and effort put into the standards in the 1953 law, by selecting the typeface that should have been chosen then, thus correcting an oversight that should never have been. Let's look at a few options. When we do so, we can also correct the rather terrible kerning issues you probably have noticed by now.

An un-kerned type study based on the 1953 drawing using typefaces available in 1953: (Including Univers even though it didn't come until a few years later in 1957 or so.)

None of these typefaces are exact, as the original appears to have a more block-quality. And the R's leg terminal has a bit of a curve, which is actually the other characteristic that is tough to find. There is the typeface, CA Geheimagent (a coincidentally named type family by Stefan Claudius), but again it lacks the personality of the R. And Mark Simonson's Refrigerator Deluxe Bold is similar, but lacking some of the details we're looking for in our choice, and of course wasn't around in 1953.

Mark Simonson's Refrigerator Deluxe Bold

In an attempt to bring some clarity to the issue, I called over to Annin & Co, makers of flags in the United States since 1847. I was hoping they'd have something a bit more closely related to the original. Nope. More variety. In both bear, grass and typography. 

Annin & Company's California State Flag:

Pretty darn frustrating. So I head over to American Flagpole and Flag company to check out their product. Looks like their typeface is closer to the original. So I call them, but they don't answer their phone. Even the state legislature is in on the mess, when they reference the flag in a 2006 document, they feature the typeface with the rolling R terminal. Clearly at this point, we need to make some decisions and set some rules for the typeface. 

In part 2, we're going to standardize the current California State Flag. The type. The bear. The grass. Everything. This is something we could /should/may try to submit to the state for real. Then, we're going to take a stab at a new version of the design more in line with this project. Stay tuned, look for part 2 as early as tomorrow. 

Wednesday
Dec212011

364. State Flag Revisions: Arkansas.

http://photoeverywhere.co.uk/west/usa/slides/arcansas78.htmOh, Arkansas, what in the wide world of sports am I going to do with your flag? As of writing this sentence, I have no idea but that's kind of the fun with this project. I get to do research and see how what I've learned will shape the end product. It's all very instinctual; there's no time for second-guessing—research of any real value could take months—and it's the pressure of design revisions performed so quickly and learning about the history of a simple object that make it a worthwhile venture. Only three in, and I'm having a lot of fun and hearing a lot of good things from people which is quite inspiring. So please, keep on sharing FiftyFlags.graphicology.com via the buttons on the site, and don't be afraid to comment below. 

Back to Arkansas. It doesn't take long to find something really fishy with the history of this particular state banner. It, like Alaska's, is the result of a design competition of sorts, but I'm using the word competition very lightly in this case. You see, we might be dealing with a rigged contest. Let me explain.

Most stories of how the flag came to be read like this: "The Arkansas flag was created in 1913 when the Battleship U.S.S. Arkansas was commissioned. The Daughters of the American Revolution discovered that there was no state flag to present to ship with (presenting a flag to ships was traditional). They decided to hold a flag designing competition. Miss Willie Hocker of Wabbaseka designed the winning flag which looked much like the flag we fly today." Seems pretty cut and dry, right? 

What you don't read in many articles is that the contest was initiated by the Pine Bluff Daughters. (A local branch of the Daughters of Confederacy.) They had the contest chaired by then Secretary of State, Earl W. Hodges, as he was the one who originally told the group that the state didn't have a flag at all. In my mind, this had to be embarrassing. It was 1913 for goodness sake, and Virginia had been flying an official state flag for 52 years already. Anyway, The Pine Bluff Daughters hold the design contest and receive no less than 65 entries. A lot of them, from what I've read, featured the state flower, the apple blossom.

The judges included a Dr. from the University of Arkansas, a Little Rock school teacher, a former President of the Arkansas Federation of Women's Clubs AND a member of the Pine Bluff Daughters. There's no word on what basis the winner would be chosen, what the process of deciding would be, or what ended up being the second or third place designs; but what we do know is this: Miss Willie Hocker of Wabbaseka, a member of the Pine Bluff chapter of the D.A.R, won with her design. So let me get this straight. The people who ran the competition, in a way, won the competition? How convenient. It appears we just won't be correcting a design here, but we'll also be correcting history. 

Despite being a winner of dubious origins, Miss Willie Hocker was about to be introduced to a little something creatives call design by committee. You see her original design would not go unscathed, going through a few rounds of revisions before being declared the official state flag in February 26, 1913. Let's take a look at the winning design.

Replica of Miss Willie Hocker's Original Design

Now let's see how the Daughters of the Confederacy, I mean Miss Hocker, rationalized their, I mean, her design. The 25 stars in the blue field represented Arkansas' entry into the union as the 25th state. The Big white diamond was in reference to Arkansas being the only diamond-producing state in the country. Crater of Diamonds State Park was responsible for this point of pride. Well, the diamond mine that used to occupy the state park, more accurately. Of course, history would make this a moot point when diamonds are found in upstarts, Colorado and Montana. The three blue stars in the middle represented the three countries Arkansas had been a part of throughout its history: Spain, France and the US. 

Here's where Miss Hocker learns the joys of having a client. When the design was initially submitted to the state, the design committee started acting like a committee and strongly recommended the word ARKANSAS be included in the design. After all, if the name of the state isn't on the flag than how is anyone to know from what state it comes? Since the design was probably designed by the committee itself anyway, there was no objection from the original artist. But adding an all-caps word to a flag really started to mess with the simplicity of the design. Where would it go? What would happen to the nice row of stars in the white field? Poor Hocker's design was already starting to crumble. 

The Second Submission:

Okay, so the committee adjusted the stars to accommodate the state's name and the design was resubmitted to the state. Now, for some of you in normal circles, you might be expecting everything to be cool at this point. Everyone's happy. The committee is happy. The state is happy. Enjoy your new flag, Arkansas. But every designer knows this is never the case. Someone somewhere was shown the design and decided to put his or her two cents in and here's how that probably went. "So wait a country minute here. If those gosh-dern three stars are representin' the three countries of which we've been apart, where the hell is the dad-blamed fourth star for the Confederate States of America? Have you all lost your minds?" And that boys and girls is how the third submission was created for the official Arkansas state flag. This took ten years, by the way, during which the flag above served as the state's banner.

1923 Arkansas State Flag:

This flag has served Arkansas ever since. The revisions were not over, fast-forward to THIS YEAR, 2011, during which Governor Beebe declared the official colors to be exactly those of the US Flag, which I now know to be called Old Glory Red and Old Glory Blue. He also declared that any flag purchased by the state must be manufactured in the US, through Act 1205. 

So today, we have a red, white and blue flag, with a bunch of stars that represent the order in which it became part of the union — not something I'd want to hang my hat on, if I'm making a flag. Not to mention the whole 'only diamond producing state' thing is now obsolete. Even the four larger stars in the middle are not without their complications keeping in mind the general temperature about all things confederate. We're not left with much besides spelling out Arkansas, which might just be the dumbest design by committee moment in history, if I may lapse in hyperbole for a moment, as I am want to do. In summary, we don't have a lot to work with here, especially if my general approach is to produce a flag that is unique and not emphasizing the stars and colors of the US whenever possible. This could be tricky.

Let's procrastinate!

Let's procrastinate! Here's a little tidbit about Arkansas from Wikipedia, "The name "Arkansas" derives from the same root as the name for the State of Kansas. The Kansa tribe of Native Americans are closely associated with the Sioux tribes of the Great Plains. The word "Arkansas" itself is a French pronunciation ("Arcansas") of a Quapaw (a related "Kaw" tribe) word "akakaze" meaning "land of downriver people" or the Sioux word "Akakaze" meaning "people of the south wind". The pronunciation of Arkansas was made official by an act of the state legislature in 1881, after a dispute between the two U.S. Senators from Arkansas. One wanted to pronounce the name /ɑrˈkænzəs/ ar-kan-zəs and the other wanted /ˈɑrkənsɔː/ ar-kən-saw." And crap: "In 2007, the state legislature officially declared the possessive form of the state's name to be Arkansas's." Time to go back in this article and adjust that across the board. 

Back to the design. I can already tell that these southern states are going to kill me. Like Alabama, there are a lot of sports references that could imbue the new flag, but that doesn't seem right. Does the flag below feel like something that should fly above the capital in Little Rock? (By the way, here's how to do a proper 'Hog Call' if you ever venture to one of the University of Arkansas games.)

The University of Arkansas Razorbacks Flag.  

Let's see what the quarter design folks did with a similar project. Seems like they stuck with the diamond, complemented by a duck, rice plants and a little landscape. Arkansas is the leading producer of rice in the United States. (Oh the things we're going to learn over the next 46 states!) Sadly, rice is not something that makes for a nice flag graphic. All in all, not a lot of help here, except that I like the reference to the outdoors. It's at this point that I realize the state slogan is "The Natural State" and perhaps focusing on the natural beauty or the outdoors in general is actually the smart thing to do. It does open things up a bit and the mallard duck referenced on the quarter seems like something with which we can work. 

Now, when I think of bird artwork, probably my favorite can be found below. There's a whole series of these beauties, all amazing and produced by artist and designer Josh Brill. (Check out this great interview by grainedit. You'll see the flora and fauna series featured, from which the sample below comes.) I absolutely love the lines, the clean shapes, and the colors. They are simple yet somehow accurately depict each bird. The mallard will look great. You can buy prints of Josh's work over at Lumadessa. I'm a fan, and hope this flag can be an homage to this series, since I don't have the money to pay him for his services.  I have searched everywhere and don't believe he has attempted a mallard duck yet, and it certainly will help make a handsome flag for Arkansas, while emphasizing the outdoor opportunities available to the state. We just need to connect it, in some way, to the older flags as that's part of the challenge I've set for myself. It doesn't have to obvious, but it must be baked into the new design.  

Western Tanager by Josh Brill:

At this point I feel like I have enough to get going and start sketching my duck, in the way that I think Josh Brill would approach the illustration. These simple illustrations are not actually simple at all. It's quite complicated using reduction to get to an animal's core shape, but eventually I get something that is pleasing to me. Then, I look back to the current Arkansas flag and realize I need to keep something from its heritage and history. I decide that although I'm dropping the stars, I would like to keep the four-nation symbolism as it's the best part of the whole deal. I settle on using diamond shapes instead, since that actually allows me to keep two elements from the previous version, even if the diamond claim now seems silly. I set the diamonds down at the bottom of the flag, under my mallard in flight and it all comes together. Now, I just hope Josh Brill is more flattered by my imitation than annoyed.  

The 2012 Arkansas State Flag: C'mon, wouldn't this thing look good flapping in the breeze?

 

I should note for the record that all my accusations of a rigged creative contest, despite those involved long since passing, is mostly for dramatic effect even though it seems a bit suspect and quite possible. It wouldn't be the first time, that's all I'm saying. 

Next up: California Dreamin'. Our fifth flag of fifty. 


 

Friday
Dec162011

363. State Flag Revisions: Arizona

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. 


Thursday
Dec152011

362. State Flag Revisions: Alaska.

 

Photo courtesy of Bob Bartlett Collection, University of Alaska Fairbanks, VF Addendum and Polar Regions Dept.Alaska has one of better flags currently being flown, which I think has something to do with the fact that they were the second-to-last state to join the union. Quite literally, their flag is more modern. At least I thought before embarking on this project. The flag actually has a long and interesting history and was produced via the much-hated open contest. Yes, a spec-contest. (See, this crowd-sourcing stuff isn't anything new, folks.) Seldom is the result of such things so restrained, however.

30 years before statehood, the Alaska Department of the American Legion held a contest to design a flag for the territory. The only caveat was this; submissions must be designed by Alaskan students in grades 7 through 12. Netstate.com, goes into more detail: "Contest rules were circulated throughout the Alaska Territory in January, 1927. The rules stipulated that the first stage of the competition would take place at a local level. Each town would set up a panel of judges that would determine the ten best local designs and forward these to Juneau where the final competition would take place. A total of 142 designs were forwarded to Juneau."

Obviously, I wanted to know what these 142 designs looked like, so I began to track them down and although I can't find all 142, I did stumble upon a few of the finalists. I have to say, these kids did a pretty good job. And stranger than that, was the decision of the board actually choosing the best submission. I'm not sure I've seen this happen in an open contest since.

35 of the Finalists: (click for larger version)

Courtesy of Alaska State Library

Even though it's not appropriate, young Jim Cavanaugh from Anchorage submitted a handsome design that I've included below, rendered a bit more crisply, just because he deserves it. Again, not appropriate for Alaska, but I'm sure some third-world dictator would do well to use this design. There are other worthy candidates in the set; Elizabeth Sheldon's Axe and Shovel, Louise Meal's Polar Bear, and Oscar Sandvick's pennant-shaped design stand out to me.

Jim Cavanaugh's Design:

According to Netstate.com, the wining submission was by a young 7th-grade student, 13-year-old Benny Benson from Chignik. And get this—little Benny was an orphan. You just can't write a better flag design story than that now can you? The funny thing I found (in addition to this heartstring-pulling tidbit) was that Benny was prolific. Of the 36 finalists I found, he had submitted three of them. In my mind, I imagine a passionate Benny, working long hours after getting the assignment in class, probably by candlelight, sweating over the details of all of his work. Who knows how many he actually designed, but I bet there was a lot of love put into his flags and that's kind of cool. Check out his 'losing' designs in the first column, fifth and sixth flags down, in the image above. Below, you can see the winning submission.

Benny Benson's Winning Alaska Flag Design Entry: (Click for larger version)

I like this Benny kid. Yeah, he was prolific AND an orphan, PLUS he looks a like a retro version of Vince Vaughn—at least in this picture. Not to mention that his submission was actually the best, like I said before. For his efforts Benny got a gold watch featuring his design and $1,000 that was supposed to go towards a trip to Washington, DC that never happened. (Travel from Alaska must have been a bit more difficult in those days.) I read somewhere that he instead used the money to study diesel mechanics. More cool stuff: the first time the flag was ever flown in Alaska, it flew over the orphanage Benny lived in, The Jesse Lee Home, on July 9th, 1927. Pretty darn neat, I say. In 1959, when Alaska became the 49th state, the official flag of the territory became the official flag of the state.

According to Wikipedia, "Benny looked to the sky for the symbols he included in his design. Choosing the familiar constellation he looked for every night before going to sleep at the orphanage, submitted this description with it: The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaskan flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, the most northerly in the union. The Dipper is for the Great Bear—symbolizing strength." Geez. He. Looked. To. The. Sky. Could this get any more poetic?

Here is another shot of Benny and his design:

Courtesy of Alaska State Library

Benny Benson clearly has played no small part in the design history of Alaska, and Alaska has tried to memorialize that as well. Below you can see a few of those remembrances, a memorial outside of Seward and a bronze plaque on his grave. Benny died in 1972 of a heart attack in Kodiak, AK. I would have liked to have met him.

Benny Benson Memorial:

Benny Benson Grave:

So, learning all of this (combined with generally liking the design) I'm asking myself: Who am I to mess with this a 13-year-old orphan's artwork?

Benny talks about this experience in this archival footage:


Again who am I to mess with this? Well, the answer is pretty simple. No one. But we're keeping Benny's design mostly intact, and tweaking a few things just to make it work well in relation to all the other flags. We're going to tighten up a few things a 13-year-old wouldn't have necessarily thought of and the flag designers should have, as well as adding back an element that Benny displayed in one of the images above. The result is something I think he would have liked.

Alaska's Current State Flag:

And another version (It's proving to be tough to find official version of the flags.)

It's actually rather striking for a flag and puts a lot of the previous 48 to shame, don't you think. Conceptually, it's pretty close to perfection, but it's not a perfect execution. The flag is supposed to be rendered in the same blue field as the US flag. This is all fine and good, except that's about the same color as more than half the current state flags. So I considered adjusting this. 

Official United States Flag Colors:

Let's deal with the color First.

We're going to step away from the more magenta-heavy blue of the USA flag and try something a bit more modern, and adjust the 'gold' of the stars to match. Above you'll see the official blue, along with how the blue is often displayed, both of which are not quite right. Below, you'll see the colors I prefer. Again, there's nothing wrong with the two blues shown above, except that they are prevalent throughout the state flags, and we're aiming for a design that stands out a bit more.

The other issue the final design should address deals with the accuracy of the constellation. Simply put, why shouldn't it be accurate? Take a look below at the flag overlaid with the actual constellation. (I'm sure the constellation changes slightly depending on where you're viewing it from, the time of night, the time of year and all that — but I have to decide on something here, and I chose a view from Alaska, fittingly enough. I'm going to give myself the freedom to rotate the constellation as needed to better match the original design as well as giving the star elements some room to breathe in the sky. 

Constellation vs Flag Star Layout:

Here's the constellation shot I'll be using: (Shot as close to Alaska as I could find.)

Even when rotated, the stars don't really match up with the original flag. There really isn't any reason why they shouldn't and after looking at it, I actually think it will make the design stronger. The angle and the relationship between the Big Dipper and Polaris, the North Star, should be honored. I don't think little Benny would have been upset with these few nudges, had someone collaborated with him back in 1927.

The last element I would like to add back into the flag, is the year Alaska became a part of the US as a territory. Like I mentioned in the Alabama piece, I don't want to rely on numbers and letters to carry the weight of a message, but I feel like this helps add perspective to one of the 'newer' states, eluding to the fact that it isn't so new after all. In the photo (far above) the date shown on the flag is 1867.

The historical significance of this date is when the US purchased the land from Russia. The University of Virginia has this to say about that purchase, "On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward signed an agreement with Baron Edouard Stoeckl, the Russian Minister to the United States. The agreement, widely referred to as "Seward's Folly" (and "Seward's Icebox"), ceded possession of the vast territory of Alaska to the United States for the sum of $7.2 million. Few citizens of the U. S. could fathom what possible use or interest the 586,000 square miles of land would have for their country. In a speech given at Sitka on August 12, 1868, however, Secretary Seward claimed he did not doubt "that the political society to be constituted here, first as a Territory, and ultimately as a state or many States, will prove a worthy constituency of the Republic."1 President Andrew Johnson sent General Jefferson C. Davis to command a military force of about 500 men to maintain peace and order, and expected that Congress would establish the civil organization of the territory."

So including the year 1867 on the flag, is kind of like a rebellious nanny-nanny-boo-boo to all of those that thought the purchase of Alaska, or "Seward's Folly" or "Seward's Icebox", was just that, folly. I think a flag needs a symbol like that.

After all this information and setup, the small changes may not seem like much, but sometimes that's what design is all about, small tweaks. And in this case, I think all of the context we have uncovered make the alterations more significant. Not all state flags will emerge so unscathed.

The 2012 Alaska State Flag:

For the record, the colors I've used are Pantone 303 U (blue) and Pantone 130 U (gold.) I tried a more gold looking gold, but that never quite works on something like a flag. I'm also using a standard 2:3 aspect ratio, which I think I'll carry throughout this project. (I believe the US flag is a 1:1.9 ratio, height to width.) And because I wanted handsome numerals, even though set at a small size, I chose Archer book.