Lined up all together, the U.S. state flags are a ragtag bunch. Many seem to have followed the same design concept, sticking an emblem chock-full of symbolism onto a field of blue. But then we have Maryland, whose flag sports the shocking color palette of an ambulance wrapped in police tape, and Mississippi, which borrows heavily from its Confederacy days. Ohio’s isn’t even a quadrangle. Oregon apparently couldn’t decide, and so it has two — one starring a beaver silhouetted majestically against a blue backdrop.
Designer Ed Mitchell of Bresslergroup noticed this lack of unity among the banners of a set of territories whose best quality is, at least in theory, their unity. And so he set about redesigning all 50 — plus Washington, D.C. — using the principles outlined in 1969 by the International Federation of Vexillogical Associations, which states that a good flag:
- Must be so simple a child can draw it from memory
- Must use meaningful symbolism
- Must use only two to three colors
- Must no include text or seals
- Must be distinctive or related, not duplicative
Mitchell stripped down the color palette to red, white, and blue (What else?) and one set of symbols: the star, the stripe, the eagle, the olive branch, the shield, and Lady Liberty. He also switched up the proportions, going with a 1 by 1.5 ratio that’s close to Golden but standard enough to produce easily. Placed on a flagpole, the new shape also gives the national flag — with its 1 by 1.9 ratio — visual seniority. Which seems appropriate.
But despite their eclectic appearances, each flag does come with its own history. Is it really worth chucking that aside in the name of cohesion? Are state flags really contributing to national strife? It could be argued that each one is as unique as the region it represents, which, in turn, is what makes the whole nation special. Mitchell, however, thinks that we’re “off balance.” He argues that the simple freedom to reconsider such historic symbols should be celebrated:
I believe design can be used as a tool to challenge our current beliefs — in this case, to make people think about what we represent, what image we want to project, and how it will look when we’re all working together.
Take a look at some of his designs below, and see if you can guess which states they belong to.
Images via Bresslergroup.