The united States of America form a beautiful patchwork of fifty fascinatingly unique and wonderful lands, cultures and histories. From the frozen tundra of Alaska to the Sunshine State of Florida, America’s diversity never ceases to amaze the world.
Sadly, the fifty states that partnered to put their creative genius to work in order to plant a flag on the moon have largely failed in epic manner when it comes to the design of their flags. Of the fifty state flags, 24 of them have as their flag a state seal against a blue bedsheet background. Of the remaining 26, eight feature the state’s seal against some other backdrop, leaving only 18 of 50 state flags void of seals.
Why are state flags so terrible, you may ask?
The most predominate theory is that with the exception of a handful of states, i.e. Texas and South Carolina, etc., most states did not have an official flag near the turn of the previous century. With the 1893 World’s Fair set to take place in Chicago, many states raced to create a banner that would distinguish them and showcase their state’s uniqueness at the international event; however, with little time to prepare, most simply opted to place their state’s seal onto a bedsheet and declared it to be their flag.
In the years ahead, as additional states selected a flag, the majority opted to go with the flow, which is precisely the opposite of what one is supposed to do when it comes to flag design — flags are to be distinctively you!
Unfortunately, seals on a bedsheet don’t work for a number of reasons, predominately, because seals were made to be printed onto paper where their fine details may be studied in great detail. A flag, on the other hand, is not meant to be studied in great detail, but rather serve as an easily recognizable and meaningful symbol that can be quickly identified from a distance, in high winds or no winds.
Because the overwhelming majority of state flags are so terrible, individuals from these places who wish to showcase pride in their home state are often forced to rely on sports teams’ logos as a substitute. Hats with Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and the West Virginia Mountaineers are all substitutes for no decent symbol to rally around.
Team logos are a very poor substitute for a state flag, however, as their usage is tightly restricted by copyrights; not to mention they fail to unify the people of a state, as no Marshall University graduate is going to have a Flying WV on the back window of their car, just as few in Philadelphia are willing to sport around a hat with the Steelers’ logo. Thus, terrible state flags are having the opposite effect of what they were designed to do and are actually dividing us.
Being from Virginia, where our state flag has no fewer than 17 colors, I must admit that I’ve never once seen someone wearing a Virginia Flag on their hat or t-shirt, nor do I recall seeing my state’s flag flying from anyone’s front porch; however, a trip across the border to Maryland, which has one of the most recognizable and distinct flags in the world, reveals that our neighbors to the north take great pride in rallying around their state’s symbol — it’s seen on scarfs, hats, magnets, coffee mugs, fishing poles and pretty much any other item that has enough room to affix a flag.
Likewise, the Kentucky and West Virginia flags are seldom spotted anywhere outside of government buildings (even though the people from these places are among the proudest in the nation of their state’s), but the South Carolina and Texas flags proudly adorn every other car’s back window in their respective states.
The Journal of Vexillology, which literally wrote the book on good flag design, published five golden rules for good flag design and sadly, most states break every single one of these rules:
1.) Keep it Simple — The flag should be so simple that a child can draw if from memory…
2.) Use Meaningful Symbolism — The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes…
3.) Use 2-3 Basic Colors — Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set…
4.) No Lettering or Seals — Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal…
5.) Be Distinctive or Be Related — Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections…
Rule number 4 is perhaps the greatest of these rules and yet no fewer than 38 of the 50 state flags contain some form of writing on them. This is important, because the whole purpose of a flag is to communicate a message without words… Think of how absurd the Union Jack would look if it had the words “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” notched into the red cross or how Old Glory would look if “U-S-A” were printed onto three of the thirteen stripes.
We have about 20 trillion problems in modern day America, but the designs of our state flags generally isn’t considered to be one of them by the average citizen.
A speaker addressing a recent TED Talk had a perfect answer to local leaders saying, “‘We have more important things to do than worry about a flag,’ my response is, ‘If you had a great flag, you would have a banner for people to rally under to face those more important things.'”
It’s time we take back the symbols of our state’s from athletic departments who are making billions from us and create real, iconic and meaningful flags that we’re not ashamed to display on our hats or our car windows.
If the Confederate Flag debate of recent years has revealed anything, it is this: Flags evoke raw and genuine emotion from all sides. Don’t we owe it to our states to have flags that produce good emotion and pride?
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