Earth

When I saw this flag (or one very much like it) hanging from a porch in my neighborhood, I stifled a scream, and decided that I had to do a flag for Earth.

There are several unofficial flags for Earth out there. This one is arguably the worst. It’s a nice idea, I suppose: representing the diversity of the peoples of Earth, but the execution of it shows that the idea can’t work. It’s just a mess: a bunch of unreadable noise.

One legit flag that could represent Earth is the United Nations flag. It’s not a horrible flag, and the blandness serves the UN’s purposes well. You can paint a military helmet this shade of blue and people will immediately recognize that they represent UN peacekeepers. But the emblem of continents is too detailed and fussy to draw.

In 1969, peace activist John McConnell offered this design to the UN, obviously inspired by the photos of Earth taken by Apollo astronauts. There are also versions of this that substitute the famous “big blue marble” photo of Earth taken in 1972 or some other photo. All of them suffer from the same lack of simplicity.

The following year, farmer James Cadle proposed a much simpler flag, with circles representing the Sun, Earth, and Moon. I kinda like it, particularly the idea of including the satellite that’s such a critical part of the Earth-Moon system.

Recently, Oskar Pernefeldt proposed a flag for Earth. His interlocking circles symbolize the seven continents, interlinking into a flower. It’s a nice concept, but again flunks the “Can you draw it from memory?” test.

One thing that all of these designs take as a starting point (even the trainwreck at the top) is that there needs to be a circle in the center. I decided to reject that principle. After all, Earth is not the center of the universe.

As much as I complain about putting illustrations on a flag, I chose to go with an abstracted one. One of the things I find most striking about images of Earth (which gets lost in those long-distance shots) is that thin layer of atmosphere around it. This is a medium-distance abstraction of Earth, reflecting how it looks when you get close to it. It’s green-encrusted ground, blue-reflective oceans, and that blue-refracting border of air. It intentionally doesn’t depict any place in particular on Earth, just the combo of features that makes Earth was it is. And taking a cue from Farmer James, I used the Moon off to the side, for visual balance.

 

Saskatchewan

Canada’s provincial flags include some real trainwrecks, but Saskatchewan’s isn’t one of them.

Saskatchewan’s flag does, however, commit the sin of shoving a coat of arms into the corner, which becomes too small to read as soon as you get any distance from it, and just makes the flag look bad. The arms also includes an English lion, which is leftover imperialism, and Canada really needs to get over that.

But this was easy peasy to fix: take out the crest. To fix the visual balance, I adjusted the size and position of the flower, which is a prairie lily, native to the region. The design of the flower is a little overly detailed for a flag, but it’s stylized fairly well, so I left it for the sake of tradition. The green and yellow background represents the province’s forests and its wheat fields (which is why we don’t need the bales of wheat in the coat of arms).

U.S. Virgin Islands

You can just tell that this flag came from the military. After the U.S. took control of the “Danish West Indies” in 1917, the new territorial governor installed in 1921 – a Navy real admiral – asked one of his officers to provide a flag. The captain picked a guy who drew a simplified version of the U.S. coat of arms, and in a flash of inspiration, added the letters V and I. To this day, no one knows what the letters stand for… the Roman number 6, maybe? It’s a total mystery.

And it’s on a plain white field, so you can’t even read it as a flag if it’s on a white background.

There is literally nothing good to work with here.

Thank God for the Danes, then. They had a flag of sorts for the colony. It consisted of their own flag in the canton, which we obviously can’t keep, and… a field of light blue. Not much, but it’s something.


Instead of stuffing a red flag with a white cross in the canton, how about putting a diagonal field of red with a white border in the same corner? Tweak the blue a little bit to better represent the Caribbean Sea, and we’re done.

Wyoming

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you can probably figure this one out for yourself. Wyoming has a fairly straightforward red, white, and blue graphic design with a simple white silhouette of a bison in the middle.

But some idiot put the state seal in the middle of the bison. The seal of course has the name of the state, a motto, a year, and an illustration. Plus the idiot didn’t leave a margin around the seal, so it almost touches the edges of the bison. A sadly elementary graphic-design fuck up.

How do we fix this?


That’s right: remove the fucking state seal.

United States

I’m gonna catch holy hell for doing this one, so I might as well get it over with.

The U.S. flag is a mess. It really is. It follows a few of the principles of good flag design, such as using just a few colors, and being distinctive (before others started copying it). But it drops the ball in a big way with simplicity.

Betsy Ross was pushing it by including a stripe for each and every one of the 13 colonies that were joining to form the union. Also including 13 stars was redundantly gilding the lily, though at least she found a nice pattern for them, so it’s identifiable as a thing in itself – a circle – not just a bunch of stars.

Then they started adding states. At first they not only added a new star for each one, but also a new stripe. They realized pretty quickly that they were making an already bad design worse, and reverted to the bad design, with 13 stripes. But they Kept! Adding! Stars! 13 was already too many, and now we’re stuck with 50 of the damn things. (And more, once we finally do the right thing and give statehood to D.C. and Puerto Rico.) Do you have any idea how many schoolkids have been reduced to tears, trying to figure out how to draw 50 fucking stars on their U.S. flag? It’s shameful.

The flag of Texas takes the U.S. flag and minimalizes the hell out of it: one star, one red stripe, one white stripe. I like that, but it goes farther than necessary. A “United States” flag needs to have stripes: plural. It just doesn’t need thirt-fucking-teen of them.

Instead of unlucky 13 stripes, lucky 7 stripes is enough. It doesn’t symbolize anything in particular, but that’s OK because it doesn’t have to. An odd number is good for vertical symmetry, which is nice to have in a design. Having an area of white on the edge of a flag is a bit of a problem if you don’t have a gray background on your web site, after all. (Which is where Texas screwed up. Russia too.)

Ross’ arrangement of the original 13 stars was a nice touch… there’s a reason that flag gets hauled out from time to time. So I’ve revived the circle, now as… a circle. With a big star in the middle, and that does symbolize something: it’s 1 country now, not 50-something states.

There are already 51-star and 52-star designs that have been figured out, for when/if we make states out of our two largest territories. But rather than adopting those, it would make more sense to take advantage of the opportunity to adopt a new flag that will never be obsolete.