Michigan

Michigan’s is the state flag that inspired this whole project, and it’s a textbook example of how to design a flag badly.

It’s a shield-on-a-field, which is three strikes against it right there. In addition, it contains not one, not two, but three mottos in Latin: E Pluribus Unum (“from many, one” – copied from the United States), Tuebor (“I will defend”), and Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice (“If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you”). It also borrows the eagle from the United States, to go with its native elk and moose, and that’s not even getting to the crest with an explorer by one of the lakes, blah blah, blah.  U-G-L-Y. All it’s missing to make me hate it more is the name of the state spelled out, and a smear of 26 stars somewhere.

I considered doing something with the elk and moose antlers, because both are authentically Michigany things that I like about the state. But this one’s a tear-down, for me to rebuild from the ground up.

What defines Michigan? The Great Lakes are the most obvious thing. The beaches along its extensive shoreline are legendary. The northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula are renowned for their woodlands. And in the winter we get snow that would impress even other northerners. Blue. Yellow. Green. White. In a stylized shape suggesting a peninsula.

And it just so happens that blue-and-yellow and green-and-white are the colors of our two biggest universities, which fight over being known as “the” University of Michigan State. I was careful to give each pair of colors the same amount of real estate, because the infantile rivalry of those people is insufferable.

Maine

It was crappy state flags like this that inspired me to start this project. Like several other states, the legislature of Maine wasted valuable paper and a very little bit of their time, by writing a law that declared that their state flag would be their state seal on a field of dark blue.

What makes their choice unforgivable is the fact that they were replacing something better, a flag that almost meets my standards. This was the Maine flag from 1901 to 1909. The blue star represents the North Star. Maine’s official knickname is “The Pine Tree State”, and pines were also used in a various other flags of the New England region. The only thing really wrong with this flag is the tree illustration, which is too fussy and detailed for a flag, and no two people are going to render it the same.

I’ve simplified the rendering of the pine tree to make it more suitable for stitching out of cloth, or for drawing by schoolkids. Yes, it looks like a child’s drawing of a Christmas tree. That’s the whole damn point: to be an iconic pine tree. The 1901 design has some popular support already, appearing on merchandise, and even getting to the point of being brought up in the legislature. I’d rather they modernize and iconify the look a bit first, but either way: Buy some paper, spend a little time, and fix this, Maine.

Indiana

The flag of Indiana isn’t bad… it just needs a little work to overcome two of my least-favorite flag design failures: words and too many stars.

A flag shouldn’t have to rely on the name of the place being included in the design. Even putting it in small print like this smacks of a lack of confidence. No great flag has the name of the place on it. None. Delete it.

And for the love of God, what is it with states making a big deal out of how many states joined the Union before them, by littering their flags with stars to show how many? Indiana even goes to the trouble of having 13 in the outer ring (stolen from Betsy Ross), then 5 more  in the inner semi-circle, plus one slightly bigger star for itself. Too much arcane symbolism is getting wrapped up here. Delete the stars… except the one for Indiana, at the top.

The lines emanating from the torch aren’t horrible, but they’re a representation of light that already has two other symbols of light on it, and I don’t see a torch having such “orderly” light rays coming from it. So take them out, and adjust the remaining elements. Unify and simplify that torch flame. Enlarge the star that represents Indiana: be proud of yourself. And if this simpler design reminds you a little of the letter “I”… that’s just your Imagination.