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.


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.


Maryland’s old flag is painful to look at. Somehow, it ranked fourth (meaning “good”) in the North American Vexillological Association’s survey of state flags! Those people have got to be out of their minds. I assume they gave it credit for daring to be ugly, or for engaging in some kind of perverse vexillo-illogical juxtaposition.

One of my pet peeves is when someone takes a state seal or crest and slaps it in the middle of a piece of cloth, and calls it a flag. This is essentially the same thing… they’re just filling the whole flag with the kind of design you’d get in some nobleperson’s coat of arms. Note: coats of arms are some of the most horrible graphic designs ever, other than 1960s concert posters.

The Maryland flag is two fundamentally incompatible designs put together, and their incongruity is accentuated by repeating each of them. You’ll hear me bitch over and over on this site about stuffing a whole flag into one corner of a flag, and these idiots stuffed an entire flag into all four corners!

And to make matters worse, one of those quarters is itself divided… into quarters! Utterly insane. I grieve for any Maryland schoolchildren who have to try to draw this flag for civics assignments or whatever.

My first attempt to fix this mess got rid of the repetition, and overlapped the patterns and colors in a way that… sort of works, in a post-modern kind of way. Still a bit anxiety-inducing, but better. An artistic schoolkid could remember this, maybe.

But I’m trying to fix not just bad flag design. I’m trying to fix bad flag history. And my research then discovered that those red-and-white quarters were a design included in the state flag back in the 19th century to represent the treasonous faction who wanted to join the Confederacy. Umm… no. We don’t accommodate that.

At the point I realized that, my job became simple: revert to just the yellow and black portion of the design. This was originally taken from the banner of the Calvert family, founders of the colony. Should’ve stuck with it. It’s distinctive without being harmful to the eyes or the soul. This is the one I’d go with.

Alternatively, if you really have a perverse attachment to that clashing set of four colors, you could at least rearrange them into the Calvert pattern instead, and this is my Plan B.