Bonne Bastille! I am a laggard this year on celebrating July 14, but a no less ardent one. I’ve always been a particular fan of this dashing-to-smashing holiday—dashing until the smashing came along, that is. It puts me in mind of all things patriotic, particularly that ultimate piece of local branding: the flag.
This is the flag of Chicago. It’s simply everywhere—and simply great. Two pale-blue stripes ride alongside white, with four red stars in the middle. These stars—which, you’ll be delighted to learn, are known in heraldic circles as “mullets”—stand for four milestones in Chicago’s history: the city’s founding at Ft. Dearborn in 1803; the Great Fire of 1871 that razed the city; the 1893 World’s Fair that put Chi-town back on the world map in a big way; and the frankly less newsworthy “Century of Progress” Exposition in 1933.
Chicagoans celebrate their flag with gusto: on messenger bags and soap (see below), in innumerable tattoos, and in sharp poster designs from folks like Know Your Flag. Plus, there are public campaigns like the Do It For Chicago Hunger Walk, and even porcelain magnets, tiles, and flatwear (below). And then we get into NSFW (but quite witty) territory: I give you Cooking for Strippers’ variation on the City of Big…ah, Shoulders flag.
Of course, Chicago flag T-shirts abound—too many to celebrate, although this meta-explainer T-shirt helps decode the flag’s symbology:
I’ve only lived in one other city with such a strong (and beloved) flag-as-logo: Berlin’s bear iconography is similarly rampant.
It’s no surprise that my other erstwhile hometown, New York City, has embraced Milton Glaser’s I ♥ NY as its quasi-official emblem. Because, yikes—behold the design-by-committee actual flag of the design capital of the world:
After seeing that, I spent some time pawing through the Internet for more treasures of good and bad flag design. Here are my more fantastic finds:
If vexillologists (flag-fans) could design their personal flags, how might they look? This stupendous and witty collection of personal flags shows you.
More than any brand identity, maybe, flags can polarize. The best flags make you feel like the country deserves more play on the world’s stage, so enticing is their national look. Not-so-great flags bear either the confusing hallmarks of group-think design or just a weird and ill-considered choice of symbols. Thanks to the blogs Cracked and The Archnemesis, I give you a selection of the most and least inspiring flags below.
Sicily’s flag tops my personal worst list—although an odd byproduct of terrible design is a certain awful fascination. I’m sure these symbols hold deeper, perhaps overly considered meanings. But take it at face value: what do hairy spinning legs, unmentionably sprouting wheat, and a poker-faced acorn say today about Sicily right now?
On the other hand, I’m with The Archnemesis in finding the flags of Nepal and its neighbor Bhutan innovative, differentiating, strong, and beautiful—precisely the qualities flags are meant to convey.
My personal favorite, though, is Seychelles, a tiny island nation off the east coast of Africa. Its bold diagonal stripes express the country’s looking towards the future—and, indeed, the entire design is suffused, simply and grandly, with that idea. It’s lovely to see a newer flag capture a whiff of actual hopefulness, not just a canned saying.
Designers working with color should be sure to pick up the revised edition of Jim Krause’s Color Index, now on sale at MyDesignShop.com. Also available: Leatrice Eiseman’s audio presentation on tracking color trends.