The atrocity that is displayed above this sentence is Seattle's official city flag. Yes, I know, it is embarassing. It was created by Paul Kraabel, Seattle's last Republican city council member, presumably the last Republican because he created this very flag. It is supposed to represent currents swirling around Chief Seattle, but it really looks like semen fertilizing an egg containing Chief Seattle. Gross.
There were only three of these flags ever made and one of them is lost (or burned). Former Seattle City Councilwoman Jean Goddard recently wrote an op-ed for Westside Seattle where she said she once paraded our flag and "got laughs." Poor Jean. We must do better. And so we are throwing an (unofficial) contest to make a better flag. There are prizes (full details below), and we will nail the winning design to Mayor Jenny Durkan's door and demand she uses this People's Flag of Seattle as the Official Flag of Seattle from here till the end of days. We doubt she will oblige, but that's on her.
You're probably asking if flags even matter. What's the point of a city flag? Do people care about them? Yes. They do. And now I PASSIONATELY do as well after watching Roman Mars, the host of the 99% Invisible radio show, give his semi-famous talk on flag design—embedded below. It's great and surprisingly emotional. "Trust me, 100 percent of people care about flags," he says. "There's just something about them that works on our emotions." He's right. By the end of his talk, I had one to three tears in my eyes. I now yearn for a flag that will give us civic pride.
Mars uses Chicago's city flag as the perfect example of a good city flag. Look at this! Beautiful! Simple! Clean! Striking!
Mars also holds up Amsterdam's flag as a great example:
Sexy! Passionate! What a flag! These flags are flown all over their cities because they are perfect. Seattle's flag looks like Microsoft ClipArt next to these gems.
But how do you design a good flag? Ted Kaye, the author of the authoritative text on good flag design, Good Flag, Bad Flag: How to Design a Great Flag, has some ideas. He's created these five basic principles of flag design:
1. Keep it simple. The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.
2. Use meaningful symbolism. The flag’s images, colors or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.
3. Use two or three basic colors. Limit the number of colors on the flag to three that contrast well and come from the standard color set.
4. No lettering or seals. Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seals.
5. Be distinctive or be related. Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.
I think these are helpful but in no way definitive. Do what feels right, but, my God, don't do what felt right to Paul Kraabel when he captured Chief Seattle in those semen currents.
Now, for the fine print:
When we first announced this contest back in June on Instagram, Seattle Times was quick to copy our idea. But they offered no prizes or incentives. It was sad. We, however, are loaded with goodies. The person who creates the winning design for the People's Flag of Seattle gets:
Four tickets to the Seattle Art Museum ($119.96 value; valid one year) A one year "Supporter" level membership for two people to Town Hall Seattle, including a voucher for six free tickets ($60 value) Two tickets to any regularly scheduled tour or lecture by the Seattle Architecture Foundation ($36 value)
Send your flag design(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org. A team of esteemed flag designers will determine the finalists, and then YOU, the people, will vote on the winner.
Submit your flag designs by Thursday, August 1, at 5 PM PDT. We'll then choose the finalists and have the people vote for their favorite the week of August 5.