A team of designers at Column Five, a creative content agency, recently decided to redesign 13 city flags from around New York and California. The revamp was meant as a creative challenge for the company’s designers.
While creating the new flags, designers were encouraged to stick to five tenets of good flag design: The flag should be simple enough that a child can draw it from memory, it should use meaningful symbols, contain only two or three colors, refrain from writing of any kind, and be completely distinctive from other flags.
Most of the flags that the Column Five team was tasked with redesigning featured a seal or Latin inscription. Designers took elements from the clunky city flags and transformed them into modern, minimalist representations of the cities.
“Many of the designers grew up or currently reside in the cities they redesigned,” Nate Butler, creative director of Column Five, told Travel + Leisure. “On top of having a familiar understanding of the environment, each designer spent time doing deeper, historical research on their city. The real challenge, then, became how to visually distill the city's identity and heritage into a simple, readable, composition without sacrificing its rich history.”
Manhattan’s flag takes a cue from the physical geography of the island (surrounded by water, with gridded streets and a park in the center) while Staten Island’s flag took elements from the old flag (waves) and simplified its look.
Meanwhile in California, flag designs were inspired by what each city is known for: San Juan Capistrano’s new flag took inspiration from the famous California missions and Huntington Beach was inspired by its surf scene.
“Surfing is a big part of Huntington Beach’s identity,” designer Erin Safreno said of the flag. “It seemed appropriate to include a wave on the flag to showcase the city’s identity. The wave’s composition also plays off the traditional diagonal line flag design.”
Unfortunately, the redesign was solely meant as a creative experiment for the team and will not be implemented as any city’s official flag.
However, there is still a chance for modern design to make its way onto an official city flag: There’s currently a petition out—sponsored by Roman Mars, host of the 99% Invisible podcast, and inspiration behind the Column Five project—to redesign the city flag of San Francisco.
For inspiration they could look to the flags of New Mexico, South Africa, Canada and Seychelles. Butler pointed to these as some of the best flag designs in the world for their “simple, bold and distinct” appeal.