We announced a provocative design exercise in Vexilloid Tabloid #57, namely:
Ignoring the political near-impossibility of change…simply from a DESIGN perspective, how could the US flag be improved?
We reported earlier on two proposals emailed to us, but there have been some other ideas presented since then, on our Facebook page, in the Flags and Vexillology discussion group, and at our meeting last evening.
The main theme was simplification, but that came in strikingly different forms. Some looked to the history of the US flag’s evolution, and proposed reinstating the original 13-star, 13-stripe flag.
Others looked to this same evolutionary history of the US flag to simplify the flag not by reducing the number of stars, but by structuring them into a simpler pattern (something perceptual psychologists might call a gestalt) — either based on circles or the 5-pointed star shape itself. Here are some historical examples, plus a couple of proposals that look ahead to Puerto Rican statehood. (Note that before 1912 no specific star pattern was specified.)
Zoli Truskova suggested reducing the number of stars to one, and replacing the blue canton with a blue bar at the hoist. Truskova’s design is identical to the rather obscure “Ceremonial flag of the Texas Navy Association” (texasnavy.org), which was derived sometime after 1958 from the naval ensign and de facto first flag of the Republic of Texas (1836-39). For the ceremonial flag, the union was replaced by a blue bar at the hoist in order to distinguish it from the flag of Liberia (adopted 1847).
Truskova’s design also brings to mind a proposal to replace the canton with a wide blue bar advocated by Navy veteran Samuel J. Kapral. Kapral kept all 50 stars but wanted to give them enough space to be seen from a distance. He sent his design to the White House in 2014 but never heard back.
PFA member David Koski presented a radical redesign that gives the 50 stars plenty of room — the entire field — by doing away with the stripes entirely. It still has a blue canton, with 13 stars arranged in the Hopkinson pattern.
The most radical simplification came from Matthew Brawn on Facebook, who represents the 13 original states with a 13-pointed star, on a diagonally divided field of red and blue divided by a rising white stripe symbolizing “the strength of the country”.
Rather than redesign the US flag, contrarian Scott Mainwaring proposed to de-design it by proposing that the Feds relax the flag’s specifications to explicitly encourage organizations, manufacturers, and individuals to create their own star patterns. Any flag having 13 red and white stripes and a blue canton of 50 stars, of any sizes, shapes, colors, or patterns, would meet the revised specification. He wrote:
Annin, Valley Forge, Flag Source, Flag Zone and local flag manufacturers might compete with one another in promoting their own in-house designs. Individual US states might also create their own variants – perhaps California could use the stars to outline a bear, and Alaska could make the Big Dipper out of a subset of large stars and relegate the rest to small stars in background constellations. With this freedom would come responsibility: It would be up to each variant designer to make their star pattern beautiful and meaningful.
In this way, the dull uniformity of millions of identical copies of the Standard US Flag could be replaced with a rich culture of individual expression that would better represent the American ideals of individual freedom and collective diversity.
Unbeknownst to Mainwaring, Michael Orelove — who lived in Alaska for many years — had already independently created a variant US flag for Alaska, ingeniously highlighting 8 of the 50 stars to form the big dipper. He gave away this flag at the meeting as part of an ongoing effort to downsize his belongings.
We thank everyone who submitted designs and ideas for this challenge, providing plenty of evidence that there is lots of room for creativity and debate using the US flag as a starting point.