South Bend, Indiana Has a Great New Flag

As we reported last October, in honor of the city’s sesquicentennial, the SB150 Committee hosted a public contest at the beginning of a carefully designed process to design a new city flag for South Bend, Indiana. After selecting three finalists, gathering public feedback, and creating a composite design, the city’s elected officials today revealed the final result: a great new flag!  (It will be officially adopted on 14 March 2016.)

South Bend’s new flag: “The six points of the star represent the city’s six council districts, while the blue and white lines evoke the river at the heart of South Bend, our physical and virtual connectivity, and our industrial roots.”

Those interested in designing processes that balance public participation with professional design judgment would do well to emulate the process South Bend used, as laid out in today’s press release.

As in many design competitions, three finalist designs (out of 200 submissions in this case) were put before the public for a vote.  Here are the three finalists:

South_Bend_Flag_1 Jeffrey Koenig’s design: “This design was inspired from a beloved lapel pin that is thought to have been created during the Kernan administration. The pin has a yellow background and blue river—in an “s” shape—going through the center. There are five, six-sided stars across the top. The six-sided star was chosen to represent the South Bend’s six council districts. There are five stars to mark the city’s five eras, as identified in South Bend 150 literature—Early History, Incorporation, Peak Industry, Rediscovery, and Innovation (present time).”

South_Bend_Flag_2 Jesse Villagrana’s design: “The flag consists of three symbols: the navy chevron (arrow) represents the St. Joseph River and South Bend’s connectivity – by road (within one day’s drive of South Bend, one can reach 80 percent of the U.S. population), rail, air, river and fiberoptics. The six-pointed star represents South Bend’s ethnically diverse population. And the yellow represents innovation—different people, working on different things, colliding together in unexpected ways and bringing new ideas to South Bend.”

South_Bend_Flag_3 Garrett Gingerich’s design: “The focal point of this design is a red star that represents South Bend, and the passion, energy, and determination that can be felt throughout our community. The star’s six points reflects the city’s six council districts, and is positioned within the far-left area of white, a color that represents the city’s diverse cultural and religious influences. The initial blue area symbolizes the St. Joseph River which brought Native Americans and settlers to the area. The “s” shape also invokes the city’s name—South Bend. The thin strip of white is symbolic of peace, as taken from the city of South Bend seal, and serves as a bridge to the future, which is represented with the remaining blue, to be associated with stability, confidence, and innovation—characteristics intended to keep South Bend’s pioneering spirit alive.”

Rather than simply advance the design that garnered the most votes as “the winner”, the public feedback was used as input to a final design stage:

A flag design committee—consisting of professional designers, marketing professionals, city officials, and SB150 representatives—put forward three finalists for public input. [… This] input, collected in person and online, led to over 1,000 comments on these three designs. The feedback was compiled and the committee produced a final design which incorporated the public input and integrated elements of all three finalist designs.

Here’s a visualization of the process leading from the old city flag, through three finalists, and the new flag:


As we remarked earlier, South Bend’s process was also distinguished by having a great deal of top-down feedback to would-be designers regarding symbolism, themes to draw upon, and mandatory adherence to the Good Flag, Bad Flag principles.  All these added rules and constraints have appeared to have really paid off.

Congratulations to South Bend, Indiana for your fine new flag! (And thanks to Chad Crabtree of the South Bend Flag Committee to calling attention to today’s unveiling on the Flags and Vexillology group on Facebook.)

Changing The Other Portland’s Flag

As every Oregonian Portlander knows, our city name was the result of 1845 coin tosses between two founders from New England, a Bostonian and a Portlander.  So it is with special interest that we see that our namesake city has now joined the long list of US cities in which vexillonaires are trying to improve the existing flag.

The vexillonaire in this case is Benjamin Coursey, a senior at Casco Bay High School.  (That’s him in the photo above, by Troy R. BennettBangor Daily News.) As BDN reported Monday:

Coursey’s senior project at the Portland high school is to convince city officials to replace the blue-and-gold flag with something better. He plans to lobby city councilors — he said he’s already started — and ultimately hopes to propose an alternative to be adopted.

Along with nationally respected flag experts Ted Kaye [of the PFA] and David Martucci [of], he will help judge reader entries into a BDN Maine contest for new Portland flag designs.

The winning flag design will earn a prize of $300 and will be on the short list of designs that Coursey plans to lobby the council to adopt.

Here is Coursey describing his project in one minute:

Note: The deadline to enter the flag design contest is Monday, March 28th, 5pm Eastern Time.

The existing flag of Portland, Maine is obscure enough that there does not appear to be a high-resolution graphic of its design available online.  The best we have is a GIF Dave Martucci created in 1998:

us-me-pt provides a better view of the city seal:


Apparently there is no city ordinance defining the flag, so it’s not surprising that there are several different variants. There is the version Coursey is standing in front of in the photo at the top of this page that Martucci used for his graphic above. Adding to possibilities for confusing Maine with Oregon, from a distance in a breeze this Portland flag could easily be confused with the front of the state flag of Oregon:


There is also this version City Councilor Ed Suslovik can be seen presenting in 2007 to Portland’s sister city of Archangel, Russia:

Portland City Councilor Ed Suslovic presenting the flag of the City of Portland

From a distance, with the blue faded from the sun, it might be mistaken for the flag of Palau:


And there is this variation on the first version, photographed in a snowstorm by Dave Martucci in 2011:


For more context about city flags in Maine, check out Seth Koenig’s BDN feature from the end of last year:  Portland’s city flag included in a rogue’s gallery of bad flags. Is it time for a redesign?  Looking through the FOTW page on Maine municipal flags he writes:

…it seems the flags of Augusta, Auburn, Bangor, Biddeford, Eastport, Kittery, Lincoln, Lisbon, Thomaston and Wiscasset — as well as the aforementioned state flag — are all Seals On Bedsheets, with a number of other towns boasting flags that aren’t much better.

But he gives a shout-out to two very nicely designed Maine town flags:  Jeremy Hammond’s flag for Bath, and Dave Martucci’s flag for Washington.



Koenig concludes:

Could Portland learn from these smaller Maine municipalities, apply a similar logic as it used in drafting a new slogan and give its city flag an overhaul?

Vexillologists seem to be saying yes. Portlanders are probably saying, “Wait, we have a city flag?”

For more on the Portland, Maine flag:


On 14 March noted vexillologist, former NAVA president, and contest judge David Martucci published The story behind Portland’s terrible flag, and one idea for a better design.  He suggests drawing from the existing flag something like this:


Simplifying El Paso’s flag

Upon hearing Roman Mars repeat Ted Kaye’s dictum In every bad flag there’s a good flag trying to get out,  James Reyes decided to simplify the flag of his hometown, El Paso, Texas, from this:


to this:


Adding to the list of city flag improvement efforts underway in the US he began lobbying for a new flag, publishing an article in the El Paso Times, writing to the mayor and city council, and establishing a discussion group on Facebook.

In American City Flags, John Purcell presents the convoluted story of the existing flag:

In 1948 the city for the first time defined its flag: the city seal in gold on a field of light blue.  The seal at that time was a star with the letters spelling TEXAS placed between its points, and the city’s name in a ring around it.  But this flag was never made, because the manufacturer substituted the Texas state seal modified to include the city’s name.  (This “crest” at some point became the city’s official seal.)  The substitution was unnoticed until a group of girl scout embroiderers in 1962 decided to take on the city flag as a project and discovered the original seal.  Which led to the city asking its planning department (!) to design a new flag that would be “more authentic historically”.  The planning department created a design that called for seven colors: golden-yellow (for the richness of a sunny climate), yellow-green (for hope, good fortune, fertile land, and vitality), silver (for faith), white (for purity), blue (for sincerity), and “red-purple (two shades)”,  this last for fellowship, warmth, and shelter.  (The two shades of maroon were intended to have the area around the sun symbol be darker that the rest of the maroon areas.  This complexity was dropped by the time an ordinance was passed.)

What about the girl scouts? According to the city’s Records Management Division, “Due to the complex design, the girl scouts did not embroider the flag and it was machine made by a specialist.”

Mississippi Flag Initiatives

Last November we wrote about the Flag for All Mississippians Coalition ( and contentious efforts underway in the Magnolia State to change the current state flag, the only state flag to include the Confederate battle flag.  Here is an update.

The NewMSFlag people are currently collecting signatures to qualify The Flag for All Mississippians Act​ as Initiative 55 on the November 2018 [!] ballot.  This would add the following to the state constitution: “The flag of the State of Mississippi shall not contain or include any reference to the Confederate army’s battle flag or to the Confederacy.” (It does not propose a new flag, but forces the creation and adoption of one by making the current flag unconstitutional.) In addition to the coalition’s founder, Sharon C. Brown, two Baptist pastors express their support on the initiative’s page on Ballotpedia.

According to Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s website, in opposition to Initiative 55 there are five anti-flag-change initiatives also seeking to be qualified for a future ballot.  Initiative 21, Initiative 46, Initiative 54, Initiative 56, and Initiative 58 would all amend the state constitution to define the state flag as the current state flag (adopted 1894).

Of these, Initiative 46 “State Heritage” is most colorful and expansive. In addition to flag-related declarations, it defines the state to be “principally Christian and quintessentially Southern”, makes English the official language (making an exception for “Latin or French” for heraldry purposes), requires the state song “Dixie” (or “Go, Mississippi”) to be played immediately after the national anthem, defines “Colonel Reb” and “Bully” (the Bulldog) to be the official mascots of Ole Miss and Mississippi State, respectively, designates April to be “Confederate Heritage Month”, and nullifies the repeal of an article in the constitution that had changed “borders and boundaries” of the state. Sections III and XI deal with flags:

The state flag of Mississippi shall be the state flag adopted in 1894, which has been in continuous use since 1894, and which was confirmed by statewide vote in 2001. The state flag of Mississippi shall be displayed in front of all public buildings, including but not limited to all state, county, and municipal buildings and any school receiving state funding. Wherever the national flag is displayed on public land or in public buildings, a state flag of equal size shall also be displayed. In Mississippi public schools and other public institutions, whenever the pledge of allegiance to the national flag is recited, the state flag salute shall be recited immediately thereafter. The state flag salute shall be: “I salute the flag of Mississippi and the sovereign [sic] state for which it stands with pride in her history and achievements and with confidence in her future under the guidance of Almighty God.” [Section III]

In honor of the Mississippians who served under this military flag, the Confederate Battle Flag, measuring at minimum four feet by four feet, shall be permanently displayed on a flag-pole directly behind and above the monument to Confederate women on the state capitol’s exterior grounds. The right to place and display flags at veterans’ graves shall not be infringed. Within Mississippi, all publicly owned, publicly held, or publicly managed Confederate or Confederate-themed items, including but not limited to monuments, statues, works of art, relics, markers, signs, names, titles, structures, roads, parks, graves, and cemeteries shall be preserved and maintained by the state government, which may delegate applicable duties to the respective counties or municipalities for this purpose; for all cases in which said items were renamed, the more historical name shall take precedence and be reestablished in full. [Section XI]

The Jackson Free Press reports that in the state legislature there is a proposal to de-fund any university or state government that refuses to fly the existing state flag (as several have done).  The same article reports a proposal by Mississippi House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden (presumably no relation to Edward) for the state to have two state flags, one with the battle flag and one without — which has raised some eyebrows with its echo of the infamous “separate but equal”.  (This backs down from Snowden’s statement in June: “I believe any state flag should be a common symbol citizens can unite behind and proudly embrace as their own. If our flag is no longer useful for those purposes (to instill pride and unity across the broad spectrum of citizens), then we should reconsider its current status.”)

Finally, on a more constructive note, artist Laurin Stennis, the granddaughter of segregationist Senator John C. Stennis (1901-1995), has proposed a new design for the state flag.

2015 proposal by Laurin Stennis

She describes the symbolism:

Nineteen small blue stars with one large star in the center represents Mississippi as the twentieth state to join the Union. The small stars form a circle, a shape that represents wholeness, unity, and potential. Red bars stand opposite one another, recognizing the passionate differences we sometimes harbor. Joining all elements is a field of white symbolizing illumination, spirituality, brightness and promise.

(You can learn more via her website, Facebook page Mississippi: I Declare, and a podcast interview.)

The symbolism is quite unusual for representing and respecting disharmony, the “passionate differences we sometimes harbor”.

Stennis’ design is (unintentionally) similar to that of the Canadian flag:


And this flag, in turn, can be imagined as two faces arguing!

Sketch from reddit/r/todayilearned

The Mere-Exposure Effect

by Ted Kaye, Vexilloid Tabloid #56

The mereexposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them.  In social psychology, this effect is sometimes called the “familiarity principle”.

I recently learned of this term, and the concept which it describes.  It puts a name to a challenge faced by anyone trying to update or change an established flag design.

As the “year of the flag” turns  into a new year, with flag redesign efforts multiplying at the city and state level across the U.S., it’s heartening to have a well-researched descriptive theory to explain why people can be so resistant to flag change.

The effect has been demonstrated with many kinds of things, including words, Chinese characters, paintings, pictures of faces, geometric figures, and sounds—so it is not surprising that it would apply to flags as well.

In my explanation of the Oregon flag redesign project of 2008–09,  I described people’s preference for a flag, no matter how poorly designed, as the “ugly baby phenomenon”—using the analogy that every mother loves her baby, no matter how ugly, because she is accustomed to it and it is her very own.

Such a comfortable and proprietary relationship can cloud aesthetic judgment.  Citizens of a city or state (or even a country) can feel the same way about their flags.  But unlike mothers, cities, states, and countries can change their flags.

As Fiji restarts its flag redesign effort (the second round of public submissions is due by 29 February), and New Zealand approaches the culmination of its own process (the public referendum on the  proposed new flag versus the current flag ends 24 March), the mere-exposure effect may well help explain the reaction of the public to these initiatives.

[thanks to Wikipedia for the description of this concept.]

Robert Zajonc. Photo: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

For those interested in Robert Zajonc’s foundational 1968 paper “Attitudinal effects of mere exposure” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it can be found here.  What’s more, there’s a local angle — Zajonc opens with this news story from Oregon:

On February 27, 1967, the Associated Press carried the following story from Corvallis, Oregon:

A mysterious student has been attending a class at Oregon State University for the past two months enveloped in a big black bag. Only his bare feet show. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:00 A.M. the Black Bag sits on a small table near the back of the classroom. The class is Speech 113— basic persuasion. . . . Charles Goetzinger, professor of the class, knows the identity of the person inside. None of the 20 students in the class do. Goetzinger said the students’ attitude changed from hostility toward the Black Bag to curiosity and finally to friendship [emphasis added].

To see where the story leads from there, read the article.

Have an Idea for a D&D Flag?

Alas, no, not a flag for Dungeons & Dragons: rather, a flag for the twin Scottish villages of Denny (pop. 8000) and Dunipace (pop. 2500). The River Carron — which might be the “River Itys” described in Ptolemy’s Geography in the 2nd century — separates the two.

Deadline for submissions is February 17, 2016.  For instructions and details, download the Competition Pack PDF, visit the competition’s Facebook page, and check out these concise posters:



New Zealand Seeking an Emblem

Tim Kerr sent us his essay regarding New Zealand’s flag change referendums, Seeking an Emblem: Observations on the Tradition of the New Zealand Ensign. Though we are not endorsing it nor verifying its accuracy, it is interesting and timely so we are republishing it here for general vexillological discussion.

About the author

Tim Kerr has written articles for a number of travel and recreation magazines and has occasionally contributed articles to New Zealand Memories. He edits a regular newsletter for the Canterbury Branch of the NZ Shareholders’ Association.

Tim states he had no particular feelings towards national flags and despises the chauvinism associated with national ensigns. However, he strongly believes the silver fern (or white feather) replacements for the current New Zealand ensign are unworkable and will soon date. He feels the fifth suggestion is technically OK, but a bit pointless – the symbolism utterly lost on non-Kiwis. He also feels the little black flag with the so-called silver fern is pretty good – for supporting national sports teams, but not as an ensign.

US State Flag Devolution

The US is not known for the overall design quality of its state flags, with many being uninspired, easily confusable “seal on a bedsheet” designs.  Yet changing a state flag in order to improve its basic design is a very difficult task, so difficult there is only one good example: Colorado.

This is not to say that state flag designs don’t change, nor that change isn’t often motivated by a desire to improve an in-distinctive design.  But time and again this change is for the worse, often taking the form of writing the name of the state in LARGE CAPITAL LETTERS across the front of the flag.

Why is this a problem? At a pragmatic level, writing on a flag is more often than not illegible. When on a flag pole, either it’s hidden by folds when the flag is hanging limp, or it’s blurred by ripples when the flag is flying in the wind.  And when hung so that the flag doesn’t move (for example, indoors), if it’s placed so that the back of the flag is visible, the viewer is treated to a bunch of backwards text.

At a symbolic level, it’s a symptom of an underlying failure.  As Ted Kaye says, “If you need to write the name of what you’re representing on your flag, your symbolism has failed.”

Take a look at all these examples of state governments deciding that to address their flags’ failed symbolism, they need to put the state’s name on the flag.  (And these examples do not include state flags that have had the name on them from the beginning.)


A convoluted history, but the major downgrade happened when the state flag committee told Willie Kavanaugh Hocker to add ARKANSAS to the design.






A rare example of a big redesign in 1925 that technically involved removing writing from the flag, but the “46” wasn’t seen as the problem — the star on a red flag suggesting communism was.

Rhode Island

A complex case, as the 1882 change was a big improvement, and the 1897 change a big downgrade (but because of unfortunate foreground and background colors, not the addition of text).


This is bit of an outlier, as the word VERMONT has never been particularly prominent. Interesting also in that the design has been purposely downgraded twice, in 1804 and in 1923.  Is it not due for an upgrade as the pendulum swings again?


Great Worksheets for Making Great Flags

Mark van Der Hyde at LowellFlag has come up with a very nice one-page worksheet for people to use when creating proposals for a new flag for the city:

The worksheet is also available as a PDF.

Another example is Heather Hopp-Bruce’s “DIY Canvas” published by The Boston Globe as part of its efforts to encourage its readers to come up with new designs for Boston’s flag:

Also available as a PDF.

At 24 pages it’s much longer than a worksheet, but another nice resource is Jonathan Parson’s Flag Toolkit designed as a resource for primary school teachers participating in the 2015 Flag Project of the UK Parliament.

Last but not least, the most popular general resource for good flag design is Good Flag, Bad Flag (compiled by the PFA’s Ted Kaye), a 16-page booklet published by the North American Vexillological Association in 2006. Amazon is currently selling it for $2.99, or you can download the PDF for free.  (PDF versions are also available in five other languages besides English.)