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Are bad flags a sign of dysfunctional government, or are they a sign that government doesn't care about design (even if it should) because it's too busy caring about people?


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Good morning John,

First, yes- your last video, yes. This video is nothing to that; leave me now, click the card and go.

But if you’ve already seen that video, John- flags. Now we’ve recently started to sell 99% Invisible merch at DFTBA.com which I love and unsurprisingly since it’s a podcast about design, the designs are good.

Roman Mars, the creator of 99% Invisible, is known for many things but his most popular YouTube video is about bad flag design and John, I live in a state that was voted 3rd to last for bad flag design. Though the fact that Maryland was above us makes me suspicious of the entire process because- do they want me to know what the flag looks like cuz I’ve looked at it and I can’t tell.

But I’m willing to admit, yes the Montana state flag is bad. Every other state flag looks like this, the seal even shows a wall of glacier meeting a large body of water which literally doesn’t happen in the state. This is why in Montana we actually identify by our area code, we only have one for the whole state so 406: everybody loves it, also our old licence plate design which is quite good.

But Roman Mars in his TED talk focuses on the flag of the city of Milwaukee which is bad, it’s so bad right. There’s a flag on it, there’s a flag on the flag- it’s bad design. Now I love good design and Roman Mars makes the case that a good flag doesn’t just represent civic pride, it can increase civic pride and since that TED talk an alternative has arisen, at least with a certain kind of Milwaukeean- the kind of Milwaukeean who like, you know, watches TED talks but and I don’t want to make a bunch of enemies right now among my fellow micro-brew loving friends- the people’s flag of Milwaukee is good design.

It’s iconic, you can understand it from across the baseball atadium but , and I’m not from Milwaukee so I’m not weighing in on this conversation as a Milwaukeean at all- I’m just as like from the perspective of design, it feels a little bit posh and it feels a little bit like it cares more about design than it does about a city.

Because you know what I feel like when I see Milwaukee’s current bad flag? Like, I look at that and I think that’s bad design but I also think, like, compromise is the main thing that’s being conveyed here. It’s the thing that we all to often these days call politics; like oh yeah ok, they had to get the shipping industry and the gear and the church and the beer and the baseball and the old flag.

But often times, when politics, like ‘bleugh politics’, what it’s actually synonymous for is, like, ‘bleugh, I had to think about someone who wasn’t me. Eugh- other people’ and in that way, the current Milwaukee flag it feels, like, earnest, it feels kind of sweet and in that way it feels kind of Milwaukee. This does not make it a good design and it does not make it a good flag- it’s neither of those things. 

And I will say that like democracy is not incompatible with good design.The US has an amazing flag: it is very different from most flags but it is still deeply iconic.

And Pocatelllo went from this [shows Pocatello’s old flag] which is [laughs] to this which yes Pokatello, well done though this was also suggested [shows suggested flag design] and you should have done it, you should have just gone for it.

I guess what I’m feeling after all this take is that, like, a good design is about more than good design and a great flag needs to be simple but I don’t think every place needs a great flag. After all, Pocatello blowing New York City out of the water [Shows New York City’s flag].

John, I’ll see you on Tuesday.