Erin Miller – 50 State Flags Redesign




The Project

When I first learned of Vexillology, the study of flags, I was fascinated by how much went into a well designed flag. I was disappointed when I looked at the state flags and saw so many badly designed. In a desire to learn more in depth about flag design, I decided to test my skills by redesigning the 50 state flags. I spent over 80 hours on this project. Each state flag I researched, analyzed, drafted, shared, and wrote about.

The Process

  1. Research: To feel like I was doing each flag redesign justice, I wanted to make sure I understood the current state flag. I researched each state’s flag history, the elements in the flag, and symbolism behind it.

  2. Analysis: I took the understanding I had gained from research as well as what I have learned about flag design to analyze the current state flag. I looked at what was good about each flag and what was bad.

  3. Draft: I then made a draft of the redesign. The draft process was different between different flags. Sometimes I had no idea what to do for a redesign and would make sketches to help flush out ideas. There were also sometimes I had an idea of what I wanted, so I created many versions of the draft in Illustrator until I came to the version I liked best.

  4. Sharing and Feedback: I wanted to create a well designed flag that represented each state. I felt like the best way to understand if I was doing that was to send the draft of my flags to various friends and family all over the country. I was able to ask them if they felt I created a good representation of their state. I also owe a lot to my husband who gave me feedback on each flag’s design. The critique he gave, as well as my mentor, Cory Kerr, helped me refine my flags to be their best.

  5. Final Draft: With the feedback from sharing my designs, I made adjustments and came to a final draft.

  6. Write Up: I created a website that I posted my findings to. Each flag has a page that discusses the current state flag, the elements in it, the history, and an analysis of its design. I also added my redesign and walked through why it is a better design.




What Makes a Good Flag?

Ted Kaye is a member of the North American Vexillology Association. He has written a book entitled Good Flag, Bad Flag: How To Design a Great Flag. In it he gives five principles for good design. These elements I used as a guide through this project.

  • Keep it Simple: Flags are normally seen from far away. This means that any small detailing will get lost. A well designed flag will have simple shapes and little amounts of intricate details.

    A bad example of this is the current flag of Pennsylvania. On the flag is the state coat of arms. It has lots of details, including two horses holding up a shield in which an eagle sits on. For my redesign, I focused on the shape of the keystone and simple colors.

Use Meaningful Symbolism: A flag should be a symbol for what it is representing. Symbolism can come from shapes, colors, and many other features of the flag.

An example of bad symbolism is found in the Idaho state flag. The state seal that is on it, has so many elements that are symbolic (and literal) that it becomes less and less meaningful. In my redesign, I narrowed down what would be most meaningful to the state. In doing this, I was able to create a flag that had meaningful symbolism. The white field is symbolic of liberty, justice, and equality. The gem is symbolic of the state’s early start as miners and the state nickname. The green mountains are symbolic of the state’s natural features and agriculture.

Use 2-3 Basic Colors: This design principle relates back to the first. Simple design is the best design. A good flag is not overwhelmed with colors. This is the design principle with the most exceptions, but most exceptions will keep to four colors.

A bad example of this rule is the Montana flag. In the current Montana flag, there are fourteen colors that are used. In my design, I evaluated which colors would mean the most to the state and included a dark blue, light blue, and green.

No Lettering or Seals: There are three main reasons for this principle. The first relates back to symbolism. A flag shouldn’t have to tell you what it represents. The second reason is that flags are double sided. If there is text on a flag, it is only readable from one side. The third reason relates back to being simple. Seals and coats of arms have lots of details to that that are meant to be admired close up.

My favorite bad example for this guide is South Dakota. The state not only has the seal on it, it says “South Dakota” on it twice. In my redesign, I found a way to represent the state without the seal or lettering.

Be Distinct: A flag should be its own design. There should be something to every flag that makes it unique. Flags can borrow elements from other flags to show relationship, but it must still be distinct.

A lot of states are bad at this. There are thirty states with their coat of arms or state seal on a blue field. One state flag that isn’t a seal-on-a-bed-sheet that is still a bad example of being distinct is North Carolina. This flag was designed 22 years after the Texas flag. The resemblance is too close, it’s not a distinct flag. In my redesign, I kept the colors which relate it to the American flag, but changed the design so it would be unique.

There are some states that follow these principles pretty well. I decided to respect them and either use the current design or only slightly modify some. Watch the video to learn more about which states had well designed flags.

How To Learn More About Each Flag

I have created a website to help explain each flag I have redesigned. It includes more on good flag design, each flag’s history, elements, my analysis, and discussion on redesign. Feel free to learn more about your favorite state flags.