Vexillology. What sounds like a senior-level charms class at Hogwarts isn't actually based in a fairytale world. But it's nothing short of magical, either.
Vexillologists, or those who study flags, are members of an elite subculture. Second only to horologists who study time, clocks, and how the rotation of the sun has a profound impact on how humans cope with the passing of the hours. But I digress.
Hi, my name is Cameron and I'm a designer. A designer of logos, to be more exact, and the art of merging simple shapes to tell a not-so-simple story is quite beautiful. A few years ago, I listened to an episode of 99% Invisible on the topic of flag design and it had quite the impact on me.
Everyone knows what a logo is. Picture the simplicity of the Apple logo on the back of your iPhone. Or the vintage script on the Coca-Cola can. Or the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo. The list of epic logos goes on and on but how do they become so iconic? Well, time, of course, but there are also other factors: simplicity, consistency, and resonance. So, what does this have to do with vexillology? Everything.
I think flags are one of the coolest vessels for design. They fly proudly in the wind declaring victory, peace, capitalism, personal preferences, political affiliation, and even team pride. They can be the size of a city block or the size of a postage stamp, both working equally effectively. And, most importantly, they demand to be simple.
I'm lucky enough to live in Tennessee which boasts one of the coolest state flags in the union (behind Colorado, of course.) The mighty Tennessee Tristar embodies everything a flag should be and I'm happy to finally see it on license plates. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shoutout to Chicago which bears the most incredible city flag. Adorned with four, six-pointed stars on a beautifully understated white and baby blue tapestry, there's no surprise that Chicagoans/Chicagoites/Chi-People are proud of this unifying banner.
But, unfortunately, there are outliers to keeping flags beautiful (can that be a new presidential motto, B and C? KEEP FLAGS BEAUTIFUL.) The most egregious abominations still wave semi-proudly above capital domes as if design and beauty and simplicity don't matter. Yes, Maine, Washington, and South Dakota — I'm calling you out and judging you harshly from the depths of my bowels.
Beauty matters, y'all. That's all. Simplicity and uniformity and conciseness all matter. This world is tough. It's broken and harsh and we're all hanging on for dear life. So why not create or, dare I say, demand beautiful art to help humanity through the tough times? We've barely scratched the surface of design, and the creative possibilities are endless, so there are no excuses for ugly design. At least not in my book.
You know that feeling you get when you scale the top of a mountain at dawn's first light? As exhausted and groggy as you might be, you lift your chest to take a deep breath and then you see it. The rising sun over the fog-filled valleys. The waking birds beginning their daily duties with a morning song. The warmth of the climbing sun melting the frost from the tips of the pines. You know – that supernatural feeling that cuts so deep you can feel it in every nerve ending and hair follicle? That's beauty, people. That's design! Finding beauty may not always be as easy as taking in a mountaintop view, but appreciating it takes minimal effort. And doing so always does the soul good.
So, get out there and create. Learn to appreciate the beauty in life – even in the not-so-easy-to-find nooks and crannies. And demand a better flag for your community, darn it!
Our last hour is hidden from us so that we watch them all.