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Why A State Flag Redesign? Some Thoughts On Vexillology

Utah State Capitol

The State Flag Task Force met for the first time in mid-June to discuss the redesign of the Utah state flag. But what is the reason the Utah flag needs a redesign? 

Ted Kaye is the secretary of the North American Vexillological Association and the author of the flag design book Good Flag, Bad Flag. UPR’s Darcy Ritche sat down with him to learn more about why Utah’s flag is being redesigned. 


Darcy: Right now, the Utah flag is just the state seal over a blue background, what's wrong with that design?


Ted: You have to go back to the purpose of a flag, which is to represent something distinctively at a distance. Half of US state flags have a seal on a blue background. So Utah's flag does not stand out as different among the group of US flags, and therefore it fails in its purpose of representing Utah at a distance. If you think about the four corners states: Arizona has a great flag, Colorado has a great flag, New Mexico has a great flag, and Utah's flag is indistinguishable.


Darcy: There was another effort to change the Utah flag in 2002 that you were involved in. Why do you think it was unsuccessful? Why did we not change our flag then?


Ted: The 2002 effort was sponsored by the Salt Lake Tribune, and it wasn't approved by any government entity. So it was a popularity contest, but it hadn't gotten the prior acceptance of the elected officials who would need to put the resulting design into effect. Fundamentally, that's why it failed. It also failed because the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers went to the governor and said, ‘No way are you going to change the flag that our great grandmother's created.’ So there was a powerful historical lobby that acted against any flag change in Utah.


Darcy: The legislature's going to start taking flag submissions from people in Utah. As people start to make their own flag designs, what advice would you give them?


Ted: I would advise them to go online to, and find Good Flag, Bad Flag. It's a 16-page booklet that provides guidance on flag design. And the fundamental ideas are keeping the flags simple. A flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory. It should have meaningful symbolism. Its images, or its colors or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes. It only needs two to three colors. They should be limited to three and make them contrast well and have them come from the basic color set: red, white, blue, green, yellow, black. There's no place for lettering or seals on a flag. That belongs on paper. And make the flag design distinctive, so it's not like those other states. A flag that meets those five principles will very likely be a strong contender for a flag to represent Utah.


Darcy: Do you have anything else that you want to add, though, something I maybe didn't ask about?


Ted: Yes, I recommend that Utahns who are evaluating flag designs, both those that they create, and those that they are voting on to not try to make them too complicated. Over and over again, I see cities and states work too hard on their design. If you look at those great designs on the other three corners of the four corners, they are very, very simple designs. And one of the best designs that came out of the Utah flag redesign effort in 2002 was the ultimate simplification of the current state flag. Imagine a blue background with a large stylized beehive in the middle, surrounded by a yellow circle, a  yellow ring around a yellow beehive on a field of blue. It's actually the same as the current flag boiled down to its essence, a nd that was one of the two best designs that that people voted on and would be a great bridge from the current flag into a new flag. 


I wish the citizens of Utah the best as they pursue a great flag. I believe that a great state deserves a great flag. And good luck, Utah.


Darcy: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for chatting with me today, Ted.


Ted: Okay, thank you Darcy.