Claudia Di Martino | Design

I recently discovered an interesting article on WIRED.com, playfully titled: Inside the Campaign to redesign SF’s suck-tastic flag. Roman Mars, an american producer and host of the 99% Invisible podcast series, had broadcasted a TED talk documenting his distaste for San Francisco’s flag. He has now created a campaign to redesign it.

So…how bad is it?

Well, it’s not great. Some could view the brown phoenix rising from the burnt ashes, bordered by a thick mustard yellow frame as intentionally bad in an attempt to be ironic, but sadly I think the design is genuine…and ugly. As an Australian newcomer to this northern Californian city, it made me wonder about a new design: how would you even begin to encapsulate the identity of a city that prides itself on innovation and progressive thinking?

With the entire world keeping tabs on Silicon Valley’s consistent creative output, San Francisco can comfortably claim title as progressive city. The startup community, alongside the bigger names of Google, Apple and Facebook work happily  side-by-side in the 46.9 square mile area.

Also noteworthy is SF’s support for the LGBT community. It was one of the first cities in the Unites States to foster political involvement and activism in the late 1960’s. The iconic rainbow flag (proudly worn and shown all over the US after last Friday’s Federal ruling for Marriage Equality and the weekend’s PRIDE festivities), was created by local resident Gilbert Baker, says another WIRED Article : Here’s where the Rainbow Flag came from. The rainbow flag has now spread to become a global symbol for LGBT rights and sexual equality, emerging from humble, yet conceptually valid, beginnings in an attic of the San Francisco Gay Community Center in 1978.

This iconic flag rose from a time of heightened political power and post-war inquest. It served a specific purpose to unite a community that needed to gain recognition and respect within a society that offered none.

Roman Mars’ latest endeavour to re-design the SF flag is born from a less specific need, and warrants a discussion about format. After all, a flag proves to be a limited amount of real estate to accurately and visually represent a city associated with so many niche communities, each aided by technology, design and innovation.

As designers, we often face a similar question when presenting new identities to clients. We believe that a single logo cannot communicate every aspect of a brand. This process is instead an accumulative one achieved through multiple channels of messaging, photography, color and other visual and tonal elements that bring a brand to life. The end result is a sum of parts that contribute to a bigger, brand driven picture.

Perhaps then Roman Mars’ solution to San Francisco’s flag is a simple, yet complicated one : Don’t redesign the flag, rethink it.

A bigger and more generous design system could be a much better fit for San Francisco, considering its innovative history and application for new technology. More of a holistic branding exercise than anything, San Francisco could pull its range of incredible resources to create something bigger, better and more unifying than the effects of a single flag. An accumulative effort from the design, tech, engineering and communications industries could initiate a big discussion surrounding the idea of identity on a global scale.

Regardless of the outcome, the undertaking and process itself would have equal gravity in setting a new precedent for municipal decision making. So, in true San Francisco spirit, our approach should be diplomatic, inclusive and crowdsourced… of course.