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How an online petition helped spark Salt Lake City's search for a new flag design

Scott G Winterton, KSL, File

How an online petition helped spark Salt Lake City's search for a new flag design

By Carter Williams, | Posted - Dec. 3, 2018 at 7:32 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A few months ago, a group of Salt Lake City residents started an online petition. They were tired of the city’s flag, which has been in rotation since 2006.

It didn’t align at all with the five tips of a good flag design created by Ted Kaye, author of “Good Flag, Bad Flag.” Kaye’s tips were highlighted in a 2014 episode of the popular podcast, “99% Invisible” and rehashed again in a 2015 TED Talk by the podcast’s host, Roman Mars.

“A great city flag is something that represents a city to its people and its people to the world at large," Mars argued.

To sum it up the petitioners, they think Salt Lake City’s flag doesn't accomplish that — and it's ugly.

Ted Kaye’s tips for good flag design
  • Keep it simple
  • Use meaningful symbolism
  • Use two or three basic colors
  • No lettering or seals
  • Be distinctive

While they only racked up a little more than 100 signatures, city officials agreed. They don’t think the city’s current flag is great, either. Now they’re hoping the public can help them create a new city flag.

“We took a look at that and looked at the flag in and of itself. We agreed. It doesn’t follow any of (the good flag design) rules,” said Matthew Rojas, spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski. “Your city’s flag is maybe one of your most prominent pieces of public art. They help with placemaking, they help with pride in your city, so being able to have a flag that people kind of really rally around is important.”

The current flag has teal and blue bars and an oval in the middle. An outline of some downtown buildings is at the bottom of the oval with mountains overshadowing.

“According to vexillologists (people who study flags), #SLC's flag leaves much to be desired,” Biskupski tweeted last week, along with the link to where residents can submit their input.

The city began collecting public opinion on what a new flag should contain on Tuesday. That process will continue until Dec. 21.

“We wanted to be able to make it so that designers and non-designers could have a say in the flag and what’s on the flag,” Rojas said. “It’s asking what kind of colors do you like? What do you think is symbolic about Salt Lake City?”

Early indications are residents want a depiction of natural surroundings and that the city is the state’s capital and indigenous culture representation, he added.

Officials will compile data collected and release the results of the public opinion guidelines and then open up a call for design submissions open to everyone in January 2019.

While anyone can submit whatever they want, Rojas advised that a panel of judges will be given the guidelines decided from the public opinion stage and will be asked to pick designs based from those guidelines and Kaye’s guidelines for a good flag design.

From there, the top five designs will be selected after that by the public. Once a city flag design is selected, it will be up for formal adoption by the Salt Lake City council. City officials hope to have the final design selected by spring, Rojas said.

We want to respect that it came from the public. It’s not a new conversation, it's just that nobody has really done anything and we think that now is a good opportunity.

–Matthew Rojas, Salt Lake City Mayor spokesman

The panel will include Kaye, who is also the head of the North American Vexillological Association. The group is essentially dedicated to celebrating good flag designs and shaming bad ones. Flags like Chicago’s are considered good, while Pocatello, Idaho’s had the worst flag until it got a redesign in 2017.

Kaye told city officials they should open the flag design process to the public, have design experts involved in the process, but use a ranked voting system to avoid joke designs (think “Boaty McBoatFace”) from being selected, Rojas said.

Rojas said once a design is selected, it will slowly start to replace city flags that are rotated often anyway because of wear and tear. He added city officials had considered a new city flag since 2015 and it has been talked about before that, but it hasn’t been a top priority. It sparked back up with the online petition.

“We want to respect that it came from the public,” Rojas said. “It’s not a new conversation, it’s just that nobody has really done anything and we think that now is a good opportunity.”


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