Kristen França

How HCD Took the Wind Out of Our Flag Project

Roman Mars says that the five principles of good flag design are:

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Use meaningful symbolism.
  3. Use two to three basic colors.
  4. Do not use lettering or seals.
  5. Be distinctive (or be related).
Lastly, and most importantly, the flag needs to actually exist.

After listening to a podcast by Roman Mars about flag design, a member of our team pointed out that the city in which we reside, Eugene, did not have a city flag. As quirky and up-and-coming as Eugene is, there was no flag in place to help bring its people together. Since our Drawn team consists of a group of people who are experienced in creative work and branding, we decided that if no one else was going to design a flag, we should. The city flag became one of our few internal projects that would allow us the opportunity to act as both the client and the creator. With the five basic principles of flag design in hand, we believed that we could come up with something really innovative and unique. 

At the same time, IDEO was offering an online course in human-centered design. Two of my co-workers and I enrolled in the class and decided to use the flag as our class project. 

As the class began, we learned about IDEO’s basic principles of human-centered design. To sum it up, human-centered design requires a designer to work backward. First, you think about the person who will be using the end product, and then you try to put yourself into his or her shoes while you create that product. The three main steps of the human-centered design process are inspiration, ideation, and implementation.

With our flag project, we already had the inspiration and the idea, but we were still working out how to implement it. One of the steps in IDEO’s class focused on research, so we dug in.

We went as far as reaching out to Ted Kaye, the author of Good Flag, Bad Flag: How to Design a Great Flag and the Secretary of the North American Vexillological Association (for those of you who don’t know, vexillology is the study of flags). He explained the importance of getting a wide array of people involved in the flag process.

The number one principle of good flag design is that it needs to exist. Illustration: Trask Bedortha/Drawn

In fact, everything that we learned from researching other city flag projects demonstrated that the city’s residents need to be involved with the process of creating a new city flag. Most cities that had designed new flags had actually launched contests that allowed the public to submit designs, as well as involved local and city government. The final stage of these contests typically opened voting to the community, giving the city’s residents a chance to choose their favorite. Modern city flag projects involve a democratic process, which is what makes them human-centered.

Between these findings and our conversation with Ted, we realized that the democratic process was missing from our version of the flag project, and if it were to be successful we would have to change that.

Our flag project quickly transformed from a fun and creative, internal project into a completely different project. IDEO’s human-centered design class helped us realize that we would have to put this flag project on hold (for now). It re-established the idea that humans should be the center of every design project — even the ones that seem to be purely aesthetic. In fact, it made us wonder, Is there any such thing as a project that doesn’t require human-centered design? In this case, we set out to work on a new project, but we put the brakes on it because we realized that we would have to take a different approach. In order to do it right, we’d need to dedicate more resources to it than we could afford at the time. Ultimately, we feel good about our decision because the city of Eugene deserves a flag done in the best way possible.