When Damn Good Design is Damn Good Design

For the past eighteen years, although we’ve been busy in the branding world––Bublr Bikes, SoulBoxer, Husco, (to name a few), and rebranding cities like West Allis, Oak Creek, Downtown Waukesha––we’ve also done a pretty stellar job of flying below the radar. For those of you who don’t know us or what we do, we are Savage, a creative content and design agency located in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward. We believe in being brave, choosing positivity, and doing incredible work––always.

And we love the City of Milwaukee.

That’s why, when the City of Milwaukee released a Request for Information (RFI) on October 18, regarding potentially replacing The People’s Flag, we had every intention of responding. We love The People’s Flag, but if it isn’t going to fly, then, well, we figured we might as well try our design chops at creating a new one.

A Discovery in which We Learn Some New Words, Some Dates, and Some Facts

We studied the RFI. We read the Milwaukee Arts Board’s findings and recommendations. We conducted our own research, diving deep into articles surrounding vexillology (the study of flags) and the process by which the current People’s Flag arose to see what we could do differently.

Our findings? The Arts Board states the process and selection behind the current People’s Flag was not inclusive, while other articles classify the design as offensive. But what we discovered was that the process that led to the People’s Flag WAS inclusive. Here’s what happened. In early 2016, the City called for submissions for a redesign of the People’s Flag. Professional designers volunteered to mentor groups of students and young people (which is how we were planning to tackle this project), and ultimately, by April 14, 2016, 1,006 designs were submitted. This process yielded more public participation than any other efforts, collectively. On April 23, 2016, five expert judges formed a panel to narrow the 1,006 designs to fifty––forty-five semifinalists and five finalists. These final fifty flag designs were exhibited at City Hall on May 14, 2016, and following the exhibition, the five finalist designs were posted online to be rated by the public. “Sunrise Over the Lake” by Robert Lenz, was chosen to be The People’s Flag. Although it was adopted on June 14, 2016, it still awaits the approval of the Common Council.

Yep, three and a half years ago.

The City waited three and a half years, only to decide to throw a wrench into the whole process less than eight months before the biggest eye test Milwaukee has ever seen: The 2020 Democratic National Convention. Poor timing? Only the epitomé of it.

Here’s the thing, people. No flag is going to inspire a surge of civic pride that forever actualizes the city. Like a logo or a name, the flag is what we put into it. And even if people don’t want to admit it, with its rocky origin, The People’s Flag has more support, more verve, more determination behind it than we could ever hope to create with a new design.

We’re all familiar with the phrase, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” right? Well, we’re all the beholders in this circumstance. It’s up to us to see the beauty that was intended by Lenz’s design, which is that the symbol of the rising sun is meant to symbolize unity (as white is the vexillological color of unity, peace, and harmony) and the City’s bright future. The gold sky represents Milwaukee’s brewing culture, and the light blue bars in Lake Michigan’s reflection pay homage to our three rivers (Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic) and our three founding towns (Juneau Town, Kilbourn Town, Walker’s Point). In conclusion, people who view the flag as negative and offensive, well, that’s their prerogative, and whether they want to admit it or not, The People’s Flag has accomplished exactly what a flag is meant to do––it has unified the people of Milwaukee.

Here’s another thing. The process that yielded Lenz’s winning design was the third attempt to replace the current Official Milwaukee Flag that was adopted in 1954. It’s hideous, and that’s not just our subjective opinion. According to the North American Vexillological Society, it’s the fourth worst flag of all major cities, weighing in at a limp 1.59 out of 10. Further, this flag design is a Frankenstein of the “better” elements of other entries around that time, which means that this whole design-by-committee debacle rarely works out.

An Epiphany in which We Call It As We See It

The hard truth is that not every single person in the city can design the flag. A successful flag design will almost always boil down to one artist. Take the ubiquitous Municipal Flag of Chicago. It was designed in 1917 by one man, Wallace Rice, and oh look, it ranks a 9 out of 10. Or hey, let’s not forget about the American Flag, designed in 1776 by Besty Ross. Considering the Milwaukee Arts Board’s recommendation, is it at all conceivable that every single U.S. resident or class of residents participate in designing and choosing the national flag?

The above findings serve as rationale for why Savage will not be throwing our hat into the ring. Instead, we’re choosing to call it as we see it: sometimes a damn good design is just that. A damn good design.

Thank you, City of Milwaukee, for the opportunity. Through our exploration, we’ve discovered an even stronger appreciation for The People’s Flag. It’s bright, optimistic, authentic, and aligns with our own values of being brave, choosing positivity, and doing incredible work––always. The incredible work has already been done. Now, we’re going to stand up and support it.

Join us in our mission to support The People’s Flag when you fly your own. All proceeds go to a local non-profit organization called GreaterTogether which promotes racial and economic equity in the creative industries of the Greater Milwaukee area, funding programs to introduce young people to careers in design. Contact your local representative and ask them to support the adoption of The People’s Flag today. After all, we’ve waited long enough, wouldn’t you say?