A new design
Flags are a symbol of civic pride. An iconic flag design can be remixed and incorporated into the very fabric of a community. But a poorly designed flag can instantly be forgotten and ignored, and in the worst cases, actively hidden in shame. In Pennsylvania, we have a beautiful Coat of Arms worth treasuring, but that doesn't mean it's a good flag. Below, Roman Mars gives an excellent TED talk on why flag design matters:
In a time where our divisions are more visible than they have ever been, it’s imperative that we have an iconic symbol to rally under that can remind us of our shared interest in this Commonwealth and in each other. While a Coat of Arms can be a representative of government, a flag represents a people, and a good flag can become an icon that is blended into the cultural fabric of a community.-Now, a quick experiment. Below are the flags of 50 states, five US territories, and DC. How quickly can you find Pennsylvania?
I'll try to make it easier. Let's take away all but 24...
How long did that take you? The distinguishing features are so small and hard to make out, and they blend into a sea of other ineffective flag designs. Now take a look at all 56 again, and look for our neighbors Maryland and Ohio.
I'd bet that didn't take as long. They're distinctive! There's not much distinctive about Pennsylvania's flag.-Those who know the state flags well will know that those weren't actually the 56 flags - many of them add their name to stand out, because their symbolism wasn't effective enough to make them identifiable. Pennsylvania actually considered doing this in 2007! A state representative said at the time: "State flags are a way to celebrate our heritage and what makes us unique from other states. They serve as a rallying point and show our love of the place we call home. By adding 'Pennsylvania' to our state flag, we would ensure that everyone who sees it knows that the banner of blue and gold represents this great Commonwealth." Let's see how that proposal might have looked (and keep watching to see what happens when the wind changes direction or dies down):
Well. You might be able to tell that's Pennsylvania... when the flag's not telling you it's AINAVLYSNNEP. (Our motto flies backwards, too.)PA has a great coat of arms.
PA has a terrible flag.
We deserve better.-Here's a different 56 flag grid, composed of various redesigns (the most distinctive flags weren't changed). Find Pennsylvania, then read about the design to see how we got to a flag that still stands out distinctly as "Pennsylvania" even in a field of standouts.
Creating an icon
One of the most difficult things about redesign is honoring what came before. Thankfully, flag scholar Ted Kaye tells us we can make this happen: "Inside every bad flag is a good flag trying to get out." Let's see what we have to work with:
Let's start with the focal point (if there was one) on the existing flag: the escutcheon (shield) in the Coat of Arms, which can also be found in the State Seal. This comes with its own symbolism baked in, which also translates when simplified to just the three main colors: green, gold, and blue.
Now that we have a tricolor palate (you'll notice we choose the blue from the field rather than the crest, which we'll talk about later in Symbolism), we can look to tried-and-true tricolor flag designs as a starting point. Here, we will choose the palles (vertical lines) over the fesses (horizontal lines), for reasons we'll explain in a moment...
Color symbolism can do wonders on its own, and keeping it simple is good for flags, but it doesn't quite feel like "Pennsylvania" yet - these colors could mean anything. So we add a uniquely Pennsylvania twist - turning the middle pale into a keystone, the only existing recognizably Pennsylvanian icon.
After experimenting with several different proportions, we settle on one that is balanced and easily replicable any way you stretch it, to ensure the keystone is still recognizable in a stiff breeze and the tricolor is identifiable. If we put the hoist (the part of the flag affixed to the pole) on the blue, when there is no wind, this design actually resembles the shield in the flag we started with - we've preserved some tradition!
For the exact colors, dimensions, construction sheet, and other specifications of this design, feel free to reference the Keystone Flag's Wikimedia page.(If you want to try your own flag design in the wind, we used this flag waving tool to experiment.)
While some decisions may seem more obvious than others, they were all made with the intention of preserving the symbolism on the current flag. We go into detail in the next section on symbolism.
Why things are what they are
While Pennsylvania's current flag design is not particularly good for a flag, there is a lot of symbolism in the coat of arms that deserves to be carried forward.This flag's design closely resembles a tricolor, because aside from the distinctive Keystone shape at the center (to represent Pennsylvania's identity as "the Keystone State"), those three colors alone can carry all of the symbolism from the traditional flag, and then some more.Wherever possible, we display the Keystone Flag with green on the left and blue on the right (there is no "backwards" with flags that fly in the wind!) to make the symbolism easier to explain:
Remember that our design is derived from Pennsylvania's state seal and coat of arms, featured in the current flag. The meanings in this state seal carry over, maintaining the tradition of the flag: green for "wealth of human thought and action," gold for "rich natural resources," and blue for "state commerce being carried worldwide."
These colors may also be used to carry over the tradition of the state motto, "Virtue, Liberty, and Independence." While these words are in written form on the current flag, near impossible to see at a distance or when flying, the three colors wind up being sufficient - green for Virtue (aligns closely with human thought and action), gold for Liberty, and blue for Independence.
This last point allows us to tie our identity as a Commonwealth back to our identity as a US State: the Declaration of Independence was signed here in Pennsylvania. That is why the blue is darker, and why the hoist is on the sinister/blue side: to match the blue on the US flag, as does the background of our current flag. This also fulfills the symbolism of the Eagle on top of the escutcheon in the Coat of Arms on the original flag.
And a fun bonus: green, gold, and blue just so happens to create a (very) rough map of our west-to-east geography: green for our western hills and mountains, gold for rich farmland in much of the midstate, and blue for our eastern border along the Delaware river, home to many points that facilitate state commerce.
Now, take a look at the flag below. Notice how, when the wind dies down, it looks a whole lot like the crest in the original coat of arms. It goes further: the colors create visual symbolism of a rich and fertile land under a blue sky.
All of the symbolism in the original flag (and then some), but instead of intricate details and writing that is impossible to see or appreciate when flying, it's carried by three simple colors you can actually see in the wind (or no wind at all).
(Many of these meanings were sourced from Pennsylvania's official government page listing state symbolism.)
Making your own Keystone Flag, or products based on the design? Here's what you need to know:- The design is dedicated by designer Tara Stark to the public domain! Here's what that means.
- Below is an image depicting the construction of the Keystone Flag. If you construct the flag at a different ratio, keep in mind that the keystone will get wider along with the flag - that's by design!
Now for some technical speak:- The Keystone Flag is composed of a bicolor divided midway along the breadth, green at the fly, and blue at the hoist; charged with a gold Keystone spanning the entire breadth of the flag.
- The Keystone shall be composed of two vertically stacked isosceles trapezoids, the smaller above with a height of 1/4 the flag’s breadth, with an upper base of 1/3 and lower base of 1/4 the flag’s length, the larger below with a height of 3/4 the flag’s breadth and upper base of 1/2 and lower base of 1/4 the flag’s length.
- The proportions of the flag must ensure the Keystone is still identifiably a keystone and constitutes approximately one third of the flag, thus, the total length of the flag may be no less than one and one half the breadth, and no more than twice the breadth.
- The three colors of the Keystone Flag are blue, gold, and green. The shade of blue matches the blue on the Flag of the United States, the shade of gold is "bright and vibrant," the shade of green should "both complement the blue and contrast the gold." The Pantone, RGB, Hex, and CMYK color specifications as defined by Keystone Flag designer Tara Stark can be found via the Keystone Flag's page on Wikimedia Commons.
Under the banner of the Keystone Flag, we're building a community of Pennsylvanians who are passionate about generating civic pride through good flag design. If you want to share yours, and keep up with any Pennsylvania flag news, check out our Facebook group, the Keystone Flag Flyers.Though there may not be a realistic path to adoption of a new state flag in Harrisburg right now, there is a place you can make a change: local flags! There are 2,560 municipalities across our 67 counties, and if you've never seen your municipal/county flag (if one exists!), it's probably a good candidate for change. If you're interested in designing a new flag, or getting one officially adopted, email email@example.com and tell us why your municipality/county is ready for change! (Bonus points if you already have some designs in mind!)
Here's a few flag desigining resources:
• NAVA - the North American Vexillological Association's page on flag design guidance
• Logo Lab to test for legibility in different situations
• FlagWaver - for testing designs in varying wind conditions
After the Steelers-Eagles game, I’m realizing that both Pittsburgh and Philly have tricolor flags that would pair nicely with the #keystoneflag over our current flag. Time for a change. @KeystoneFlag pic.twitter.com/y61iEVBUN1— theodore 🌹⚓️ (@theodoresomes) October 31, 2022
Dang, this should totally be the flag tho, like you can look at it and actually know what state its for. I hope it gets more momentum and use!— funcle syd 🏳️⚧️ (@SydSandberg) September 16, 2022
One of the best compliments I’ve gotten on the design: pic.twitter.com/hTUPfdLpnQ— Keystone Flag (@KeystoneFlag) August 3, 2022
"...the best redesign for Pennsylvania I've ever seen." - Ted Kaye, Secretary of NAVA"I found something new to obsess about. Well done, @KeystoneFlag (and designer Tara Stark!) for a simple, elegant rethink of the commonwealth's flag. I'd sign a petition today." - Greg Lester, Jenkintown"After the Steelers-Eagles game, I’m realizing that both Pittsburgh and Philly have tricolor flags that would pair nicely with the #keystoneflag over our current flag. Time for a change." - Theodore Somes, Pittsburgh"This should totally be the flag...you can look at it and actually know what state its for. I hope it gets more momentum and use!" - Syd Sandberg, Philadelphia(Believe it or not, this next one is actually a compliment:) "...you flag design looks like something I could make in MS paint." - Bob Smith
As answered by the designer, Tara Stark:Is this the offical state flag?
Nope. Official entities of the Commonwealth that fly flags will continue to fly the existing flag. This one is for the rest of us everyday Pennsylvanians to show our pride.Are you trying to make this the offical state flag?
Not now. As cool as it would be to see happen someday, previous attempts to officially adopt redesigns have either fallen flat, or worse, been actively pushed back against, tarnishing the reputation of those designs and making their future adoption more difficult. For now, it's best to not risk forcing a new design on Pennsylvanians who don't want it or will actively fight it (often in the name of tradition, a perfectly fine thing to value).Instead of creating conflict, I'd much rather see a grassroots movement of Pennsylvanians who love this design voluntarily displaying their pride, sharing it with others, and finding creative ways to incorporate the Keystone flag everywhere they can until it is so ubiquitous people begin to ask, "wait - it's not official?"Why not call it [insert name here]?
This flag has had a few different names that didn’t stick for various reasons. “New” or “Better PA Flag” emphasize a conflict with the current flag, which could lead to defensive feelings about the traditional/official flag, and we don't need that conflict. “Our” feels presumptuous, and “People’s” has become a highly charged term in today’s political climate. Some have jokingly called it the “Stark” flag, after its designer, but like Mississippi's "Stennis Flag," (later renamed the "Hospitality Flag,") this flag isn’t about just one person. “Keystone Flag” is evocative and memorable, clearly describes the most distinct feature in the design, and is uniquely Pennsylvanian.Is this a Progressive PA flag?
In the sense that it’s progress in flag design, sure! While I certainly have a large number of beliefs that I don't make any secret of, I want to be clear: the Keystone Flag is not about making any political statement. It's about creating a sense of civic pride for all Pennsylvanians. Every time the Keystone Flag flies, it should be a reminder that we're all in this together. So if it gives you that sense of civic pride, or inspires you to work to make Pennsylvania a better place, then it’s done its job.How can I get one?
Flags and other swag are coming via a Kickstarter launching November 14th, 2022! That said, the design is in the public domain, and anyone is welcome to make merch of any kind. We also have a merch page promoting anyone making Keystone Flag memorabilia
- if you know of someone not listed there, let us know and we'll add them!If you have some Keystone Flag merch, share it with our Facebook group! We love to see some Keystone pride.Other questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flags, embroidered patches, soft enamel pins, and much more are now available through Kickstarter!
Once you've pledged and shared with three friends, if you need to get your hands on some other Keystone Flag merch, here's where we've found it!
(If you know a retailer selling Keystone Flag merch not listed here, please email us (email@example.com) with a link so we can add them and promote their work!)
The Keystone Flag was designed by born-and-raised Pennsylvanian Tara Stark in 2017 as a redesign for Pennsylvania's state flag after seeing a 2015 TED Talk on flag design by Roman Mars. While the Keystone Flag is far from the first PA redesign published online to feature a keystone, it is one of very few to make the keystone an integral element of the design akin to a stripe in a tricolor flag, and not just a charge on top of another element. It is also the first to incorporate the colors from the existing coat of arms into that style (previous "keystone tricolors" drew inspiration from the PA license plate).The exact color shades and shape of the keystone saw dozens of adjustments over several years before and during an enthusiast's redesign contest on Facebook in 2019, where it handily beat over 500 competing designs thanks to the support and votes of hundreds of Pennsylvanians who, prior to the contest, may not have realized how much they cared about flag design. The design and specifications have since been released by Stark into the public domain.A Kickstarter is launching November 14th, 2022 to produce a bulk run of flags, and begin sustainable ongoing production until the flag is widely/reliably available through multiple distributors. As the design is public domain, some other merch is currently sold by various designers/outlets, and featured on our merch page. (If you're selling Keystone Flag merch online or in-person and aren't already on our page, please contact us so we can add you to our list and send some traffic your way!)