Local Graphic Designer: Milwaukee Deserves a Great Flag. Period.

Sep 4, 2015

One part of Milwaukee that hasn't changed over the years is its flag, which some say is a problem. Graphic designer Steve Kodis is leading the charge to update the flag.

The Milwaukee flag doesn’t make too many appearances, to be honest. And when it does, you might be struck by how much stuff is on it – from the head of a Native American chief to a ship’s hull to a picture of another flag to a factory to something that looks oddly like a flying saucer.

It’s a flag that Appleton native and UW-Milwaukee grad Steve Kodis sees as, well, a red flag. 

Kodis was inspired by the 99% Invisible podcast by Roman Mars, who is obsessed with well-designed flags. Milwaukee's flag, Kodis and Mars say, is not one of them.

Mars goes as far as to say, "Nothing can prepare you for one of the biggest train wrecks in vexillological, the study of flags, history...it's the flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin...it's a kitchen sink flag."

Since being adopted in 1955, there have been three failed efforts to resdesign our city's flag - the last being in 2001. Kodis says things are different this time, thanks to the power of social media. "Already, we've gained a pretty big following...along side people just talking about it, bringing it up in conversation, asking 'have you seen the flag?'"

"(Milwaukee's) flag is very complicated, very hard to recognize. It tries to say everything, but really doesn't say anything." - Steve Kodis

"The issue of our flag isn't really the flag itself," Kodis says. "It's more about the way that as a city we choose to use design and how purposeful we are...When we use this flag, or don't use it pretty much because you don't see it anywhere, we kind of leave ourselves in the past and we don't position ourselves for the future."

When it comes to creating a well designed flag, the North American Vexillological Association has laid out guiding principles, which include:

  1. Keep it simple - a child should be able to redraw the flag from memory.
  2. Use meaningful symbolism.
  3. Use 2 to 4 basic colors.
  4. No lettering or seals.
  5. Be distinctive.

"Our flag really pays no mind any of those," Kodis says. "And, in doing so, it kind of leaves us in the past... We have this choice to change it, we deserve a great flag - period."

He says the main reason why Milwaukee should have a great flag is so that we can show pride in our city. "(Chicago) has many of the same things that sort of blemish their city, but they still have a great flag, and they still rally behind it," Kodis says. "If we had a great flag that we could all rally behind, and we had a great flag that has complete buy-in across the city that united us all...we would be better able and better suited to really address these issues that plague our city."

When the city doesn't have a great flag, he says, that pride is deferred to other things - like sports teams, tourism campaigns. "Sports teams can come and go and break our hearts, but the flag is the thing that should withstand the test of time."

The next step in Kodis' effort is to gather design entries for a new Milwaukee flag in fall.