Revising or Replacing Ketchikan’s Flag

I made the following proposal to the Ketchikan City Council this evening, and KRBD Radio mentioned it in this article.

Revising or Replacing Ketchikan’s Flag

Any city can benefit from having a distinctive, well-designed, and widely recognized flag. A city as special as Ketchikan deserves to have a great flag—a distinctive symbol that will succinctly express some aspect of our identity and elicit pride in our community. Updating and promoting the current municipal flag or adopting a new design is a unique chance for the City of Ketchikan to boost community spirit as well as generate economic opportunities.

Ketchikan's current flag
The current flag of the City of Ketchikan was designed by Daniel Sheets in 1999. It is not a bad flag; it sports distinct Ketchikan colors and a single, easily identified symbol of our community—a salmon. However, this flag is not widely recognized or used, either by the City or by members of the community. It is not featured on the City website, nor flown anywhere around town, (except, apparently, at the Visitors Bureau), nor is it featured on any of the countless pieces of merchandise sold here that bear the name “Ketchikan, Alaska.”

There are two options that could remedy this situation. One is to revise the current flag—which could benefit from a few changes—and then promote it:

  • First, the words “Ketchikan, Alaska” should be removed. Many municipal flags—and some state flags—suffer from the misconception that a flag should bear the name of the place it represents. A flag is meant to be a graphic symbol; using words defeats the purpose entirely. 
  • Second, the salmon on the flag should be redesigned in order to be more easily identifiable, reproducible, and marketable. The salmon does not need to serve as some sort of logo or mascot for the city, but it could be rendered in a more generally appealing way that residents and visitors alike would happily sport on clothing or use in other ways. 
  • Third, updating the flag will be meaningless if it remains unrecognized and unused. The City can take immediate steps to put the revised flag into wider official use, establish it as a familiar symbol of our community, and spark businesses to take advantage of it as an economic opportunity.

one idea for a new Ketchikan flag (my own design)
The other option would be to adopt a new flag, one with a bold new design that could immediately attract attention and admiration from residents and visitors alike. The Council could solicit ideas for a new flag, and if nothing better than the current flag were submitted it would be harmless. Anyone considering designs for a new flag should, however, keep in mind five key principles of flag design:

  1. Keep it simple—so simple a child could draw it from memory. (A few great flags do not follow this principle, but a simple, easily reproducible design increases the chances for a flag to be marketable and frequently used.) 
  2. Use meaningful symbolism. 
  3. Use two or three basic colors. (Again, there are some great flags violate this principle, but in general it is a highly effective guideline.) 
  4. Do not use lettering or seals of any kind. As mentioned previously, a flag that uses lettering has either failed in its symbolic purpose or has unnecessarily complicated its design and reproducibility. Additionally, it is important to note that while some highly effective flags take one or two elements from a seal and utilize them boldly to great effect, simply using a seal for a flag is usually a bad idea: Seals are usually complicated, difficult to reproduce, and difficult to identify from a distance. 
  5. Be distinctive.

The potential costs of either revising the current flag or adopting a new one are minimal. Meanwhile, the potential long-term benefits of having a well designed, widely recognized, and frequently used flag are limitless. Visitors to Ketchikan see many memorable things here, but they lack an official symbol to represent us. Businesses here use the name of our city on countless pieces of merchandise, but they would benefit from having an easily identifiable and reproducible symbol to utilize. People in Ketchikan take a lot of pride in our community—our culture, our history, our unique identity. We deserve to have a distinctive, inspiring flag that represents us, a symbol we can be proud of that can be flown and displayed everywhere in our city.