It's been a little over a month since we saw the storming of the United States Capitol. The 6 January insurrection, where the destructive actions of a few attempted to invalidate the collective effort of many, and a flurry of extremist, hateful symbols were touted in the nation's government buildings, was a dark day in world history.
From racial intimidation to summoning fantastical sea creatures to engage in battle, the symbolism itself reminded many of us that flags could be powerful symbols of negativity.
But naturally, the question that arises within the creative community becomes: what power do these symbols actually hold? What if designers used flags in a positive way – to empower groups, brands, and organisations that deserve the spotlight and to uplift the community, promote equality and support the arts?
A meditation on these questions was at the centre of a recent flag design project, An Emblem for Our Collaboration, from New York branding and design agency ThoughtMatter – a studio that puts "work worth doing" at its heart.
A group of researchers, designers, writers and strategists, ThoughtMatter is known for its artful approach to activist design, including its radical redesign of the US Constitution, its protest posters designed for the Women's March, The March For Our Lives, and much more.
Grounded in themes of solidarity, community and shared values, An Emblem For Our Collaboration involved selecting several vital, yet underappreciated, non-profits to work with and create unique flags for each of them, then raising them far and wide throughout New York City to give them the recognition they deserve.
"A minimalist approach often makes for the most powerful symbols. So we kept things simple and used the basic principles of good flag design: flat colours, no text or numbers, no seals or busy designs," said the studio.
ThoughtMatter tapped local organisations such as the Alliance for Downtown New York, Central Park Conservancy, and Union Square Partnership as well as groups committed to improving the lives of others, like GirlForward, Second Alarm, Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity, and the Clinton School.
Overall, they created 24 flags and photographed them around the city. They then packaged each flag with a short note, as a creative expression of their gratitude.
Reflecting on 2020 and beyond, ThoughtMatter's designers gave unsung heroes and organisations their own flags to fly.