Designing the Flag for South Bend, Indiana

Categories:Creative, Flags
Debbie O'Keefe

Having been in the flag business for a handful of years and having a graphic design background, it caught my attention when the City of South Bend, Indiana announced that it would be holding a flag design contest. The winning design would replace the existing city flag, which featured the city seal on a yellow field.

I submitted my own design but it didn’t make the list of finalists. Having switched professions years ago, I suppose my design adeptness has gotten a bit rusty. However, Flags International’s own graphic designer, Travis Tolen’s design was in the top considerations from more than 200 submissions from not only the Michiana area, but across the globe.

When I read in the paper about the top three finalists for the competition, I was pleasantly surprised that I knew one of them. In fact I work with him. Garrett Gingerich is Director of eMedia at Pathfinders Advertising, the agency I work for as a web developer.

Weeks later, when Garrett’s design was ultimately chosen for the new City of South Bend flag. He was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to sit down with me to talk about his experience designing the new flag.


JW: Good afternoon Garrett. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me today.

GG: You’re welcome

JW: Let’s get right into it. Can you tell me about the contest and how you got involved?

GG: Yeah, so I was part of the SB150 marketing committee. So, pretty intimately involved with the events surrounding the sesquicentennial; I now know how to pronounce that correctly.

JW: (Laughing) Yeah, that’s a tough one

GG: There were a lot of those celebration activities for the year. It was kind of a natural progression that the flag contest was kind of positioned as the culminating event or the capstone event of those 150th birthday celebrations events. Just being close to everything else, I wanted to potentially leave my mark on the city in that route.

JW: You have a graphic design background, right?

GG: Yeah

JW: Where did you study?

GG: Goshen College. I studied multimedia communications, which included basic graphic design, interactive design, and web design.

JW: What were your inspirations for the new flag?

GG: That’s a really good question. About every flag that’s ever been created across the globe.

JW: (Laughing) That’s pretty broad.

GG: It is broad, but I mean it starts off with your typical research process. So, looking up flags both good and bad, and understanding what the various elements that make them good, or bad. Kind of compiling those into my thoughts.

JW: Was part of that the North American Vexillological Association’s guides?

GG: Yes, very much so. A lot of that. So, I did the research on different flags, but then also used their guidelines for good flag design and used those to kind of help gear my thought process as I was coming up with designs. You asked about that design background and if you had a set of rules to go by when designing a flag and how are they similar or dissimilar to mine and I think those rules of good flag design embody general good design practices.

JW: Like being able to identify it from the ground and…

GG: Yeah, that, and keep it simple. Limited amounts of colors. Make sure a kid can draw it type of thing. So, it’s looking at those and generally speaking, it’s just good art that way.

JW: Yeah, absolutely.

GG: It’s simple

JW: The SB150 committee had it’s own set of requirements for the flag. Were there any challenges accommodating those requirements? Staying within the color palate, incorporating all the representative elements they wanted, etc.

GG: I don’t think so. I don’t think that the challenge of really incorporating the requirements as far as…. I don’t think it was really a challenge as far as integrating the thematic elements like the river, connectivity, ethnically diverse heritage, innovation (those were the four themes) from an art perspective I didn’t find it really challenging because you can use certain symbols, and shapes, and colors to construe meaning for about any of those pretty easily. I think the most challenging part was the political input process. Well, the community input and political process behind it all was one of the more challenging things to navigate.

JW: Was there much input that came from the community?

GG: There was a lot of great input from the community. Both good and bad. Very passionate types of people, which your going to see in any community involvement type of project. People have passion for their communities and it shows. You have your community leaders who have their opinions and you have the public who have theirs, and making sure that you can take both of those and still come up with something that is aesthetically pleasing and can meet all of those guidelines that were established. That’s challenging.


south-bend-flag-1st-draft

First Draft

south-bend-flag-final-draft

Final Draft


JW: Yeah, well, and if you lean to far into the design by committee, then…

GG: Yeah, right. So it was good. There was a lot of, once it got down to kind of the short list, there was a lot of great input that did go into determining the final design. Anywhere from the color to the shapes to things like that, so… community input was definitely considered and integrated into the outcome. I think that’s evident in the amount of adoption and support that it’s getting right from the get-go. People are using it and flying it, and displaying it in cool ways. I think it’s pretty cool to see that.

JW: Have you seen your flag on display yet?

GG: I have seen the actual flag flown once. I’ve also seen integrated into t-shirts, and stickers, and coasters, and buttons, and flag lapels. All kinds of stuff, so that clearly is the best and most rewarding part of this whole thing is seeing it being adopted into those various creative adaptations.

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