Take a good long look at the state flag of Nebraska, everyone.
Mark well its concentric circles crowded with golden text, its deep blue background, its central scene busy with contrasting colors. Then, reflect on this crucial question: Would you even be able to tell the difference if it were flying upside-down?
Nebraska's state flag, billowing beneath the U.S. flag. flag supplier-johnin
Apparently state lawmakers couldn't. In fact, for a span of 10 days earlier this year, not a single visitor to the Nebraska Capitol noticed that the flag had been hoisted upside down — not even state Sen. Burke Harr, who related the story in January.
"It took someone drawing it to my attention before it was changed," he told the Legislature's Executive Board in January, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
An awkward situation, to be sure — but the flap over the flag also drew his attention to something else: Is the official flag really such a muddle that the average observer can't tell its top from its bottom?
The question alone stirred uncomfortable doubts for Harr, who says it doesn't have to be this way. Or, as he phrased it in the legislative resolution he introduced earlier this year, "the possibility of a better-designed, more iconic Nebraska flag exists."
He called for a 10-member task force to "develop a recommendation for the design of a new flag for the State of Nebraska which conforms to the flag design principles of established vexillologic organizations."
And to gin up a few credible alternatives, he partnered with flag experts at the North American Vexillological Association — who, by the way, conducted a 2001 pollpanning Nebraska's flag as the second-worst in the U.S. and Canada — and Skillshare, a New York-based online learning community.
Together, the group pulled together some guidelines on what would make for a good flag — both for Nebraska and in general — and they put out a call to Skillshare's users earlier this summer: Can you design a flag that is better than the one that is flying now?
"It's not about 'does this look cool' or 'is this a fun idea,' but actually does it represent the spirit of the people of Nebraska? Does it represent their history?" Alyssa Demirjian, Skillshare's director of content and partnerships, tells NPR. "I would be looking for something that is unique and memorable and reproducible, so that the flag can become part and parcel of the life of the state."
She says they received around 40 submissions before the deadline Thursday — roughly a dozen of which they passed along to Harr's office for consideration. Harr has said he will deliberate and "select the best designs to incorporate into his ongoing campaign."
Now, Nebraska's is not the only state flag that has been the subject of dispute in recent years. Violence in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month renewed a debate in Mississippi over whether its flag's incorporation of a Confederate symbol is appropriate. And Georgia — which edged out Nebraska for absolute worst in that 2001 survey — redesigned its own flag after a campaign to remove its own Confederate symbols.
Some have argued against the change to Nebraska's flag, saying that the proposed redesign would be too costly and that it's better, in state Sen. Steve Erdman's words, to "continue to honor the Nebraska State flag, which was designed by our forefathers back in 1925."
Still, Demirjian maintains that a redesign is in keeping with a state's changing understanding of itself.
"Design is very much like language, in that it will evolve over time as our society and our contexts change," she says. "Something like updating a flag to represent what a community is like right now — it's not meant in any way to replace or gloss over their history, but rather gesture to it and make a connection to where we are right now."
Below, you'll find four of the submissions Skillshare passed along to Harr's office, along with the designers' reasons behind the symbols they chose.