The experience has fueled students’ creativity and given them insight into how design can shape community identity.
When the City of Ann Arbor announced a contest to design a new city flag, the 7th grade design team at A2 STEAM jumped at the opportunity.
Led by teacher Nathan Hatt, students Andre, Cora, Isaac, and Jack embarked on a creative journey to capture the essence of Ann Arbor in a symbolic graphic design.
The team started by brainstorming the values and ideals that make Ann Arbor unique. After much discussion, they landed on three key concepts: nature, diversity, and opportunity. Next they generated visual symbols and icons that could represent these ideas on a flag: Ginkgo, a rising sun, crossroads and trails, apples, the Huron River, and others.
Armed with their visual elements, the students began experimenting with compositions on index cards, explained Hatt, noting that they considered principles of good flag design as outlined in a TED Talk by Roman Mars using meaningful symbolism, only 2-3 colors, and simple, distinctive shapes.
As their ideas took form, the team moved to larger-scale mockups where they could critique each other’s concepts and decisions.
Finally, after some friendly debate, they reached a consensus on a flag that synthesized all their best ideas. The team was proud to submit their collaborative design to the contest, which will select a new flag to fly over City Hall and other municipal buildings.
“We noticed that many of our designs had green to symbolize the natural landscape of Tree City, USA,” the students wrote when submitting their final design. “Many used a blue stripe to symbolize the Huron River, a vital natural thoroughfare. We also noticed a recurring theme of yellow stripes (in part an homage to the current flag) to symbolize the robust trail systems that had been created by Indigenous peoples such as the Potawatomi tribe before they were turned into wagonways and later roads. We enjoyed a lot of the unique features of each design, but decided that we could create a concise flag that symbolizes all these things, and shows the trails running North and South and the Huron River West and East, both of which have created opportunities for many diverse people over the last 200 years.”
The competition was open to city residents of all ages. Six finalists will each receive $200, while the winner will receive an additional $500. A panel of judges, led by Mayor Christopher Taylor, will select the finalists to be announced in January.
“A successful City flag expresses and enhances community identity and pride,” noted Taylor in a statement. “It builds togetherness and beautifies our civic spaces, our homes and probably a laptop or two. I’m excited to see the amazing ideas Ann Arbor residents have for this effort and am certain that the choice is going to be incredibly difficult.”