By Jason McDowell Creative Director Published Nov 15, 2018 at 2:56 PM

Recently the Milwaukee Arts Board announced that the design contest in 2015 was slightly flawed, and thus the final results would not be adopted under official status (not yet, anyway), and is asking for an entirely new process, which has been predicted to cost $100,000 or more.

My much cheaper recommendation: just let the people vote again.

The original process

The process – which happened in 2015 and has inspired numerous other cities to redesign and adopt new flags – was organized for free through Steve Kodis’ grassroots efforts and attracted more than 1,000 different designs. This unprecedented mountain of inspiration was then vetted down to five official selections based on decisions made by a diverse board of designers, historians, flag scholars and artists.

Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Ald. Ashanti Hamilton at the unveiling
of the final five. (PHOTO: Milwaukee Flag)

The voting process then asked viewers to individually rate each design on its own merits via the internet. This style of voting was used in order to ensure the results could not be spammed simply via popularity contest. Because of this process, the more people voted, the more the scores of each design averaged out and the harder it becomes to influence the direction of the vote.

Thus, the flag with the overall most agreeable design score would win.

Mural on Little Crawlers Day Care. (PHOTO: MKE Flag)

And it’s because of this process, claims Kodis, the "Sunrise Over the Lake" would become the clear winner. "Even if we kept voting open for two more weeks, ‘Sunrise’ would have held its lead."

What’s the problem?

But even with an extremely high level of media buzz, controversial and otherwise, the online voting, it turned out, was the catch. Despite its prevalence in the fabric of society, the Arts Board decided the internet was not inclusive enough to attract an appropriate cross section of voices from around the city.

MMA fighter Jordan Griffin, aka NativePsycho. (PHOTO: Jordan Griffin)

Now the Arts Board, which believes we do need a less embarrassing flag, is recommending taxpayers spend around $100,000 on consultants to wholesale develop a NEW design process. This has the possibility of introducing the fifth design contest and a third (technically fifth) flag into Milwaukee's visual lexicon.

I'm stunned that the city believes we need to start at ground zero, considering the overall stability and considerations of the initial process, as well as the widespread grassroots adoption by all sorts of people throughout the city. It's now unfair to its citizens to let this now-organic process go unacknowledged and not consider the last three years groundswell as proof of its success.

The Sunrise Over the Lake now adorns all kids of merchandise. (PHOTO: Wicked Hop)

The initial process, though it may have been flawed, still produced great results. How do we know? Because after the vote, if nobody liked it, this design would have died. And it nearly did. The whole thing languished for a year before we started seeing it pop up and get remixed into different designs under a variety of conditions.

Now it's everywhere. Three years after the announcement, the citizens are now putting pieces of themselves into the flag, flying it on their homes, turning them into uniforms, wearing them on their heads, riding them and drinking them.

The support that the People's flag currently enjoys was earned, not forced.

You can drink the flag, ride the flag, and win competitions with the flag.
(PHOTO: Northern Comfort Ultimate)

The cheapest and easiest solution

So, if the problem truly was the reach of the original vote, then lets save $100,000 and just do another vote. It only requires one simple question: "Do you want to adopt the 'Sunrise Over the Lake' as the city's official flag?"

If the answer is no, we can keep the current flag (we shouldn't) or go ahead spend the money to find a different solution. If the answer is yes, which it undoubtedly is, we can finally move forward.

Jason McDowell Creative Director

Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.

In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.

Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.