The first flag Derek Landers ever designed was a pretty good one.
On Monday, the Spokane Flag Commission announced Landers’ submission as the winning design for the city’s new flag, selected as the favorite by voters out of a dozen finalists.
The flag features the yellow sun in the top left corner, shining above a flowing blue river that cuts across its center. The bottom half of the flag is dominated by a solid green color.
Spokane gets its name from the Salish word pronounced “s-pok-ah-nee,” meaning sun, the presence of which is meant to honor the Salish peoples who historically inhabited this land, and “their presence is still here,” Landers, who was born and raised in Spokane , told The Spokesman-Review.
The river, Landers explained, represents the Spokane River and Spokane Falls, while the green is a nod to the land and trees of the region.
The river that cuts between the sun and land befits the “constant movement of Spokane,” Landers said.
“Hopefully when this thing is waving in the wind that kind of graphic representation of the river and the flow of it will look really cool,” Landers said.
Landers is the art director at The Great PNW, a company whose Pacific Northwest-themed shirts, hats and other accessories line the racks of local stores. He’s also co-founder of Spokane Print and Publishing Studio, a nonprofit print studio in Spokane.
With more than two decades of experience, Landers is also principal of his own design studio, Landers Design, and has created dozens of logos, brands, and posters – including for bands like My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.
Despite that lengthy resume, Landers said he had never actually designed a flag until this one.
He first created it in 2019 at the request of the Inlander, which invited local artists to submit designs for a hypothetical new city flag.
Those who dislike the new design cannot say the process of choosing it was undemocratic.
The endeavor was overseen by the volunteer Flag Commission, whose representatives included five City Council and mayoral appointees, two representatives from the Spokane Tribe, a youth representative and an arts community representative.
The Flag Commission solicited design proposals from anyone and everyone. It held an initial round of online public voting to help narrow the choices from more than 400 submissions to just a dozen finalists.
In April, the Flag Commission launched a ranked-choice voting system and allowed anyone with a Spokane Public Library card or any Spokane Tribal member to vote. It promised that the vote would be binding.
A total of 2,110 votes were cast and the winner, announced Monday, was Landers’ design.
The new city flag will replace the seldom-seen former version adopted in the 1970s and designed by Lloyd L. Carlson, who also created the Expo ’74 mobius strip symbol.
That flag violated several of the design standards by which modern vexillologists – those who study flags – swear by.
The former flag contains the miniscule silhouettes of a hand-holding family tucked inside a thick black circle encroached on by a bright-yellow sun. The words “CHILDREN OF THE SUN” also appear inside the circle, which is atop one green and one blue adjacent diagonal stripes. To the right, black letters read “CITY OF SPOKANE.”
The North American Vexillological Association recommends simple, straightforward designs devoid of lettering but rich with symbolism.
Because of its tiny elements, the entire former city flag design is difficult to comprehend from any more than a short distance – a problem not inherent in the new flag design.
“Because I design a lot of logos, I’m used to designing things that are going to work well both in a small size and at a big size – that always drives my design anyways,” Landers said. “Simple is better because whatever it is has to be versatile.”
Landers’ submission intentionally avoided the use of landmarks like the U.S. Pavilion or Monroe Street Bridge.
“I didn’t want to rely on a landmark because Spokane is not just the Pavilion. … It’d be like trying to put Bloomsday on the flag,” Landers said. “Those are all things that make Spokane great, but as a whole what’s going to represent the city of Spokane?”
Joshua Hiler, chair of the Flag Commission, championed the quest to redesign the city flag in 2019 and won the support of Councilwoman Kate Burke to oversee the redesign process.
In an email to The Spokesman-Review, Hiler said Landers’ design was among his favorites of the hundreds submitted.
“I like how dynamic it feels, there’s a very real sense of ‘motion’ in the lines representing the river, without becoming overly complicated,” Hiler said. “While virtually every design featured similar elements (green for the forests, blue for the river, a sun motif) I liked how simple Landers’ design felt without feeling derivative.”
Landers was at work when he received an email notifying him that his design had won. It wasn’t until his boss told him “you’re going to be in the history books” that the impact really sunk in.
“‘OK, that’s pretty heavy,’” Landers recalled thinking. “I’m a lifelong resident. I love this town. I’ve been lots of other places but I don’t want to live anywhere else.”
This is one design for which Landers won’t be paid, and that’s OK with him.
“I”m just proud of my city and I’m proud of my work, and I’m more than happy to give it to the city of Spokane,” Landers said.
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