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Month: December, 2017

Does your city / state / country have an ICON, or just a flag? Vex vexillologists with this proposal to create ICONIC EMBLEMS to represent your favorite regional administrative division! This is the U.S. State Flag edition.


Every US state has a flag. But only a few states have an icon—something immediately recognizable (and ideally, easily drawn and memorable).

For an example of icons, we can look at Japan’s provinces (or “prefectures”), nearly all of which are represented by a distinctive single-color icon (Figure 1).


Fig. 1: Japanese provinces have iconic minimalist symbols associated with them. Compare these to the selection of American state flags in Figure 2.


Fig. 2: Most state flags were not selected with visual clarity in mind. Additionally, many state flags look identical on a flagpole when there is no wind.


Fig. 3: Some flags are visually distinctive, but these are the exception. (In reading order: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, Tennessee, and Washington D.C.)


The proposal is as follows:

  • Every state will get a supplementary icon, that can be easily rendered in a quick pen sketch (Figure 4).
  • When possible, the flag and emblem should be similar, to make them easier to remember.
  • A flag and an icon have different requirements. Some guidelines:
    • A flag should be visually distinctive even when on a draped piece of cloth. For example, the American flag (🇺🇸) is easily identified even when there is no wind.
    • A flag can make use of multiple colors (although there is such a thing as “too many” colors).
    • An icon should minimize or eliminate reliance on specific colors.
    • An icon should have relatively few fine details. It should be distinctive even at a very small size.

Fig. 4: Some sketches of icons that could represent specific states. Three of these are based on elements from real state flags: Tennessee (top left), New Mexico (left middle), and South Carolina (palm tree + crescent moon, top right). The top right one would probably need to be modified in some way to distinguish it from the flags of Turkey (🇹🇷), Tunisia (🇹🇳), Pakistan (🇵🇰), and others.

There is also no icon that represents the United States (although USA works as an easily-written shorthand). Figures 6 and 7 investigate some elements that could be incorporated into a flag-inspired icon.



Fig. 5: Although it is not a national icon, this existing U.S. Air Force insignia manages to elegantly incorporate the elements of the national flag.


Fig. 6: If someone only had 5 seconds to draw an American flag, they’d probably some up with something similar to these graffiti-like icons on the left. Isolating the iconic elements of the American flag leaves us with a number of possible emblems in varying levels of detail (right). The bottom-right one also indicates how the Chinese / Japanese character for “above” coincidentally appears in the negative space: this might be useful in a U.S.A.-and-China-centered science fiction future like the one in Firefly.


Below (Figure 7) is a column of state flags (left) and some potential icons (right). The color is arbitrary—it can be omitted or changed to any other color (as in the Japanese example in Figure 1).




Fig. 7: Left column: state flags. Right column: corresponding easy-to-draw icons for each state. Some of these have a very shaky rationale, and are not based on the existing flags. For example:  Illinois: rivers converging, also it’s the “Y” from the font “Malayayam Bold.” Florida: the shape of Florida, if it were exactly three pixels. Michigan: the bordering lakes. Louisiana: the Mississippi river delta. Vermont / New Hampshire: the icons fit together, like the states. See below for Washington State.


You should come up with some icon suggestions of your own, and propose them to your state government. They love sponsoring things like state birds, state flowers, and state songs, so why not a state emblem? California even has a state lichen and state dinosaur!

PROS: Would provide the option for people to promote their state with an easily-recognized emblem.

CONS: Could increase intra-state rivalry if people become attached to their own state’s amazing icon.



P.S. The hypothetical icon for Washington State is an abstract representation of Washington crossing the Delaware. Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but that never stopped icon designers before!



P.P.S. Run out of icon ideas? Just draw a bunch of weird stuff on a sheet of paper and see if anything sticks. Try to avoid accidentally repurposing fascist iconography!

A new sales opportunity for the wedding ring industry! Diamond sellers hate it!

New site feature:



Historically, wedding rings in many Western countries have been a moderately reliable indicator of someone’s marriage status (Figure 1).


Fig. 1: Classic late-20th-century wedding rings. Elegant! But they could always be more informative.

The issue:

However, as it has become more common for people to postpone marriage or not get married at all, the ring has become a less statistically reliable indicator of someone’s single-or-not status.


In addition to the classic wedding rings, other relationship statuses could be indicated by alternative ring designs.


Fig. 2: The green pentagon ring might mean “separated, but still technically married.”


Fig. 3: Red triangle: “married to video games and/or professional sports.” Purple square: “married to my job, so don’t even bother trying to date me.”


Fig. 4: Various other relationship statuses could have their own ring specifications. With nearly infinite possible combinations of ring shape, color, inset stone(s), and overall design, there’s no chance of running out of options.

PROS: Would allow wedding rings to convey more information, yet still remain fashionable.

CONS: Addressing all possible types of relationship status could result in an incredibly large and difficult-to-memorize number of ring designs.

Become fit & fashionable WHILE YOU COOK using this new fashion accessory and/or kitchen appliance!


A lot of kitchen tools have a non-electric version that is hand-cranked: for example, a coffee grinder, ice-cream maker, mixer, or salad-spinner. Additional common hand-powered items include the can opener and pepper mill.

The issue:

Unfortunately, many of these tools are slow and inefficient to operate by hand. However, if there were some way to operate the grinder by a larger muscle group (i.e. not the hands), it would be much easier to operate a coffee grinder or mixer without electricity.


In order to make it easy to operate one of these kitchen tools manually, the following is proposed:

  • The user can wear a belt with gear teeth on it (Figure 1). These teeth mesh with a corresponding gear on the kitchen appliance in question.
  • The user can then (slowly) spin around, and their large-diameter gear belt will cause an extremely fast rotation in the corresponding kitchen appliance gear (which is much smaller).

Fig. 1: The “gear belt” isn’t just a terrible steampunk fashion accessory, but is also a practical addition to your kitchen.

Although each appliance could have its own gearing system, it might be easier if the gears were built into the kitchen counter as shown in Figure 2. Otherwise, an activity like grinding coffee beans would require two people: one to spin around, and one to hold the coffee grinder.




Fig. 2: If the gearing system were built into a kitchen counter, the operator would be able to easily power any appliance that was fastened to the counter at location #3 (green, above).



Fig. 3: Example of how the coffee grinder would work, as drawn for a patent application.


Next time you remodel your kitchen, make sure to include a gearing system in one of your kitchen counters.

PROS: Ecologically-friendly method of powering kitchen appliances. Also provides a great core workout.

CONS: May increase the value of your house too much, rendering you unable to sell it.

Bring civility back to the universe with this one incredible object that fits in your wallet!

The issue:

It’s hard to believe, but sometimes people are jerks.

Most people are also bad at apologies. But, what if, after committing some transgression, you could apologize and easily demonstrate your sincerity?


The “jerk card” provides this opportunity: if you feel like you were a jerk, but aren’t sure how to apologize, you can just present this card and have the aggrieved individual punch out one of the appropriate sections of the card (as shown in Figure 1).

1b Prototype on green

Fig. 1: In this card, two out of the maximum eight infractions have been used up (punched out).  The number of punches could be variable, as in a “driver’s license points”-style system .

Two more-detailed mockups can be seen in Figure 2.

2 card types

Fig. 2: Two possible card mockups. Since there are various ways to be a jerk, the infractions are divided into categories (categories “A” and “B” in the top card, and A through D in the bottom card). Categories could indicate either the nature of the offense or its severity (like red / yellow cards in soccer).

To be determined:

  • Would there be a governing body that would issue these cards?
  • In case of dispute, who decides if an infraction is actually valid?
  • What is the penalty for filling up a card?

PROS: Might encourage people to change their behavior by quantifying their offenses (similar in concept to a “swear jar“).

CONS: Since the jerk-card points would be self-assigned, it’s unclear if the most frequently-offending jerks would actually recognize their status.