Tag Archives: GOOD Ideas for Cities

Flag of Cincinnati

Civic Iconography: Raising The Queen City's Standard

This is the second in a series of posts about civic design, iconography, and branding. Some of these ideas I’ve had for awhile, but now with GOOD Ideas for Cities coming to Cincinnati I figure it is a good time to share. The first post in this series was about Cincinnati’s own typeface. Read it here.

The flag, or standard, of Cincinnati is the subject of this post. To begin, a quick description of the flag via the Fountain Square blog:

The flag design was the result of a contest and the winning design was selected in 1895, but not formally adopted until 1940. The blue color represents the river, the red “C” stands for Cincinnati, and the Buckeye leaf on top is for the State of Ohio. The symbols in the center of the flag all have significance and represent important qualities of a city. The Winged rod signifies commerce and the serpents represent wisdom. The scales signify justice and the sword represents authority and power. Lastly the phrase “Juncta Juvant” translates from Latin to “Unity Assists” or “It’s better to work together”.

The winged rod encircled by two serpents is a caduceus. It and the other symbols within the “C” are taken from the city’s seal circa 1819:

Seal of the City of Cincinnati

Aaron Renn, The Urbanophile, wrote an excellent piece one year ago titled “Civic Iconography Done Right – Chicago’s City Flag” in which he explained:

I’ve written on a number of occasions on why cities should look to strengthen their visual identity and distinctive character using civic icons or images that can provide a powerful graphical or design representation of the city. For example, I wrote about I wrote about how London’s use of its civic icons – it’s red buses, black cabs, bobby uniforms, phone booths, and tube logo – had assumed an almost totemistic stature there.

In the United States, I’d have to rate Chicago far and away #1 in the use of official civic symbols (maybe the best in the world for all I know), and also note the overall high level of design quality of these objects.

Renn goes on to display a whole assortment of symbolic adaptations based on the Chicago flag. Chicago’s flag lends itself well to customization because it is both simple and recognizable.

Here’s an image of the Chicago flag for your reference followed by a collage showing some of the ways Chicagoans have personalized the city’s standard:

Flag of Chicago

Chicago’s Wrigley Field even displays the city flag of Cubs’ opponents, via baseballchurch:

Chicagoans also have a fairly good understanding of what the city flag’s symbols represent:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhMHS8CCwSU&w=640&h=480]

In 2004 the North American Vexillogical Association (NAVA) asked its members to rate the flags of 150 American cities on a scale from 1 to 10 based on his or her personal opinion about what constitutes a good flag design. Cincinnati’s flag ranked relatively high at 22nd nationally. Washington DC placed first and Chicago came in second. Indianapolis and Louisville also placed well with ratings of 8th and 9th, respectively. The rest of the results can be viewed here.

Cincinnati’s flag is older than most with a creation date of 1895. The flags of the other four cities listed were adopted decades later: Washington DC (1938), Chicago (1939 based on 1917 design), Indianapolis (1963), Louisville (1949, though a new flag was adopted around the time of NAVA’s ranking due to the Louisville/Jefferson county merger in 2003). In the cursory search necessary to find the origin dates of those flags, I see that the flag of Cincinnati is the only one of these five without its own wikipedia page…something else do to…

I think Cincinnati’s flag is charming. It’s uncomplicated and symbolic yet detailed and specific to Cincinnati. It lacks the stark simplicity of a naval signal flag which cannot be said for many other flags. Cincinnati’s flag design feels handmade and almost artisanal, like it wouldn’t be out of place hand-drawn in pen and ink for the Original Maker’s Club. That’s only my opinion, however. Someone who ought to know better is Ted Kaye, the NAVA survey’s organizer and Portland, Oregon-based author of Good Flag, Bad FlagBack when the survey was released, the Enquirer quoted Kaye as saying, ”Cincinnati’s flag scored well because it has a very modern look.” Tomato, tomahto. Regardless, Cincinnati has a nice flag.

In another stellar post from The Urbanophile, he shares a presentation of “15 Quick, Easy, and Cheap Ways to Make a Big Urban Design Impact in Indianapolis” and the lessons from it can be applied to Cincinnati. Two in particular relate to this post:

  • Embrace the city flag:
    • Indy has a pretty awesome city flag – it is even better than some countries’ – but you rarely see it.
    • You should see the city flag everywhere the US and state flag are flying
    • It ought to be on every city letterhead, uniform and vehicle
    • Private businesses and citizens should be encouraged to fly it as well.
  • New Street sign with iconography
    • Design a new street sign that incorporates the city flag. How hard is that?
    • Even better, use that as the base design, but if the street is named after a person or place, replace the flag with an artist’s rendering of the eponymous person, as in this example in the lower left from Madrid.

Street sign with iconography, via urbanophile.com

Now imagine Cincinnati’s flag coupled with its own typeface on its street signs. How great would that be? That’s one simple and easy way to make Cincinnati more unique and attractive.

The flag and seal aren’t as prevalent as I think they should be, but they’re not total absent either.

Building Cincinnati snapped these photos of the city flag and seal (via UrbanOhio):

Flag of Cincinnati, credit: buildingcincinnati

Detail on the former Second District Police Station, Arch Street, credit: buildingcincinnati

The pillars at Washington Park also bear the city’s seal. Here’s a pre-renovation closeup of the seal on the column. Once I obtain an image of a refinished pillar, I’ll replace this image.

Washington Park pillar with city seal, via ink on urbanohio

Flickr user elycefeliz snapped this photo of the city seal at the Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati:

Seal of the City of Cincinnati at the Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati, via Elyce Feliz

Brad Thomas from the CincyStreetcar blog created this streetcar logo is based on the city seal and incorporates the design elements of the flag. Thomas explains:

The colors of the 3 wavy lines (symbolizing the river) are the same as the 2 straight lines of the seal (symbolizing railroad tracks). And the Streetcar logo is the same color as the “C”.

Update: Twitter user Queen City Beer Nerd (@QCBeerNerd) shared the following photo of the University of Cincinnati’s football team running onto the field with a Cincinnati flag- which they did before every home game:

University of Cincinnati Bearcats running onto the field with a Cincinnati flag

Update II: Sara Bedinghaus shared this photo of the door knobs at City Hall that bear the city seal:

Cincinnati City Hall door knob bearing city seal, via Sara Bedinghaus

Icons and symbols of a city help tell its story. They intrigue visitors, remind locals of our history, and cultivate a sense of place. Cincinnati’s story, it seems, has flummoxed even some of the city’s top PR pros. So much so that there’s an entire Story Project dedicated to developing Cincinnati’s “master narrative“. It’s an interesting campaign and one that I will discuss more fully in my next post in this series.

Lastly, if you’d like to fly the flag of Cincinnati, you can buy them online and hopefully at a local flag store if you’re in the city. The National Flag Company at 1819 Freeman Avenue in the West End might be a good place to start your search if you want to support a local business. Know of a local flag shop that sells Cincinnati’s flag? Leave a comment, and I’ll update his post. Thanks!

Schoenling sign typeface, photo via 5chw4r7z

Could Cincinnati Benefit from Its Own Typeface?

This is the first in a series of posts about civic design, iconography, and branding. Some of these ideas I’ve had for awhile, but now with GOOD Ideas for Cities coming to Cincinnati I figure it is a good time to share.

The question comes by way of Chattanooga, Tennessee where two out of the world’s few hundred typeface designers reside. They’ve designed Chatype - a typeface for Chattanooga. But first, a little background via GOOD:

Chatype came about when D.J. Trischler, a brand consultant, discovered he’d been sitting next to typeface designer Jeremy Dooley at their local coffee shop. The two became fixated on a question: What if Chattanooga had its own typeface? The idea may sound strange from an American perspective, but it’s actually the norm throughout Europe, where even small cities employ unique typefaces to distinguish themselves. In the United States, the only similar attempt was a failed one by academics in the Twin Cities, according to the Chatype team. Yet Trischler and Dooley say this is the first-ever attempt to create custom typeface at the grassroots level, rather than from the demand of a city government.

The two typeface designers started to sell the idea on KickStarter and just passed their fundraising goal of $10,000 with 5o hours left.

The following video via vimeo explains the campaign well:

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/35474474 w=640&h=360]

So that’s where and why the question originates. Is this a good idea for Cincinnati? I don’t see the harm in employing unique fonts. After all, who doesn’t love typography? It would be noteworthy if Cincinnati was the first city, or at least the first major city, with its own typeface. It would be nice to have an identifiable municipal font used on everything from letterhead to bike lanes to street signs. A Cincinnati typeface (Cintype?) would be something that sets the city apart from other large American cities, and it relates nicely to Cincinnati’s growing reputation for design and branding.

Are there any typeface designers in Cincinnati? I know of at least one Cincinnatian who has designed a typeface. His name is Tobias Brauer and he’s an associate professor of visual communication design at Northern Kentucky University. Read more about him and his first font here.

But wait, doesn’t Cincinnati already have its own font? You can see it in the header of this blog. It’s an Art Deco typeface that was created for and used throughout Cincinnati Union Terminal. Here it is via CincinnatiViews.net:

Cincinnati Union Terminal font

If Cincinnati was to create its own typeface for city purposes, I’m not sure an Art Deco style would be the wisest choice. I found quite a few examples of it throughout the city, sometimes in unexpected places like the Moerlein Lager House, so I’ll share my findings:

Here is a video made about Union Terminal’s typeface for this youtube user’s “final project in digital typography”:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zjou1buiRks&w=640&h=480]

And some photos of it at Union Terminal via AbigailSteinem.com:

This book about Union Terminal uses the typeface as well:

The Union Terminal typeface was not limited to Union Terminal, however. The Moerlein Lager House has some of it too. I noticed it in the Schoenling sign in yesterday’s post, and now I find out via 5chw4r7z’s post that it is the original sign from the Schoenling brewery that once stood on Central. 

Schoenling sign typeface, photo via 5chw4r7z

Still, there are other Cincinnati typefaces that one finds if they go snooping.

For example, this one from graphic designer Ellen Lytle:

Cincinnati typeface by Ellen Lytle

Carew Tower uses a similarly Art Deco themed typeface:

Carew Tower Directory typeface, via baronid.com

Carew Tower Directory typeface, via baronid.com

The adjacent Hilton Netherland Plaza employs the same typeface, photo via kimsmithdesigns:

Hilton Netherland Plaza, via kimsmithdesigns.com

And here’s an older photo of the Netherland Plaza before it was a the Hilton Netherland Plaza via maggieblanck.com:

The prevalence of Art Deco typography in Cincinnati isn’t surprising considering its many striking buildings in that style. I’m not going to list them all, but there are several other fine examples beside Carew and Union Terminal.

An Art Deco typeface may not be the most suitable for letterhead and street signs and street lettering, but the question remains: Could Cincinnati benefit from its own typeface?

GOOD Ideas for Cities

GOOD Ideas for Cities Coming to Cincinnati

GOOD Ideas for Cities is coming to Cincinnati! A few of the upcoming posts on this blog will focus on the importance and potential good civic design and branding has for Cincinnati.

Read all about it in this post from GOOD:

GOOD Ideas for Cities taps creative problem-solvers to tackle real urban challenges proposed by civic leaders and present their solutions at live events across the country. Thanks to our partnership with CEOs for Cities and a generous grant from ArtPlace, we’re taking the program to five mid-sized cities in 2012.

In Cincinnati, groups of any size can apply as a creative team, and six teams will be selected to participate.

More about GOOD‘s upcoming visit to Cincinnati via Soapbox:

“Cincinnati is the perfect city for us to go to next as part of the GOOD Ideas for Cities program,” says Alissa Walker, Los Angeles-based writer and community members at GOOD. “We’re seeing many of the challenges there that other mid-sized cities are facing, issues around urban renewal, transportation, and fresh food access. But there’s also such a vibrant and established creative community that’s already so engaged in the city.”

Frank Russell, director of the Niehoff Urban Studio, has begun looking for civic-minded designers who want to be a part of the program. “Cincinnati has the benefit of a tremendous pool of design talent due to its place as a design and brand hub as well as its world-class design educational institutions,” he says. “I am excited to invite these emerging leaders to engage with GOOD to envision creative solutions for Cincinnati.”

To apply to be one of Cincinnati’s GOOD Ideas for Cities’ civic-minded designers or design teams, email Frank Russell.

Here are the details about the Cincinnati event via GOOD:

Cincinnati, Ohio
Wednesday, May 16 at the Contemporary Arts Center
Hosted by The University of Cincinnati Niehoff Urban Studio and the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation

Apply as a creative team for GOOD Ideas for Cities Cincinnati

Application deadline: March 19
Teams and event details will be announced at @IdeasforCities on March 23.