Of all the U.S. state flags, Colorado’s is easily among the most abstract. Designed more than a century ago, the flag’s graphics fly fairly high-metaphoric. Where other states err representational—proud or cutesy animals, gun-toting pioneers—the Colorado flag consists of only an off-center red C that nestles a small golden disk.
That sole red letter has become the de facto Colorado logo. But because it’s in the state’s public domain, anyone can use it, for any purpose, in any way. The graphic, then, can be employed for ends incompatible with, say, law, while appearing to be an official sanction.
To clear up such identity issues, Governor John Hickenlooper launched his “Making Colorado” campaign, amassing a team of 12 Colorado-based designers and writers to produce three new logos. The winner, by illustrator and graphic designer Evan Hecox, was chosen at the end of August for immediate state branding use. The new logo is proving to be a tough sell among Coloradans at the moment, but, as is often the case when someone changes a beloved identity, Hecox thinks the naysayers will come around after the initial adjustment period.
“What Colorado actually needed was a specific logo that could be controlled,” Hecox tells Co.Design. “The new brand is a registered trademark that cannot be used without express permission from the State of Colorado.”
Hecox’s design, which he arrived at with the aid of his collaborators, took inspiration from another Colorado icon—the state's alpine-themed license plates, in graphic white and green. The triangular shape of the new logo brings to mind a road sign, if the centers of road signs were occupied by snowy mountain peaks. The silhouetted mountain image is foregrounded by the state abbreviation “CO,” in a typeface that matches that of the original celebrated-but-pirated C.
The re-creation of the C takes a back seat to Colorado’s well-established mountain imagery—which was a design decision driven by some serious Rocky Mountain research. In polls, the team found that residents felt their state more widely represented in the license plates than in the C. “The red C and the flag are not as widely recognized as most people would like to think," Hecox explains, adding that the team discovered some poll respondents "believe that the Colorado flag is actually a symbol of Chicago or elsewhere."
Even so, he's careful not to downplay the history and impact of that C. “We are fortunate in Colorado to have such a simple, modern, and graphically strong flag,” Hecox says, noting that his project was designed “to work in cooperation with the flag and the state seal, and not to replace either one.”
Instead, the new logo will be used toward branding Colorado as a place for creative talent and jobs, without losing its outdoorsy heritage. Its “upward trajectory” (i.e. pointed geometry), says Hecox, is indicative of the “positive nature" of Coloradans. And the tree-green palette doesn’t hurt either, expressing the state’s sustainability ethos and eco-friendly industries.
Hecox, of course, hopes that such statewide friendliness will eventually welcome his redesign. “My personal feeling is that a logo needs time, context, and real-world application to test its validity and effectiveness," he says. "I'm confident that our mark will stand up to scrutiny and serve its purpose over time.” If not, there's always Plan C.