When Gibson Ek student Aiden Owen found out that the City of Issaquah doesn’t have a flag, he kicked off a two-year quest to design and propose one – connecting him to a mentor an ocean away and a community of fellow vexillologists.
“You can’t NOT like the concept of flags. That’s like not liking water,” Owen said. He graduated on June 14 after offering city officials six flag prototypes.
Mayor Mary Lou Pauly and City Council President Lindsey Walsh told him that while the city isn’t ready to move forward with adopting a flag – and would likely need to put out a call for design submissions to the wider community – they were quite impressed with his designs.
“It is inspiring to see the interest that Aiden has taken in creating a flag design for his community,” said Pauly. “Not only is his artwork stunningly beautiful, he has done an amazing job capturing the spirit and the essence of living in this wonderful part of the region.”
Owen's six prototypes all incorporate simple emerald green and white graphic shapes to evoke mountains, some with water or sky in royal blue. One adds a salmon silhouette. His personal favorite – three white triangle mountains on a green background with royal blue in the foreground – he describes as “a south side view of the Issaquah Alps from Lake Sammamish.” He turned that one into an actual flag that hangs in his advisory classroom.
When Owen proposed this capstone project in his junior year to his Gibson Ek advisor, Lena Tsaoussis, she helped him find Brian Cham, an Amazon software developer who also coordinates video content for the North American Vexillological Association, which describes itself as the world’s largest organization of flag enthusiasts and scholars.
“He vastly helped me,” Owen says. Owen even joined NAVA, “an amazing community of people who care a lot about their own communities.”
Cham met remotely with Aiden each week from his homes in Aotearoa, New Zealand and London. He connected Aiden to other vexillologists who have proposed city flags, provided feedback on his draft communications to city officials, and pointed him to resources.
"When I met Aiden, I was struck by his passion for vexillology and for his city," Cham said. "His determination for an Issaquah flag has never wavered, and I'm proud of what he has accomplished."
From Cham, Owen learned NAVA’s key principles of flag design, such as keeping it simple, with no more than three colors and no lettering or seals, and identifiable from a distance. He also took a deep dive into researching flags of other cities and countries, developing strong opinions along the way.
“Seattle’s flag is alright, but it has words on it, which is a cardinal sin,” he says.
Aiden observes that most country flags are fairly well designed and keep to the key principles, except Zambia’s, which he describes as “not stylistically appealing even in a normal graphic-design sense.”
Aiden, who plans to attend Bellevue College for Digital Media Arts, notes that many cities and states have recently changed their flag designs, either due to outdated or racist symbols, or purely for stylistic reasons. “Bad city flags are going extinct, in a good way.”
Aiden also enjoys studying Native American history and issues, wishing aloud that the local Tibbetts Creek would be renamed for a Native American historical figure due to potential ethical issues around the current name.
Tsaoussis, his advisor, says Aiden has taken a number of mini-courses at Gibson Ek on geopolitical ethics and history. “The flag project really ties it all together. I’ve been so impressed with his dedication to the capstone and these interests over the past four years.”