Peace Flags of Pisa
The first rainbow peace flag appeared at the Perugia-Assisi peace march as early as 1961. The idea is attributed to the Italian peace activist Also Capitini. But what has happened to the flag since? This article takes a critical look at commercial peace flag design. nvestigating the design
The basic design
The basic design of the Italian peace flag is a rectangular rainbow motif with 7 horizontal colour stripes and the word ‘Peace’ in white, chiefly using the Italian word PACE. The rainbow spectre – i.e. reaching from blue, green, yellow, orange to red and magenta – is generally represented so the cool blue colours feature on the upper-half of the flag. This basic design is said to have been set out in the 1980s.
key design problem
The inherent problem all designs seem to address, however, is how to make the white typeface stand out against the light-hued colours of the middle section. Practically all design variations seem to derive from attempts at solving this inherent problem
With the most common flag in Pisa (No.1), the problem lies in the shimmering contrast between the white typeface and the cool colours of the upper-half of the flag.
Most solutions to the inherent design problem involve creating a colour-balanced background for the white typeface.
In No.2 the problem is addressed by moving the wording – PACE – down one stripe to the lower half of the flag. This allows the wording to feature against what in theory is a balanced background of green and yellow. Visually, however, the white wording now seems to ‘stitch’ the warmer colours to the green middle stripe, creating a dynamic design where the wording actively holds the cooler and warmer sections of the flag together. To counter the imbalance inflicted by moving the writing down, the violet stripe has been moved down one stripe past the blue. This move goes against the rainbow scheme, but has the effect of warming up the cool half of the flag to restore at least some of the balance.
To further address the imbalance, one rare variation of this design (No. 3) adds a white peace dove to the right hand side of the violet stripe.
A second attempt based on the idea of creating a background of yellow and green (No.4) addresses the problem of the overall balance of the design by moving the blue stripe down to the bottom of the flag, thus restoring the wording to the centre. The price paid for this quick fix is high. Not only does moving the blue stripe down go against the general rainbow scheme, it creates a sharp contrast of red and blue at the bottom of the flag, which makes the rest of the flag seem quite bland in comparison. Only two flags of this design were found in Pisa.
Violet and green
A third attempt (No.5) at creating colour-balanced backgrounds uses a combination of violet and green framed by two light colours – light blue and yellow. This design involves moving the violet stripe down just above the middle green stripe. This solution is simple but goes against the rainbow scheme in such a radical way that the flag becomes more of a multicoloured banner than a rainbow flag per se.
A further modification to the No. 5 design is represented in flag No. 6 where the red stripe has been moved to the top. However, this not only further removes the flag from the rainbow scheme, this design solution only succeeds in generating an additional design problem akin to that of No. 4, namely that of creating a strong red and blue contrast rendering the rest of the flag quite tame in comparison. The difference between flag No. 4 and 6 is that the blue and red contrast in No. 6 is featured at the top rather than at the bottom of the flag, but the effect is much the same. Little wonder that this design has not been spotted in Pisa at all – I found this example in Genoa.
The subtle approach
An entirely different approach is to make a virtue of the inherent design problem and seek a more subtle level of communication that focuses more on the multicoloured motif than the wording.
A successful example of this approach is flag No. 7. The colour scheme is extremely subtle and vibrant and avoids saturated dark blues altogether. Indigo – or deep purple – takes the place of ultra marine while the second stripe is an elusive saturated turquoise green that often turns out olive green in photos. The flag, therefore, has two shades of green rather than two shades of blue. The colour range is narrower than the pure rainbow motif but far subtler. The wording is set on a background of the two lightest colours: light blue and a light forest green. In effect, the wording almost disappears in the bright sunlight. Despite the blurry message, it is perhaps the most vibrant of all the designs when seen in the right light.
Big is better
A group of 3 flags have addressed the design problem in an entirely different way. They apply a different typeface that stretches over 3 centre stripes instead of 2. Furthermore, this very open and rounded typeface has a thin blue border. One design (No 11) uses a saturated palette reaching from a slightly bluish red over orange, yellow and green to the standard two shades of blue and then violet. The message is loud and clear – perhaps even too loud and brash to be peaceful.
A second attempt at this design approach (No. 12) adds party spice with a vibrant turquoise stripe featured just above the green middle section. The violet has been replaced by magenta which adds to the warm feeling of the flag. In the right light, it's pretty psychedelic!
In a third version of this flag (No 13) the main colour scheme is much that of No. 7. Placing the light blue between two greens creates a subtle field of cool green rather than blue while still narrowly keeping to the rainbow scheme. Despite the pale background colours, the XL typeface ensures that the message comes across .
Graphic message and designer colours
The last main family of flags also returns to the smaller typeface of the first flags (No. 1-8), but the design problem is addressed in an entirely different way.
The horizontal (No. 16) and vertical (No. 17) versions brand a clear message on a balanced background of olive green and a pale violet. The top stripes are two vibrant shades of magenta, or almost bordeaux. In a subtle way, these two shades almost create a double-size stripe, which adds a new dimension to the design – a third geometric element in relation to that of the stripes and the rectangular shape of the flag itself. This third element adds dynamism while underscoring the simple design. The narrow colour range, mainly within the warmer colours, also helps enhance the peace message. And they are pretty designer chic!
The third version of this flag (No. 18) is identical to No. 16 in size and typeface, but the colour range is slightly warmer. Here, the top two shades of violet are replaced by two shades of magenta, almost crimson – very papal! And as an entirely novel feature in commercial peace flag design, the middle stripe is not green but brown. Of course, this earthen colour does not belong to the rainbow scheme at all, yet it sets the tone for a warm interpretation of the cool section of the rainbow flag and offers a solid baseline for the typeface.
All in all, three graphic flags with a clear message, warmth of colour and some degree of sophistication even if they are, perhaps, predictably designer chic.
Back to basics - the first Italian peace flags
Historic black-and-white footage of the first peace flags flowen at the Assisi peace march in 1992 shows multiple stripped flags and indicates far greater variation in lightness, hue and saturation than current commerically produced flags.
The first flags were probably similar in design to flag No. 19 – a small peace flag with a vibrant combination of colours tentatively reflecting the rainbow scheme. The first rainbow flags were apparently far more sophisticated, varied and artistic in their design than all current commercial flags.
This single little flag shows that most of the inherent design problems with current commercially issued peace flags are mainly down to lack of imagination. As corny as this may sound, with a design as versatile as the rainbow motif, the sky should really be the limit.
TOP: The official peace flag logo: "Peace on Every Balcony". The peace flag sports the cool blues on the top half of the flag. In relation to the 6 colours of the rainbow, the flag has an additional seventh stripe, often light blue (azure).
BOTTOM: The gay rainbow flag, representing the 6 colours of the rainbow, was created by Gilbert Baker of San Francisco as a community symbol in 1978. It features the cool colours on the bottom half and often substites the bottom magenta stripe with an all-out signiature pink.
The affinity in design of the rainbow preace flag to the gay rainbow flag in 2003 reportedly caused the Bishop of Bologna to encourage people not to fly the flag, which however only resulted in record numbers joining the 'Peace on Every Balcony' campaign in the generally open-minded city.
The open motif Small banner that harks back to the first peace flags flown on the 1961 Perugia-Assisi peace march. Vibrant combinations that are unconcerned with any dictate on white wording. The motif carries the message.