John Caserta
Fall 2017 Design Studio 1 unit given to sophomores and first-year graduate students in Graphic Design at Rhode Island School of Design. This page contains 625 words and is filed under teaching

Flag as Civic Symbol

This is the unit of study that I scripted for the fall 2017 Design Studio 1 course. The full syllabus was prepared by Keetra Dixon and includes four other faculty-led units.

Reto Moser and Tobias Rechsteiner

Unit overview

How can symbols communicate who we are?

The creation and appropriation of symbols to create meaning is an important part of a designer’s toolset – whether on a flag, website, emblem, logo or other context. This unit will take a close look at flags as an example of how symbols can connect (or distance) a group of people. Whether for nations, towns, labor unions, or schools, flags make use of the simplest of forms to communicate various cultural, historical or aspirational qualities of a group. This unit asks students to use observational research to better understand who inhabits a specific public space, and to design symbols — sited on flags – to speak to (and for) that public.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand how symbols work
  • Learn to work with simple forms
  • Consider how material and context affects form

  • Consider how design operates in public space


There are four flag poles located between Design Center and the river. The sidewalk and riverfront is public land. The flagpoles have been unused ever since I can remember; an apt example for the general disregard of public things. This assignment asks you to design four flags that could be mounted there as a set. See Google Map of location.


Four 6′ tall × 9′ wide (or you choose) flags. Flags may be conceived of as sewn or digitally printed; Design one side only.

Choose a concept
  • Symbolize change/evolution/growth
  • Symbolize community/unity
  • Symbolize our divergent or shared history
  • Symbolize the people
  • Symbolize civic pride
  • Symbolize hope (R.I. state motto)
  • Symbolize four specific things (that relate or don’t)

Kickoff: Oct 10, 2017

Lecture notes as pdf

For October 17

Observe the area at different times of day. By whom are the flags seen? From what angles are they visible? How do they relate to other symbols, buildings and the like.

Based on what you’ve observed on the river, heard in the lecture, your own research about public space, flags, symbols, Providence, etc, propose what you would like to communicate to the public on the flags. What are you symbolizing (from the list above). And how?

You will share a presentation of initial designs in your sections. Flags should consider and make use of any of the following: graphic symbols, color, photography, representational imagery, invented forms.

Make a presentation in Keynote or Google Slides that walks your classmates through what you learned, and how this research led to some initial ideas.

For October 24

Refine to one set of four 6′ tall × 9′ wide (or you choose) flags, Print each flag so its vertical dimension is 2′ tall (output at ⅓ size) for a walkabout on week 2.

Write a summary of intentions that fits on a single letter page and is printed and placed next to your four flags. Address how you came up with your solution and what you were trying to symbolize. Upload all work to this Google Drive folder.

Oded Ezer


Seniors Mostyn Griffith and Ethan Anderson made a website to show off the results.


Index of everything


Interim Dean of Architecture + Design and formerly Department Head of the Graphic Design Department at Rhode Island School of Design. Founded The Design Office, a workspace for designers, in 2007, and ran it until its closing in 2021. Hear an interview that covers my teaching and design career. Read an overview of my work from The Noun Project. This site is updated regularly and outputs to a book with Bindery. Get in touch via email.