A month ago, Gilbert Baker died. Baker was the creator of the rainbow flag, one of today’s most well-known LGBT symbols.
A flag is probably one of the most challenging symbols to design. Whether you are approached to do it for a corporation, a sports club, or a country, it is always a touchy issue. Choosing the wrong symbols or inappropriate colours can have immense consequences. Besides, even the best design may be misinterpreted. The Canadian Maple Leaf is a good example: Initially ridiculed and rejected by veterans and conservatives, the flag had to go a long way to be publicly accepted.
Flags are symbols of affiliation and belonging and that’s why the intended audience needs an appealing narrative to accept them. I have written about how a shirt covered with the enemy’s blood became a national flag.
Baker’s original flag design had eight colours with a particular meaning: hot-pink for sex, red for life, orange – healing, yellow – sunlight, green – nature, turquoise – art, indigo – harmony, violet – spirit. Gilbert Baker was not a designer. He was an activist with a clear understanding of what the flag should stand for. And his lack of formal design training was actually an advantage: He didn’t explore complex shapes and patterns; he conveyed a powerful message through plain colours and stripes.
The flag went through modifications over time: hot-pink was removed due to an unavailability of hot-pink fabric, turquoise was dropped to get to an even number of stripes, and indigo was replaced with blue.
Baker never patented the design or made any money from it. But he will be remembered as the creator of one of the modern world’s most iconic symbols.