"One day I looked at the American flag and thought the stripes looked like a bar graph." So says Nadeem Haidary, a designer who reimagined the national symbol as an infographic: What if the flag dynamically changed to show real-time data about the U.S., instead of representing history and abstract ideas?
"I've always been interested in the idea that everyday objects might have the capacity to display information," Haidary says. He experimented with an interactive flag that scrolls through the decades to show how various facets of American life have changed over time—how long people live, how much women make compared to men, how many people get divorced.
He imagines that a new website—flag.gov—could host an interactive flag that pulls data from sources like the U.S. Census. But any particular point in time could also turn into a physical flag. "Physical flags would have a limited shelf-life, but at the same time would help date special occasions and historical photographs," he says.
The flags could also be adapted for different countries, focused on whatever values are most culturally relevant or laudable. In a design for Japan, where people live longer than anywhere else in the world, Haidary created a rising sun that grows over the years as longevity increases.
While there would be challenges—what a society wants to measure might change over time, for example—he thinks the flags could serve as a visual reminder of the current state of the union.
"What better way to say 'we care about our values so much we'll measure them and put them on our flag for everyone to see'?" Haidary says. "Progress towards goals would be tangible. It would be hard to notice trends in the short term, but over a decade or generations you'd definitely see how the country has changed for better or worse."