Rob Foster

UX Director Kuali | Co-Founder The Flag Machine

The Utah Flag Machine: How Trolling Utah's New Flag Initiative Created Overwhelming Participation and Influenced the Design of Utah's New Flag

Case Study Conference Speaker
Workshop Instructor
April 28, 2023

When the state of Utah announced their initiative to redesign the state flag, Rob Foster and I started scheming about how we could get involved in the process. Over a couple weekends, we put together a website that would generate random Utah-themed flags and allow people to customize the designs to their liking. The site was meant to be fun, playful and even a little bit sarcastic—poking a little fun at Utah and the seriousness of flag design (vexillology).

Over the period of just a few months the The Flag Machine received local, national, and industry attention and received over 50,000 visitors from all over the world who helped Utah receive record numbers of official flag submissions.

The Flag Machine was a weekend hobby design project—but it inspired and unlocked several ideas about design, community participation, and software interactions that all contributed to its success.

In this presentation to the Front audiences, we'd like to share our story and some unique ideas about software and design that we learned along the way, including:

  • The value of creative outlets outside of your day job
  • The power of randomness and constraint

  • Using the computer as a tool to help generate thousands, even millions of design options (vs. three variations)
  • Building interfaces that are fun for anyone to use, including disabled or people with low motor function
  • The strange world of vexillology (design of flags)
  • The excitement of building tools that empower people to be creative
  • Community engagement and lay person design vs. design snobbism
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I design and develop products and brands that people love. I write about topics I'm passionate about. I help run a charity that provides clean water to those in need. I live high in the Utah Mountains with my family where I bike, photograph, build stuff, and cook. I try to learn something new and useful every single day.I’ve been designing software, companies and brands for 25+ years. It’s my passion. I will never stop. I am obsessed with making things that are both beautiful and functional.

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