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My design classic: The Black Flag logo

Though I studied graphic design and worked as a designer for several years, I’m no longer turned on by the traditional conventions of ‘good design’. I can admire something objectively, but it’s design with soul and cultural relevance that continues to engage me with the craft. This sentiment builds through context and post-rationalism, but it doesn’t reduce the iconic weight a symbol can possess.

Design with meaning evolves over time and grows with you, and as I look back, for me one of the strongest marks ever created is the four-barred, minimalist rippling flag captured in the logo of the American hardcore punk band Black Flag. It came to represent not just the group themselves, but the whole LA hardcore scene in the 80s. Though I was only a few years old during Black Flag’s prime, their legacy and impact resonated throughout my youth and continued to do so as I moved around the world from London to New York to Berlin.

It was designed by Raymond Pettibon, brother of Black Flag’s founder Greg Ginn. It’s the antithesis of the white flag of surrender, symbolised the riotous youth of the LA and US punk scene, and also recalled the original anarchist movement that flew the black flag in Europe as early as the 1880s.

Pettibon was the hand behind the majority of the Black Flag’s artwork, and the hand that defined an entire era of one of the most compelling underground music movements in American history, lasting from 1976 to 86. In true DIY punk fashion, he hand-drew many of the band’s album and single covers, flyers and posters. The logo itself was easily transposed to a stencil, and the black flag appeared in spray paint across Los Angeles and in cities all over North America.

The design aesthetic of the hardcore punk scene hijacked the visual vernacular of fascism, corporate America and oppressive institutions, appropriating it to unify a movement that stood against all these things. And it’s as powerful today as it was then, as we face similar conflicts and rage.

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