Designer’s state seal entry could be last hope for loon-loving Minnesotans

A seal design with a loon
Ross Bruggink's seal design.
State Emblems Redesign Commission

When the picks are in, Ross Bruggink could have the only loon standing.

Minnesota’s state bird is a point of contention in the discussion over what should reach the fore of the new state emblems. And Bruggink’s state seal submission with a stunning loon at the center might be the last hope for people who want the common loon to get its due.

“I guess since that's the only loon in consideration, it could be a last hope for people,” Bruggink told MPR News on Wednesday.

Bruggink’s state seal (S224) is among the finalists for the state’s new emblems along with one of his flag designs (F1154), which excludes the loon. His designs honed on themes that permeated a broad swath of the thousands of entries — featuring a North Star, water and shades of blue and green.

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When it comes to the seal, it’s hard to miss the loon protruding from the water as well as strands of wild rice, representations of forests and a star.

Another flag — F944 — bears an abstract image of a loon set as water mirrored by the sky. But that one isn’t as clear cut as some Minnesotans were looking for in their new state emblems.

Members have asked the public to weigh in before the end of the week to help them narrow the field of six flags and five seals. 

Bruggink’s state seal design is the clear frontrunner among members of the State Emblems Redesign Commission. Twelve of 12 voting members voted for it to advance last week in the contest selecting five finalists. Over the next month, the panel will determine which submissions will replace the state’s current flag and seal.

Bruggink is a graphic designer who is originally from Wisconsin but went to the University of Minnesota. He has lived in the state for two decades and spoke with MPR News about his creative process, potentially winning design and what comes next. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Your state seal entry has become somewhat of a frontrunner for the State Emblems Redesign Commission. Do you attribute that to the loon at its center?

Bruggink: Yeah, partially. I think people really want the state bird reflected in some sort of visual form. So I think that loon is good, because it also has this more kind of proud pose behind it.

I would attribute that as part of the reason that it’s being liked. Just for the general public, seeing something that’s more pictorial, which the seal, it kind of lends itself to something more pictorial.

And I believe that’s what the commission was briefed on. I think seeing something like that, people resonate with. Because it has a ton of symbology in there. It’s trying to capture a lot more, and there’s a lot more complex on the flag design itself. 

Man poses with blue background
Ross Bruggink is a graphic designer whose designs for state flag and seal have been selected as finalists.
Courtesy photo

Tell me more about the way you positioned the state bird and do you see your design as something of a last hope for all the loon fans out there?

I think the position itself, being centered and kind of the focus of the seal made a lot of sense. I think people in general really like when there’s an animal or some sort of mascot to represent what they believe in or who they are. And I think they really gravitate toward that.

There’s something just kind of elegant and timeless about using an animal, especially one that is the state bird or geographically represents a place. I guess since that’s the only loon in consideration, it could be a last hope for people. 

I don’t think this symbol itself would make a good flag, mostly because it's way too intricate. And from a distance it would pose a lot of similar problems that the existing flag poses.

Talk a bit about the other features that might not be getting as much attention but you see as representative of Minnesota?

The water itself, obviously attributing to the lakes, the trees in the background, referencing our natural resources, the North Star in there. It’s really just touching on all of those key points that I think have broad appeal and connect with people.

And also what we’re looking for, in a seal and representing our natural resources. The plants are supposed to represent wild rice, which is difficult to illustrate in a simple fashion. But that’s meant to represent our state grain, and agriculture. 

And the rest of the elements, honestly, they were just more drawn from the existing seal. So the type and the ring around and the ornamentation just to have that connection with the existing history behind the seal. 

You also submitted a flag design that made it to the finalist round. But you took a different direction with the flag – focusing on a star image. How come?

I think it’s telling that all of the finalists are using a North Star image. It’s all-encompassing. It’s a reflection of our state motto. Stars are very common in flag design. And I think presenting a star in a distinct way is a big opportunity for this redesign. 

This star image, people immediately recognize it. But when you compare it to other stars, against other flags, this stands out as a very unique and simple design. And then a lot of that has to do, too, with just striving for simplicity. In the flight design. I think the best flags are often straightforward and simple. 

That simplicity gives space for confidence. And then that confidence is a reflection of pride. So I’m hoping that even though this might just be a graphic to some people, given time and visual adoption, that will absorb and reflect the character of Minnesota and the citizens.

A flag with a star-1
Ross Bruggink's Minnesota State Flag design, F1154.
State Emblems Redesign Commission

You’re one of two designers to have a finalist in both categories – what does that mean for you?

I’m honored and excited. I think it’s such an awesome opportunity to represent the state that I love. And hopefully, people can have pride in these designs. Hopefully, we’ll provide a symbol for the future Minnesota that will become recognizable and people will kind of rally behind and can reflect our state.

If only one makes the last cut, do you have a preference as to which you’d like to see chosen?

I would rather have the flag chosen. I think it's going to be the brand identity for the state of Minnesota. And I get excited thinking about how this can be reproduced, how this can be drawn, and I think it will become that graphic symbol that represents our state.

The flag will just have a broader scope of representation. One of the things that excites me about the flag is thinking about how a child can draw it. And I have a video on my Instagram of my daughter doing a lesson with me on how to draw the flag.

It’s fun that you start with an “M” when you’re drawing the flag. And I think it’d be just really awesome to have something that anybody can reproduce and have this aesthetic connection to our state.

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