Participants were asked the following question:

Imagine you’re writing a let­ter to a friend in a foreign country who has never seen the flag of the United States. Without looking at copy of the flag, describe it for them, using only words. Be as comprehensive or a curt as you think you need to be.

Framing it as a letter to a friend hopefully en­cour­aged people to write in more or less their own voice. I didn’t want them to answer in a way that was too formal—I just wanted their thoughts, as un­cen­sored as possible. The amount of cen­sor­ship their thoughts went through is, of course, un­know­able, but hope­ful­ly I did not en­cour­age it. “Be as com­pre­hen­sive or as curt as you think you need to be” came from a si­mi­lar line of rea­son­ing.

The rest of the ques­tions made sure par­ti­ci­pants were al­right with their re­spon­ses being shared, and as­cer­tained whether or not they lived in the US. I wasn’t sure from the out­set if I wanted to limit my scope to only A­mer­ican ci­ti­zens (current or former), or if the des­crip­ions of non-­A­mer­icans would also be in­clud­ed. It ended up that all participants were in America anyways.

Interpretation of responses

To be fair, I was a lit­tle un­char­it­able with my in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the de­scrip­tions. But I think this is jus­ti­fied. Of course I know what re­spon­dents mean, but that’s not what I’m after here. I only know what they mean be­cause my brain in­ter­prets their words and fits them into the image of the A­mer­i­can flag that I have in my head al­ready. To in­ter­pret their words char­it­ably—to fit them in with the image I have in my head—would be to defeat the pur­pose of the project to begin with.

But there were some oc­ca­sions where I need­ed to use my own sub­jec­tive un­der­stand­ing of the words. What is a deep blue? What is the color of a fire en­gine? At what point is some­thing no longer in the corner? I can’t expect re­spond­ents to name a hex code when they describe a color, nor can I expect co­or­di­nates when they describe location. So, I opted for a (sub­jec­tive­ly) literal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of their words. For example, blue describes the color cor­re­spond­ing to hex code #0000ff. That’s an ar­bi­trar­i­ly "blue" hue at full sa­tur­a­tion, zero shade, and zero tint.