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What Makes a Good Flag?

Last modified: 2002-09-21 by phil nelson
Keywords: design | vexillology |
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What makes a good flag design? This question was posed by Jorge Candeias (27 January 1998). Some responses below:

From Dave Martucci:

From my Vexillography! page

Good design for flags is a matter of combining the basic shapes, proportions and design elements into a pleasing, usually simple, striking pattern that contains the necessary symbolism. Each design element -- shape, colors, emblem -- can have any of a number of symbolic interpretations, many of which are purely of a personal type. Although there are "standard" symbolic meanings, many other "non-standard" symbolisms are possible.

There are a few basic tenants of "good vexillography":

  • A design should be simple and striking (a rule of thumb is that a child ought to be able to draw it and know what it represents);
  • The design should be symetrical to a degree;
  • The elements of the design should not be overly complicated or impossible to recognize when displayed on the reverse of the flag (for this reason lettering is considered in bad taste);
  • Traditional or avant garde symbols should be recognizable.

From Philippe Bondurand:

I think that this is a very good question. So good that I decided to include my answer as a new web page on my site. I will amend it if someone adds something that convinces me from this answer. Before I answer I must insist on the fact that my opinion is just the reflect of my own taste. I would defend it very rashly, but I can very well understand that others do not agree.

I offer seven guide rules for vexillography. Each one has to be followed so long as it is not contrary to the preceding ones; for example the six last rules may not forbid one to adopt the flag he likes most! In my opinion, the order is very important.

  • The first quality of a flag (personal, regional, national etc...) is that it must please the people represented. It may looks bizarre to place it first but what's the idea of a perfect flag if no one dares to support it?
  • The second is that it must be unmistakable. If you desire your flag to look like another, do it on purpose (Colombia and Ecuador). Not by accident (Rumania and Chad).
  • The third is visibility. Flags have to be recognized flying in the wind from a distance. The designer has to keep that in mind all the time he is drawing.
  • The fourth is understandability. Good flags have a meaning, the choice of colors and/or the things that are placed on them must be on purpose. They have to tell a story, represent hopes or history. They may also proclaim a faith.
  • The fifth is balance. If a charge is present it must be either full size in the middle of the flag or small size at top hoist. If there are many small charges, they must be placed evenly, not to unbalance the design. Some flags are unbalanced on purpose (Scandinavian cross, Bangla Desh...), but always placing things nearer to the hoist as to appear balanced when the flag is seen flying on a mild wind.
  • The sixth is an adaptation of heraldic rule : No metal on metal, no smalt on smalt. As flags can adopt more colours then shields, its translate as no pale color near another pale color, no dark alongside dark. This rule may be (and has been) transgressed - it's just a guideline to avoid the worst errors.
  • The seventh is that lettering (except for company flags) should be used with much care. Writing is a language, flag is another. Writing is the last resource when a designer has not been able to represent correctly what he intends without words. But remember that this rule has to be followed AFTER the six others. In personal flags (see my persoflags page), stylized initial letters are often used. A beautiful monogram on simple field can be a striking design.
See also: Vexillology

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