Last modified: 2017-08-08 by pete loeser
Keywords: flags | good designs |
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This is a group of flags FOTW members think are quality designs and either meet the generally accepted principles that result in really great flags, or are an effective flag in spite of bending the principles. There are many good flags that can inspire you to create your own flag and help get the best possible flag.
You can use these five basic principles to create an outstanding flag for your organization, city, tribe, company, family, neighborhood, or even country! (Compiled by Ted Kaye in his Good Flag, Bad Flag pamphlet)
I like the idea over all, but would like to be sure that we help to clearly define what good flag design looks like. Ironically, Vexillology, the "scientific" study of flags can not really be called scientific because of all of the intangibles that go into the study. Competent Vexillography on the other hand, is a very scientific process.
Art, or what appeals to some ones eye on a flat one dimensional surface does not necessarily translate into good flag design when all factors are taken into account. New Zealand will discover this soon enough if they adopt any one of the new alternatives that are to compete with their current flag. Additionally, one only has to take a look at the tragic samples that are the vast majority of US city and town flags.
That said, those flags apparently appealed to many people, or they would not have been adopted to begin with.
Clay Moss, 14 November, 2015
I think that if many members highlight the flags in our site that most impress them, it will not only be interesting, but also useful to members and all visitors to the site. I could also be a "place to start" for those curious about flags, but have never really thought much about them until they discover FOTW.
Lee Herold, 13 February 2016
This is a good idea, of course, but allow me to reply on a tangent: This community didn't begin yesterday: It is 20 years old. Among the millions of exchanged words, many of them were about good flag design - why not dig the list archives and edit on that new page the views and perspectives of meanwhile departed FotWers?
What are the views about good flag design held by Vincent Morley? Fred Drews? Or Norm Martin, Herman de Wael, Jorge Candeias, Pascal Vagnat, Santiago Dotor, Andries Burgers, Thanh-Tâm Lê, Ned Smith, Blas Delgado, Jarig Bakker, Giuseppe Bottasini, Philippe Bondurand, Ivan Sarajcic, Phil Nelson, José Alegría, Martin Grieve, Uros Žižmund, Joe McMillan, Dov Gutterman, Michael Smuda or so many more of us who were once more or less prolific contributors and who might not hear this call today (because some of them are sadly dead, others are not list members anymore or became lurkers). [See some additional comments]
It is totally possible, and very worthy, to do this kind of archeology - I did it some times, both for editing FotW-ws and for reporting or discussing on FotW-ml, and I always found more than I was looking for. For example, the Diver down signal flag was created in 2006 using mostly text from 1997 and 1998).
Some of us have complete FotW-ml records in MBX files that can be readily installed and searched - at least Željko Heimer and Ivan Sache, I think. (And what about putting these online somewhere?)
António Martins-Tuválkin, 14 February 2016
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":
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.
I have had occasion to assist people in designing their own flags, as well as cities, counties, etc. I find that looking at a variety of well designed flags really helps people get excited about flags and design, and is a great aid in getting a good result. The good designs are often the stimulus of entirely new designs, and sometimes provide the format or elements people want in their flags.
NAVA (North American Vexillological Association) has produced "Good Flag, Bad Flag" by Ted Kaye, and in conjunction with the Flag Institute a more detailed listing of generally accepted principles of flag design. These basic rules really help. However, rules are not images and pictures, not art.
FOTW is a wonderful source for good designs, as well as some that could probably use some work. The trouble is that it is so vast it cannot be scanned by a novice (or hardly anyone) to find the really excellent flags. After a short time, instead of being a help, there are so many flags it just gets confusing.
My solution is to create a page where members of FOTW list some of their favorite flag designs. Ideal would be to add short comments about what they think makes it such a great flag, or maybe just why they like it.
I think a page of favorites would really inspire people to create more flags that are the attractive and well liked.
Lee Herold, 14 November, 2015
1. City of Rabenholz (Germany)
2. Jinsekikogen Town (Japan - 神石高原町)
3. Tsurui Village (Japan - 鶴居村)
4. City of Avaristan (Russia)
5. Internal Intelligence Service (Bophuthatswana)
6. City of Moss (Norway)
When giving in-services on flag lore and history I am often asked what makes an effective flag design. I usually point out that what makes a good flag or an attractive flag design is strongly influenced by individual tastes, color preferences, and their sense of proportion and balance. Not all people will like the same thing.
However, when pressed, I usually say that I feel a good flag design should be practical and make the flag easily recognizable no matter how displayed. By this I mean it should be recognizable from a distance, hopefully not easily confused with other flags, and have the ability to be displayed either horizontally or vertically while retaining its same visual identity.
Many flags fail to be easily recognizable because their design are too complex and try to incorporate too many elements in the design. American state and governmental flags, or those displaying a state or organizational shield or coat-of-arms would be examples of this. Quite frankly, they all look alike and it is hard to determine which one you are viewing without close observation. Also common horizontal and vertical striped flags that simply change the colors of their stripes become easily confused with others using the same design element. Flags need to be unique to stand out.
I also believe the necessity of putting text on a flag means one of two things: the designers are not confident that their flag's design is recognizable by itself, or that the flag looks like other similar flags. This screams bad design to me. Also to be considered is that the text will not be as effective when the flag is hung vertically.
When choosing flags to use as examples of effective designs, I am attempted to use the Union Jack for one of my examples. It is recognizable from a distance, colorful and bold, but it has one very serious flaw. Its design lends itself to easily hanging the flag upside-down unless one is very knowledgeable and careful.
Pete Loeser, 12 February 2016
1. Flag of Japan 日本国
2. State of New Mexico (United States)
5. State of Colorado (United States)
Obviously these examples have been influenced by my nationality and tastes and I invite discussion. What do you think?
Image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 12 June 2008
Flag of the District of Columbia (Washington D.C., USA)
Very recently when looking up for further information on the historical flags of the State of New Hampshire, I came across this video on flag design titled "The Worst-Designed Thing You've Never Noticed" by Roman Mars on TED Talks which I think is a good starting point from a designer's point of view which, even though Mars is not a vexillologist.
Also, last year when Provo (Utah) was updating its flag, the issue of "good design vs. bad design" arose as well. I came across these NAVA articles: Vexillology Wiki's survey, plus the following PDF files: 2001 State/Provincial Flag Survey and The American City Flag Survey of 2004 (written by Ted Kaye). I also came across another respective 14-page PDF document compilation of design principles (also by Ted Kaye) available online, courtesy of Ausflag (official website), which was "...established in 1981 by Harold Scruby and other interested Australians supporting the idea of a new flag for Australia. Ausflag became incorporated as a non-profit organisation in January 1983. Ausflag's objectives since its inception have been to secure the popular support of the Australian people for the adoption of an Australian flag, anthem, and colours.": (source) The front cover of this publication can be seen here (courtesy of the Portland Flag Association).
I've had the pleasure of visiting the U.S. state whose flag was named worst in terms of flag design (Georgia), and the U.S. city whose flag design (Washington D.C.) was named best in both NAVA surveys. I never actually got to see the Georgia flag flying that was labeled as the worst flag (Georgia State flag 2001-2003) as it has since been replaced by the current State flag, adopted in 2003. I can only say that Georgia was a very nice State to visit no matter what flag is flying.
What has been demonstrated is that NAVA's 2001 State/Provincial Flag Survey and The American City Flag Survey of 2004 have had a real impact beyond flag experts and enthusiasts, reaching even the locals whose flags have been labeled as "poorly designed", and more recently, in an era of branding, the city's (corporate) identity (understood as the presentation and promotion of a given community's set of values and qualities as well as opportunities) the results of these surveys have been definitely boosted by people's opinion and social media exposure, especially by the publication of Mar's TED talk, back in 2015 (the lecture was published on May 14,2015). Since then major steps have taken place, mainly in U.S. cities (i.e. Provo, Pocatello, Montpelier, etc.) to change those "bad flag designs" through a collective effort that actually want to portray a different image of their own city as well as its community.
We also must realize that what is thought to be a "good flag" and what is considered a "bad flag", is in many cases a question that most often comes up whenever new designs or new legislation is passed about an established flag. Take, for instance, what happened in Fidji or New Zealand in recent times, or in East Timor when it gained independence and really flag-wise shook things up a bit.
With this in mind, perhaps we should consider the sixth principle of flag design mentioned by Mars for the first session of the "City of Pocatello Flag Design Ad-Hoc Committee" (official website) on April 14, 2016, which was "love your flag, and be proud of your flag".
Esteban Rivera, 12 February 2016 (modified by author's request on 27 July 2017)
Image by Antonio Gutiérrez, 26 May 1999
Merchant/Civil Ensign of the Kingdom of Spain (España)
Responding to the introduction of FOTW's flag design page, the very best flags are incredibly simple, and any good flag design should start there. The beauty of vexillography is that we can actually non-debatably determine what constitutes good flag design. It will almost always come down to colors, bars, and how they are aligned in accordance with one another. Now, it stands to reason that not all flags are going to simply be colored bars or stripes. But those are naturally the best designs. When defacements become a part of vexillography, they too should be very simple if they are to be truly functional.
Our school's science department put together a flag design study when I was in Malaysia maybe 10 years ago or so. Our hypothesis starting out was that the very best flag design would be the flag most recognizable under the most natural and artificial circumstances. We knew going in based on research in human optometry that the final flag product would probably have an inordinate amount of red and yellow in it, as red and yellow are the colors most clearly seen by the human eye. We chose the worlds international flags and ensigns as our experiment pieces.
Sure enough, when all was said and done, the Spanish merchant flag/ensign ended up being the most identifiable flag/ensign. Horizontally, red, yellow, red. So, from our scientific standpoint, the Spanish merchant ensign is the best designed national flag or ensign. Obviously, not everyone's flag can be red and yellow, but everyone's flag can be simple and straight forward.
That is the scientific fact part of the deal. Please remember that I am a British ensign fanatic, bad badges and all. So, my vexillographic credibility may have just gone out the window. :-)
Jinsekikogen Town, Japan is the only good flag design in my opinion out of Lee's favorites, and it's not really an optimal design.
Among Pete's favorites, New Mexico is a bad design, no matter what NAVA says. It needs to be a horizontal or vertical red gold red tri-bar with the Zia sun. When New Mexico's flag is simply hanging from a flag pole without benefit of wind, it is only a warning flag if the sun can not be seen.
Clay Moss, 13 February 2016
While on the subject of Ted Kaye and the wonderful hand book he wrote, another would be "Current Flag Design Trends" by Don Healy, published in the Flag Bulletin, Vol: XXV, No.6, November-December 1986.
Sekhar Chakrabarti, 15 February 2016
Interesting observations Clay, on flag designs. And I like António's comments too. I think for a vexillologist, flag design is a basic question and more information is always useful.
Although an expanded page on flag design principles and even scientific approaches would be good for the website, my thought was to expose the interesting flags that attract members of the list, but are buried in the thousands of flags on the site. Some may not follow the best design guidelines, but just seem to have that something that makes them stand out, even be beautiful. Clay likes British ensigns, others have their own favorites. It could be a form of "best of the list", but only in our own opinions. Or perhaps "best" is wrongly stated, personally attractive?
Lee Herold, 15 February 2016
Thus, you have the reason I used the term "Effective Flag Designs" rather than "Best Flag Designs."
Pete Loeser, 15 February 2016
A list like this is never fair or "complete" but somehow was lost in re/over/typing one of the very first named that popped in my head: Dave Martucci. His personal flag alone shows he knows how to design a really great flag!
António Martins-Tuválkin, 15 February 2016
I thought a link to our "Participating in Flag Committees" and Flag Competitions page might be a good addition to this "Good Flag Design" page. It's mainly about helping a flag design committee pick a winning flag, but naturally there are some tips about specific good flag design elements included.
Clay Moss, 19 April 2016