refreshing flag designs
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Prior "Art"

What we have around us now

From the North American Vexillological Association book "Good Flag, Bad Flag",

The Five Basic Principles of Flag Design

  1. Keep it Simple. The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory
  2. Use Meaningful Symbolism. The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes
  3. Use 2 to 3 basic colors. Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set
  4. No Lettering or Seals. Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal
  5. Be Distinctive or Be Related. Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections

Keep it Simple

Flags flap. Flags drape. Flags must be seen from a distance and from their opposite side. Under these circumstances, only simple designs make effective flags. Furthermore, complicated flags cost more to make, which often can limit how widely they are used.

Most poor designs have the elements of a great flag in them—simplify them by focusing on a single symbol, a few colors, large shapes, and no lettering.

Avoid the temptation to include a symbol for everybody. Ideally the design will be reversible or at least recognizable from either side. Don’t put a different design on the back.

Use Meaningful Symbolism

Symbolism can be in the form of the “charge” or main graphic element, in the colors used, or sometimes even in the shapes or layout of the parts of the flag.

Usually a single primary symbol is best—avoid those that are less likely to be representative or unique. Colors often carry meanings: red for blood or sacrifice, white for purity, blue for water or sky.

Diagonal stripes are often used by former colonies as an alternative to the generally horizontal and vertical stripes of European countries.

Use 2 to 3 Basic Colors

The basic flag colors are red, blue, green, black, yellow, and white. They can range from dark to light. Occasionally other colors are also used, such as purple, gray, and orange, but they are seldom needed in a good design.

Separate dark colors with a light color, and light colors with a dark color, to help them create effective contrast. A good flag should also reproduce well in “grayscale”, that is, in black and white shades.

More than four colors are hard to distinguish and make the flag unnecessarily complicated and expensive. Flag fabric comes in a relatively limited number of colors—another reason to stick to the basics

No Lettering or Seals

Words defeat the purpose: why not just write “U.S.A.” on a flag? A flag is a graphic symbol. Lettering is nearly impossible to read from a distance, hard to sew, and difficult to reduce to lapel–pin size. Words are not reversible—this forces double– or triple–thickness fabric.

Don’t confuse a flag with a banner, such as what is carried in front of a marching band in a parade, or draped behind a speaker’s platform—such banners don’t flap, they are seen from only one side, and they’re usually seen closer–up.

Seals were designed for placement on paper to be read at close range. Very few are effective on flags—too detailed. Better to use some element from the seal as a symbol. Some logos work; most don’t.

Be Distinctive or Be Related

This is perhaps the most difficult principle, but it is very important. Sometimes the good designs are already “taken”. However, a flag’s symbols, colors, and shapes can recall other flags—a powerful way to show heritage, solidarity, or connectedness. This requires knowledge of other flags.

Often the best way to start the design process can be looking to one’s “roots” in flags­—by country, tribe, or religion. Use some of the many resources available to help you with flag identification and history, such as “Flags of the World”:, or your local library

Other Considerations

A rectangle is the standard flag shape. Keep the width–to–length proportions between 2:3 and 1:2. Canadian flags are usually 1:2; U.S. flags are usually 2:3 or 3:5. Square flags are unusual in North America. Abandon such rectangles only when meaningful.

Flags wear. By retaining a rectangular shape and avoiding symbols at the fly end, a flag can be hemmed repeatedly and given a longer life.

The point of honor is the “canton” area—the upper– left corner. This corresponds to the part of the flag that is seen when it hangs limp from a flagpole. The center or left–of–center position is the most visible spot for a symbol when the flag is flying.

Consider the fabrication methods. Curved lines add to the cost of sewn flags. Holes or “negative space” hurt a flag’s fly–ability and wear–ability. “Swallow–tail” shapes fray more easily.

All rules have exceptions. Colorado’s “C” is a stunning graphic element. Maryland’s complicated heraldic quarters produce a memorable and distinctive flag. But depart from these five principles only with caution and purpose.

Don’t allow a committee to design a flag. Instead, empower individuals to design flags, and use a committee to select among them.

An old rule of heraldry has images of animals look toward the hoist.

And most of all, design a flag that looks attractive and balanced to the viewer and to the place, organization, or person it represents!