Over the past year or so, I’ve taken an amateur interest in vexillology, the study of flags and their design. The subject fascinates me. At its very core, a flag is a simple piece of fabric with a design. However, a lot of people would say that a flag is more than just that; it also carries meaning and symbolism.
I personally like flags because I think that some of them look really cool and are well-designed. And I discovered that other people appreciate good flag design as well. The North American Vexillological Association has published guidelines for what constitutes a well-designed flag.
The two biggest criteria, based on these guidelines, that I will focus on are:
- Simplicity. A child should be able to draw a recognizable copy of the flag in a short amount of time. The eagle on the Mexican flag may look cool, but unless said child is an artistic prodigy, that part of the flag won’t end up looking pretty in the drawing. And the American flag may be the most famous in the world, but it would be tedious to draw out all thirteen stripes and fifty stars.
- Uniqueness. The flag must be somewhat distinctive from other flags. It can share certain aspects of its design with other flags, but it must differ in symbols, pattern, and/or color scheme. A color-blind person and a person with low contrast-sensitivity eyesight should ideally be able to distinguish the flag from others.
Triband flags are very common, especially among European countries and their former colonies. The most famous of these flags are those of France and the Netherlands. They share a simple tricolor design with no symbols or seals. However, if you rotate one 90 degrees, they look extremely similar. (Well technically the shades of blue are different.) The flags of Italy and Hungary also have this similarity.
Images are from https://www.crossed-flag-pins.com/
In my opinion, the coolest and most notable triband flags have one distinctive symbol. I can think of two national flags and one state flag that exemplify my point.
The flag of the island nation of Barbados features a distinctive trident, not found in any other national flag. The blue represents the ocean and the sky, the gold represents the sand, and the trident’s three points represent the three principles of democracy: government of the people, government for the people, and government by the people.
The flag of Canada features the iconic maple leaf, Canada’s national symbol which is instantly recognizable all over the world.
The flag of Colorado features a red letter C surrounding a golden disk. I think all of my friends from Colorado own something that features this flag.
Some other cool triband flags feature repeated symbols.
The flag of Amsterdam features three white X’s, whose meanings are up for debate. In a 2015 TED talk, Roman Mars declared this flag the most “badass” city flag in the world.
The flag of Chicago features four red, six-pointed stars. The stars represent Chicago’s four most historic events: Fort Dearborn, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933–34. Almost everyone I know who comes from Chicago or its suburbs own something with the Chicago flag on it. And when I’m walking around the University of Illinois campus, I usually see this flag hanging off of balconies and in living rooms.
The Scandinavian Cross
The flag of the Scandinavian countries all share a similar layout, a cross over a single-color rectangular background. I think that they fit my two criteria because the use of this layout is not found anywhere else in the world. Countries whose flags have the Scandinavian cross are:
- The Faroe Islands
There are four more flags that I think are cool. They don’t fall into either of the two categories above. Instead, these flags are simple yet unique in their own ways.
The Marshall Islands
The flag of the Marshall Islands features two diagonal bands and a white star on top of a blue background. This layout depicts the location of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean: the bands represent the Equator and the star represents the archipelago that makes up the Marshall Islands themselves.
The flag of Nauru, like the flag of the Marshall Islands, depicts its own location in the Pacific Ocean. The flag features one yellow band, representing the Equator, and a white star, representing Nauru itself, all on top of a blue background. Nauru is located one degree below the Equator, which explains the placement of the white star just below the yellow band.
The flag of Nepal is the only non-rectangular national flag. It features two symbols: the crescent moon and the sun. They represent permanence and the hope that Nepal will last as long as they do.
Last but not least is the flag of New Mexico. It features a red symbol, the Zia tribe’s depiction of the sun, over a gold background. According to a 2001 survey by the North American Vexillological Association, this flag was judged the best flag of every US state, territory, or Canadian province.
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