Often times when we think of branding we think of logos. The sports logo on your jersey, the emblem on the top of your laptop, but there is another type of branding that our textbook doesn’t mention. Nation branding.
For something so well know, so well used, so well seen, why isn’t flag design mentioned in our textbook? Flags don’t seem too important at first glance, just varying combinations of different coloured squares. However, each aspect of their design is chosen as a way to express national pride and identity. Their shapes and colours often reflect the society in which they were created.
In the 18th Century, flags were created using colours from a Kingdom’s coat of arms, sewn together into horizontal bars. In fact, the Netherlands was one of the first countries to use this method, setting a trend for Europe (Poon). This is the reason for why many European countries use the tribar style, having three different horizontal bars of colour. The tribar trend is also what eventually influenced the method of using vertical bars. France chose to rotate their stripes, going against current European society in a show of revolution (Poon).
Even colours are chosen for a reason, many countries adopting the colour scheme of those who colonized them (Poon). An example being the common use of red, white, and blue, colours belonging to both France and Britain, as well as many of their colonies.
Similar to many areas of graphic design, there are soft guidelines to making a truly effective design. In 2006 Ted Kaye, a vexillologist or one who studies flags, released a 16-page pamphlet listing five basic principles for good flag design.
However, like true graphic design, some of the most effective flags are those who actually break some of these good flag principles. Take South Africa, from 1928 to 1994 they used a flag with an orange, white, and blue tribar on which sat tiny versions of the Dutch, African National Congress, and British flag. After the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, they began trying to come up with a new design to help show South Africa’s new direction into the future (Stuff.co.nz). After four years they finally adopted the current design, which goes against Kaye’s third principle of only using two or three colours. In this case, however, the use of so many colours has a deeper meaning and works well. Each of the colours represents the different colour schemes of South Africa’s past, formed into the shape of an arrow, a symbol of pointing to the future (Mars).
South Africa isn’t the only one with a unique flag that goes against the five basic principles. A far lesser known flag is the one belonging to the secret Russian city of Zheleznogorsk. The city was originally founded in 1950 for the purpose of manufacturing weapons grade plutonium for the USSR (Mars). The flag has a red background, on top of which is the image of a bear breaking an atom. Their flag, though breaking the very first good flag principle, is both unique and memorable.
Flags give us a peak at that country’s history during its creation. Some designs are created out of violence and the fight for freedom, such as Mozambique’s flag which wields an AK-47 in reference to their fight to free themselves from Portugal (Stuff.co.nz).
Other countries have even changed their flags over time, such as Canada, who changed their flag prior to the 1967 centennial in order to foster more independence from the British monarch (Stuff.co.nz).
Ted Kaye ends his 16-page booklet of design tips with a piece of advice, recommending that the creation of flag design is left in the hands of individuals and not committees. After all, that is where some of the most creative design comes from.
Kaye, Ted. “Good Flag, Bad Flag.” 2006. North American Vexillological Association. <https://nava.org/digital-library/design/GFBF_English.pdf>.
Mars, Roman. 7 Fantastic flags that break every design rule. 25 July 2015. <https://ideas.ted.com/7-fantastic-flags-that-break-every-design-rule/>.
Poon, Linda. What’s in a flag’s design. 15 April 2016. <https://www.citylab.com/design/2016/04/infographic-breaks-down-design-of-worlds-flags-ferdio-ted-kaye/478104/>.
Stuff.co.nz. A brief history of flag design. 16 August 2015. <https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/71094667/a-brief-history-of-flag-design>.
—. The best, weirdest, most interesting flag changes throughout history. 27 November 2015. <https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/the-flag-debate/73998670/the-best-weirdest-most-interesting-flag-changes-through-history>.