He’s right. I do have strong feelings about flags. Faced with good and bad examples, opinions bubble up. The he in the first sentence is Roman Mars, the host of a radio show called 99% Invisible. I’ve watched his TED talk on flag design a dozen times, often with students trying to isolate some point of communication. Check it out here.

The short of it is that International Flags are pretty good design-wise. Some city and state flags are impressive, and there is also, according to Mars, “a scourge of bad flags.” Amsterdam, Chicago, Portland: great flags. San Francisco, Milwaukee, Pocatello: not so great. Flags are a great example of something that surrounds us that we might not pay much attention to. Flags are similar to currency and logos and road signs in this way. I’m not surprised that I like flags. They are all about symbolism, design, minimalism. They represent places. All things I like.

You could use a country flag to begin a discussion on all manner of things. What is cool about flags, and so much else, is that the design principles are transferable to other things. Good design is good design. I’m always saying this about writing and athletics and learning. If you work on one, if you practice one, this will help with all.

In his talk, Mars repeats the 5 principles of good flag design according to the North American Vexillological Society. They are:

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Use meaningful symbolism
  3. Use 2-3 basic colors
  4. No lettering or seals
  5. Be distinctive

Mars points out that principles of flag design apply to other kinds of design as well. That kind of stuff is really exciting to me. Looking at this list, I am impressed at how transferrable these principles are to other domains. I am also impressed at how much better I can process the information now that I see it written down.

Flags are omnipresent examples of design that are full of symbolism and meaning. I appreciate them.

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