North American Vexillological Association

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North American Vexillological Association
FormationJune 30, 1967; 56 years ago (1967-06-30)
FounderWhitney Smith
Founded atBoston, Massachusetts, U.S.
North America
Official language
Stanley K. Contrades
Key people
Ted Kaye

The North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) is a membership organization devoted to vexillology, the study of flags. It was founded in 1967 by American vexillologist Whitney Smith, and others. Its membership of 1,100+ comprises flag scholars, enthusiasts, designers, collectors, conservators, educators, merchants, manufacturers, historians, and hobbyists from most states and provinces of the United States and Canada, and more than 30 other countries.

In the 21st century, many state and municipal bodies have re-evaluated and introduced measures to change their flags, often influenced and initiated by NAVA's surveys on flag design.[1] Some of their design processes have followed a set of flag design principles compiled by Ted Kaye and published by NAVA.[2]


20th century[edit]

The North American Vexillological Association was formed in 1967 by Whitney Smith. Smith, a political science student at Harvard University had a passion for flag design at an early age. Prior to NAVA's founding, Smith worked with Guyanese President Cheddi Jagan to design Guyana's new flag in the early 1960s.[3] Since its founding, the association has met annually across the United States and Canada to present and discuss research, share their passion for flags, and to honor vexillological achievement. Smith, in his capacity as president, assisted numerous governments on designing their flags, including Aruba, Bonaire, and the Saudi Arabian navy.[4] In 1969, it became a charter member of the International Federation of Vexillological Associations.[5]

21st century[edit]

The Flag of New Hampshire, an example of the "seal on a bedsheet" design. As of 2024, half of U.S. states use a similar design.

In 2001, NAVA published a survey ranking all 72 flags of the states and territories of the United States and all the provinces and territories of Canada. The survey notably resulted in low scores being given to flags that shared an identical design pattern: the state seal superimposed on a monochrome background, commonly white or blue. The result of this survey has later motivated flag redesign proposals in states with flags in this category. The survey concluded that New Mexico had the best-designed flag of any U.S. state and the best overall while Quebec scored highest among Canadian provinces and third overall behind New Mexico and Texas. Georgia's state flag at that time was rated the worst U.S. flag and worst flag overall while Manitoba's was the worst rated Canadian flag.[6] NAVA followed up its 2001 survey of state flags with a survey of city flags in 2004. The flag of Washington, D.C. came in first place while the flag of Pocatello, Idaho was ranked as the worst.[7] American podcaster Roman Mars called the Pocatello flag the worst flag in North America, and it frequently features on lists of the worst designs of all time.[8] In 2022, NAVA published a survey assessing redesigned city flags that 312 cities had introduced since 2015. In this survey, the flag of Tulsa was ranked as the best redesign while the flag of Ranger, Texas was ranked the worst. Pocatello, who changed their flag in 2017, came in as the 11th-best flag among those surveyed.[9]

In 2006, NAVA published its guidebook to flag design, "Good" Flag, "Bad" Flag.[10] The book outlines the organization's approach to flag design including its five basic principles. These principles recommend that flags avoid using letters or seals, include meaningful symbolism, and employ two or three basic colors. They also say a flag should "be distinctive or be related," i.e. it shouldn't be too similar to other flags but can use related symbolism to show connections. The first principle, one of the most notable, is that the flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.[11]

In 2015, NAVA secretary Ted Kaye joined the redesign committee for Fiji to advise the government on a potential redesign of their flag.[12] In 2016, then Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama announced that Fiji was abandoning plans to change the flag after the country won its first ever Olympic gold medal. Celebrations across the country prominently featured the flag and renewed national interest in it.[13]

In 2024, the Manitoba chapter of NAVA released a public survey asking for the opinion of Manitobans on their current flag and whether they would support the pursuit of a new provincial flag, signaling the start of an effort by NAVA to change the flag. Manitoba had ranked the lowest of all Canadian provinces on NAVA's 2001 flag survey.[14]


The release of "Good" Flag, "Bad" Flag and the surveys of state and city flags in the early 2000s have boosted public awareness about state and municipal flags. This has led to residents in states and cities that are represented by flags that rank poorly with NAVA, or that are otherwise considered to be bad or offensive designs, to launch efforts to redesign them. NAVA has had considerable influence on the redesign of flags for cities and states across North America. This impact is evident as numerous design committees have actively incorporated NAVA's guidelines into their submission requirements. In some instances, officials have sought out NAVA members such as Ted Kaye to assist with the redesign process. According to NAVA, at least 312 cities in the United States have changed their designs since 2015. As of 2024, four states have changed their flags while three others are in various stages of redesigning theirs.

State flags[edit]

Left: The historic Flag of Utah, showing the "seal on a bedsheet" design. Right: official state flag as of March 2024.

Since the release of the survey in 2001 and the book in 2006, Mississippi, Georgia, Utah, and Minnesota have changed their designs and replaced their old flags.[15][16] NAVA's five principles have been cited by citizen activists and by lawmakers for changing these flags. Minnesota state legislator Peter Fischer, who established the committee change his state's flag and seal, cited a TED talk by Roman Mars on the NAVA principles.[17] In addition to general design criticisms, the flags of Mississippi, Georgia, and Minnesota faced further criticism for racist imagery. Mississippi and Georgia's flags invoked Confederate imagery while Minnesota's depicted a white settler displacing a Native American in a negationist manner.[18]

Three other states are in various stages of the redesign process. An effort to change the state flag of Massachusetts is currently being studied by their state legislature.[19] In 2023, Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker signed a bill to study a replacement for their state flag.[20] Maine will hold a referendum in 2024 to replace their current flag with a previous design.[21]

Not all state flag redesign efforts have been successful. In 2009, NAVA worked alongside The Oregonian to launch a public effort to change the flag of Oregon. Despite a strong public response, the group failed to find a lawmaker to take up the redesign proposal in the state's 2009 legislative session.[22]

City flags[edit]

After discovering NAVA's 2004 survey on city flags, American radio host and podcaster Roman Mars began to cover the topic on his show 99% Invisible in late 2014.[23] In early 2015, his Ted Talk covering NAVA's five principles titled Why city flags may be the worst-designed thing you've never noticed went viral, garnering over five million views. Influenced by the video, many cities across the U.S. began to review their flag design.

One such person was Miro Weinberger, mayor of Burlington, Vermont, who launched an effort in early 2017 to change the city flag after watching the video. He instructed the city's arts department to replace it within the year. Burlington consulted with NAVA's Ted Kaye to provide expertise, and he was directly involved in the process. Part of the redesign process required those involved to read "Good" Flag, "Bad" Flag and watch the Roman Mars video. A new flag was approved by the city council in November and unveiled in December.[24]

Citizens have also started efforts to change city flags. Gabriel Bird, a dentist in Norman, Oklahoma, launched an effort to re-design his city's flag in 2016 after learning about Mars' criticisms of city flags and reading NAVA's five principles. Norman adopted its new flag in 2020 after a citizen-led committee reviewed over one hundred designs and allowed residents to vote on the five finalists in an online poll.[25]

In addition to Burlington and Norman, more than 300 cities across the U.S. have changed their flag designs since the release of the YouTube video. In 2022, NAVA counted at least 312 cities that had changed their flags since 2015 but speculated that the number was probably much higher. Ted Kaye has consulted numerous artists, citizens, and officials on designing new flags for cities.[26]


YouTuber JJ McCullough has criticized the criteria employed by NAVA for flag design, arguing that the standards lack a solid scientific foundation and, in turn, inhibit artists' creative expression in their flag submissions. McCullough characterizes this as a "rather striking conformity on American flag culture," shifting from "unpredictable, stylistic wackiness" to "predictable geometric flags" in a more standardized approach that violates the NAVA principle of uniqueness.[27] Notably, all 20 finalists for Utah's flag adhered to NAVA's guidelines, yet many of them faced criticism from the public and lawmakers. Representative Andrew Stoddard, for instance, expressed concern that one of the finalists bore too much of a resemblance to the logo of Delta Air Lines.[28]

Minnesota's new state flag has also been met with criticism. McCullough contended that it bears a striking resemblance to the flag of Cedar Rapids while some right-wing commentators have said it bears a resemblance to the national flag of Somalia and the Somali state of Puntland.[29]

Annual Meetings[edit]

Since 1967, the association has held annual meetings across the United States and Canada for all those interested in flags to present and discuss research, share their passion for flags, and to honor vexillological achievement. Since 1977, it has marked each meeting with a distinctive flag.[30]

NAVA honors achievement in the field with several honors and awards:

  • Captain William Driver Award: presented to the individual who presents the best paper at the association's annual meeting
  • The Vexillonnaire Award: recognizing a flag scholar who becomes personally involved in a significant and successful act of creating, changing, or improving flag design, or promoting good flag usage or altering it for the better
  • Kevin Harrington Award: presented to the individual who authors the best article to appear in a non-vexillological publication during the preceding year
  • John Purcell Award: presented to an individual for an exemplary contribution that promotes public understanding of vexillology in North America
  • Doreen Braverman Award: presented to an organizational member who supports the association's mission by making a significant contribution to the vexillological community
  • Whitney Smith Fellow: an individual who makes an outstanding contribution to North American vexillology may be elected to this honor by NAVA's executive board. An honoree is entitled to use the postnominals "WSF"
  • Honorary membership: honors an individual who renders distinguished service to the association or vexillology.


In addition to "Good" Flag, "Bad" Flag and its surveys, NAVA publishes Raven: A Journal of Vexillology, an annual peer-reviewed journal and Vexillum, a quarterly magazine (combining the previous Flag Research Quarterly and NAVA News). They cover vexillological topics and inter-disciplinary discussion as well as the Association's proceedings and other vexillological news.[31] NAVA also maintains an archive of case studies of their involvement in the redesign process of flags for cities and states across North America.[32]


  1. ^ "Flag Surveys". North American Vexillogical Association. 2022. Retrieved May 18, 2024.
  2. ^ "Time for a rebrand? House lawmakers consider measure to redesign MN's flag, seal - Session Daily - Minnesota House of Representatives". Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  3. ^ Grimes, William (November 23, 2016). "Whitney Smith, Whose Passion for Flags Became a Career, Dies at 76". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 26, 2024.
  4. ^ "Obituary - Whitney Smith, vexillologist". The Herald. January 2, 2017. Retrieved January 26, 2024.
  5. ^ "Current Members |". Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  6. ^ "2001 State/Provincial Flag Survey | North American Vexillological Association / Association nord-américaine de vexillologie". October 19, 2013. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  7. ^ "2004 American City Flags Survey" Archived 2017-06-08 at the Wayback Machine, North American Vexillological Association press release, 2 October 2004
  8. ^ "Man who called Pocatello's flag 'worst in North America' now singing its praises". East Idaho News. January 2, 2018. Retrieved January 26, 2024.
  9. ^ "2022 New American City Flags Survey - North American Vexillological Association". Retrieved January 26, 2024.
  10. ^ Kaye, Ted (2006). "Good" Flag, "Bad" Flag. North American Vexillological Association. ISBN 978-0-9747728-1-3. Retrieved April 27, 2024.
  11. ^ "Flag Design Principles | Vexillology". Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  12. ^ SDM (May 18, 2015). "Ted Kaye Joins Flag Redesign Committee for Fiji". Portland Flag Association. Retrieved January 25, 2024.
  13. ^ "Fiji won't change national flag after winning first Olympic gold: PM". ABC News. August 18, 2016. Retrieved January 25, 2024.
  14. ^ Bernhardt, Darren (January 13, 2024). "Time to redesign Manitoba's flag? A new survey wants to know what you think". CBC News.
  15. ^ Coleman, Maddi (December 14, 2023). "State Flag Designs That Have Changed". Custom Flag Company. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  16. ^ Ferguson, Dana (May 11, 2024). "Let it wave: Minnesota's new flag takes flight". MPR News. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  17. ^ Writer, Corinne Stremmel/Staff (May 25, 2022). "Mahtomedi students push for Minnesota state flag redesign". Press Publications. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  18. ^ "Minnesota seeks unifying symbol to replace state flag considered offensive to Native Americans". AP News. September 5, 2023. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  19. ^ "Mass. Senate OK's bill reviewing controversial state seal, flag". Associated Press. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  20. ^ "press-release". Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  21. ^ "Maine state flag referendum will wait until next year". Press Herald. July 26, 2023. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  22. ^ Kaye, Edward (October 2009). "REDESIGNING THE OREGON STATE FLAG: A Case Study" (PDF). North American Vexillological Association.
  23. ^ "Vexillonaire". 99% Invisible. November 12, 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2024.
  24. ^ "Burlington, Vermont - Flag Re-Design Case Study" (PDF). North American Vexillological Association. 2017. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 5, 2021. Retrieved October 1, 2020.
  25. ^ reporter, Kelci McKendrick, junior culture (April 9, 2020). "Norman to vote online for new city flag from 5 finalists chosen by citizen-led committee". OU Daily. Retrieved January 26, 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ "Flag expert calls new Minnesota state flag 'outstanding,' top 10 in the country". MPR News. December 19, 2023. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  27. ^ McCullough, JJ (December 24, 2023). "Flag Reform Was a Mistake" (video). Youtube.
  28. ^ Alberty, Erin (September 9, 2022). "Utah's proposed state flag designs prompt derision, pleasure, debate". Axios Salt Lake City.
  29. ^ "Minnesota replaced its 'racist' flag. The new one is facing its own outrage". The Independent. December 20, 2023. Retrieved January 25, 2024.
  30. ^ "Past Annual Meetings". Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  31. ^ "Publications: Overview". Retrieved October 17, 2016.,
  32. ^ "Case Studies in Flag Design - North American Vexillological Association". Retrieved January 26, 2024.

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