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Vexillography is the art and practice of designing flags; it is allied with vexillology, the scholarly study of flags, but is not synonymous with that discipline.[1] A person who designs flags is a vexillographer.

Background of flag design[edit]

Flag designs exhibit a number of regularities, arising from a variety of practical concerns, historical circumstances, and cultural prescriptions that have shaped and continue to shape their evolution.

Vexillographers face the necessity for the design to be manufactured (and often mass-produced) into or onto a piece of cloth, which will subsequently be hoisted aloft in the outdoors to represent an organization, individual, idea, or group. In this respect, flag design departs considerably from logo design: logos are predominantly still images suitable for reading off a page, screen, or billboard; while flags are alternately draped and fluttering images - visible from a variety of distances and angles (including the reverse). The prevalence of simple bold colors and shapes in flag design attests to these practical issues.

Flag design has a history, and new designs often refer back to previous designs, effectively quoting, elaborating, or commenting upon them. Families of current flags may derive from a few common ancestors - as in the cases of the Pan-African colours, the Pan-Arab colors, the Pan-Slavic colors, the Nordic Cross flag and the Ottoman flag.

Certain cultures prescribe the proper design of their own flags, through heraldic or other authoritative systems. Prescription may be based on religious principles: see, for example, Islamic flags. Vexillographers have begun to articulate design principles, such as those jointly published by the North American Vexillological Association and the Flag Institute in their Guiding Principles of Flag Design.[2]

Principles of design[edit]

In 2006, the North American Vexillological Association published a booklet titled Good Flag, Bad Flag to aid those wishing to design or re-design a flag. The booklet lists five basic flag design principles which have become a standard reference in the vexillographer community.[3] In 2014, the North American Vexillological Association, alongside the Flag Institute created an updated booklet titled The Commission's Report on the Guiding Principles of Flag Design, which addresses issues present in Good Flag, Bad Flag, and goes more in-depth on the ideas laid forth in the aforementioned booklet.[2] The guidelines in this booklet can be summarized as follows:


  1. Keep in mind the physics of a flag in flight when designing a flag
  2. Simple designs are more easily remembered
  3. Flags should have distinctive designs that separate them from others
  4. Designs and trends should be avoided if there is a possibility that they can date quickly


  1. Using fewer colors keeps designs simple and bold
  2. Contrast is important; use light on dark and dark on light
  3. Modern printing techniques have made more shades of color available than previously, and this can be used advantageously
  4. Designs should make the edge of a flag be well-defined so as to not get visually lost in the background of where it is flying


  1. Charges are best placed in the canton, hoist, or center of a design as these are the most visually prominent areas
  2. Flag designs are usually longer than they are tall
  3. Having different designs on the obverse and reverse of a flag undermines recognition and increase cost of production


  1. A single device used in a prominent position ensures recognizability when the flag is in flight or at rest
  2. When multiple devices are used, different background colors can be used to "anchor" the devices into the overall design
  3. Devices should be stylized graphical representations as opposed to realistic renderings
  4. Writing on flags is difficult to read in flight; Parade Banners and Military Colors are usually more rigid than normal flags, making text more commonplace on them
  5. Charges with directionality traditionally face towards the hoist, or flagpole
  6. Seals, coats of arms, or logos are usually too complex to be used effectively on a flag, although exceptions exist


  1. Symbols should be both distinct and representative
  2. A flag should represent the totality of any given community as opposed to its individual parts
  3. A flag should emphasize its own identity over higher-level groupings, otherwise distinctiveness is lost
  4. Symbolism relating to other entities should only be used if there is a clear, direct relevance
  5. Designers should avoid representing any particular reference in multiple ways, and instead try to make a single definitive reference

Prominent vexillographers[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, Whitney. Flag Bulletin XL:202(2001).
  2. ^ a b "Flag Design" (PDF). North American Vexillological Association / Association nord-américaine de vexillologie. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
  3. ^ "Good Flag, Bad Flag: How to Design a Great Flag" (PDF). North American Vexillological Association / Association nord-américaine de vexillologie. Retrieved 2020-05-15.