Flags are endlessly diverse in their design. With a dizzying array of colors, imagery, motifs, and patterns, it can be challenging to identify what makes a flag design one that will genuinely last the test of time.
Whether your interest in flags stems from your desire to design a new flag for work or merely from personal curiosity, there are thousands of facets of flag design to consider. However, the five key principles identified below are consistently present in flags that are widely considered to be classic and timeless.
1. Simple Designs
A simple design is essential to the design of most classic flags.
Flags that are too complex often have confusing or complicated imagery or too many words and colors. Not only does this make them less attractive, but also less memorable. A flag design that is too busy from a visual perspective will not last the test of time or offer immediate recognition of a country or organization, which is the primary purpose of a flag.
On the other hand, a simple design ensures that the flag is easy to identify as well. Flags that have only one or two uncomplicated design elements are far more likely to be recognized.
A prime example of this concept is the United States flag. It features only two simple design elements—stars and stripes—which, over time, have become shorthand for the flag of the United States of America and everything the nation represents.
2. Meaningful Imagery
The second essential facet of timeless flag design is meaningful imagery.
Simply put, the designs, patterns, and motifs included on the flag must say something important about what the flag is representing.
The American flag is one example of this. On the U.S. flag, there is one star for each of the 50 states of the United States of America. Similarly, each of the stripes represents the original colonies that declared independence from Great Britain to become a brand new country. In this way, the American flag represents our history, which is why it means so much to people.
Similarly, the flag of Barbados features a trident with three prongs. This is emblematic of the country’s colonial and seafaring history, as well as the three prongs of democracy: government by, for, and of the people.
3. Two or Three Colors
There is a distinctive pattern that is easily noticeable when considering which flags are the most recognized and timeless throughout the world. All the most widely recognized, popular, classic flags feature only two or three colors in their design.
This is exemplified by the flags of both Canada and the United States, featuring just two and three colors each, respectively. The colors red, white, and blue have become representative of America as a nation.
Meanwhile, flags featuring four or more colors are less likely to be recognized and remembered, perhaps due to their complexity. Do you know what the unofficial flag of St. Pierre and Miquelon looks like? If not, there may be a good reason. That flag features more than six different colors and four complicated design elements, which are two of the biggest issues when it comes to effective flag design.
4. Simple Lettering
Most timeless flags do not feature any script. The United States flag, as well as the Canadian flag, are two prime examples of this.
However, classic flags that feature lettering all have one thing in common: the lettering on the words they do feature is simple, with no overcomplicated fonts, stylistic features, or anything too difficult to read.
The flag for the German football team, FC Bayern Munich, features the name of the football team on the logo on the flag in a simple, timeless block font. Another example is the flag of Brazil, with features the phrase “Ordem e Progresso,” (order and progress) in Portuguese in a plain uppercase font that is easy to read.
5. Distinct and Familiar
Finally, all timeless flags have one thing in common: a distinctive design and a comforting familiarity to communicate the values it represents. The American flag has stood the test of time in the hearts of the people it is intended to represent.
Whether personifying a nation, sports team, or another organization altogether, flags are deeply mired in symbolism. They are a visual representation of the history and values of the people it represents.