NAVA’s publication Good Flag, Bad Flag provides five principles of flag design:
- Keep It Simple. The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory…
- Use Meaningful Symbolism. The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes…
- Use 2 or 3 Basic Colors. Limit the number of colors on the flag to three which contrast well and come from the standard color set…
- No Lettering or Seals. Never use writing on any kind or an organization’s seal…
- Be Distinctive or Be Related. Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections…
In a handy image:
Click on the cover images below for PDFs of the 14-page booklet, with explanations and examples, in the language of your choice. Keep scrolling down for other flag design resources.
These principles of good flag design distill the wisdom of many people who have written on the subject, including Philippe Bondurand, Frederick Brownell, William Crampton, Michael Faul, Jim Ferrigan, Richard Gideon, Kevin Harrington, Lee Herold, Ralph Kelly, Rich Kenny, David Martucci, Clay Moss, Peter Orenski, Whitney Smith, Steve Tyson, Henry Untermeyer, and Alfred Znamierowski. Compiled by Ted Kaye in 2006, English revision in 2020. Booklet design by Melissa Meiner. Good Flag, Bad Flag is also available as a booklet (ISBN-13: 978–0–9747728–1–3, ISBN-10: 0–9747728–1–X); Amazon sells it for $2.99.
Other Flag Design Resources
Good Flag, Bad Flag formed the basis for this popular TED Talk (the first such talk on vexillology) by Roman Mars, featuring audio clips of Ted Kaye:
The project to improve the city flag of Lowell, Massachusetts has put together this handy one-page worksheet that could be modified for use in other such projects.
Red Peak (aotearoaflag.tumblr.com) is example of an effective social media campaign for flag adoption. Though the design ultimately lost in the popular vote for a potential successor to the current flag of New Zealand, online organizing around the simple design and the vision behind it, nicely documented by the Tumblr site, convinced the national government to add “Red Peak” to the ballot as a fifth option, even after the four official finalists had been announced.
Here are some other resources that may be helpful, though they are more complicated than the five simple rules of Good Flag, Bad Flag:
- The New Zealand government’s Flag Design Guidelines for creating proposals in the early stage of their crowd-sourced flag change process
- Materials Jonathan Parsons created for UK primary school teachers to lead their classes in proposing flags for their local communities, part of the 2015 Flag Project of the British Parliament
- The Report on the Guiding Principles of Flag Design by the Joint Commission on Vexillographic Principles of the North American Vexillological Association/Association nord-américaine de vexillologie and The Flag Institute
28 thoughts on “Good Flag, Bad Flag”
[…] professing indifference to the flag change question. I did, though, have just one plea. Follow basic principles of vexillology, I implored. Among other things, keep it simple, “so simple that a child can draw it from […]
Thanks for catching this!
[…] There is. There is an actual organization called the North American Vexillological Association. And aside from its existence being absolutely hilarious, it has a surprisingly useful set of guidelines for how to design flags. Here they are (https://portlandflag.org/good-flag-bad-flag/): […]
[…] City of Manchester flag is actually just our city seal on a white background. A true city flag should be much more than that. Designing a flag for Manchester is a great opportunity to represent our city with […]
[…] The current flag is rarely displayed in non-governmental locations. With a government seal and outdated imagery, it doesn’t represent our city’s residents nor does it follow the principles of good flag design. […]
[…] Mars of the design podcast 99% Invisible (and Ted Kaye of NAVA and the PFA). That exploration of Good Flag, Bad Flag principles has been viewed over 2.8 million times since its release in May […]
[…] https://portlandflag.org/good-flag-bad-flag/ […]
[…] ✅ 19 chosen as finalists by North American Vexillological Association (DYK the 5 rules for a good flag?) […]
[…] many such contests, Coral Springs’ referenced Roman Mars’ TED Talk and the Good Flag, Bad Flag guidelines. (Though somehow rule 3 turned into “Use basic colors: Flags wear over time, and […]
No relation to anything in Columbia. Looks like communist flag. Needs a gamecock.
[…] Read more about how NOT to design a shitty flag here. […]
Very cool! I will be bookmarking this site and coming back. Here’s my own flag site (with an emphasis on the bad):
[…] design a new one, only let’s do it as a publicity-garnering contest that adheres to needlessly restrictive rules! And when we arbitrarily pick the winning design—after amassing a mountain of press that will […]
[…] Good Flag, Bad Flag […]
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[…] their People’s Flag pitch. The TED Talk. The old and messy current flag that violates the five principles of good flag design that were handed down from God to Moses on Mount Sinai. The contest. The outreach to media, young […]
[…] Flag Design Principles […]
[…] It’s time to admit that Milwaukee’s search for a new flag will never end. Like Star Wars, Ghostbusters, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Milwaukee flag and the debate surrounding it is a multi-media franchise that always is, always has been, and always will be. “You’ve always been the caretaker,” Delbert Grady tells Jack Torrance in The Shining. He may as well have been talking about the Five Principles of Good Flag Design. […]
[…] applying it to evaluating album cover art. The five principles of flag design, according to the Portland Flag Association, […]
[…] it to evaluating album cover art. The five principles of flag design, according to the Portland Flag Association, […]
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