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Participating in Flag Committees

Flag Competitions

Last modified: 2022-10-14 by rob raeside
Keywords: flag competitions | flag design |
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It doesn't matter if it's a village, state, or country that's looking to design a new flag, if you are asked to assist, I suggest the following:

First, it's important at the very beginning to realize that Vexillologists don't necessarily make good Vexillographers. Understand your strengths and weaknesses before agreeing to assist any flag design committee. You may still walk a committee through the process, but you might want to personally stay away from actual design issues.

Once you know the above and have decided to join the committee, then:

  • Check your ego and credentials at the door. You don't know as much as you may think, and the collective opinion of the committee matters. Your primary job will be guidance. If you do this well, you will gradually gain respect, and everyone will listen to you more closely.
  • Check your personal bias at the door. You may have personal preferences where design is concerned, but your preferences don't necessarily matter.
  • Learn to sensibly assess good flag design and separate that from what you personally like. For example, I have said that I believe Alabama's flag is the number one US state flag design. That's a pragmatic assessment. My favorite US state flags are Hawaii and Maryland. First, I'm a British ensign guy, and secondly. who doesn't think Maryland's flag is totally cool?
  • Also, if your heart isn't into changing a current flag, bow out of the process. If Fiji asked me to help them arrive at a new design, I wouldn't to it. I'm an irrational British ensign guy. Even though I would know that Fiji could possibly benefit from hoisting a handsome new distinctive horizontal tri-bar, I would fight it tooth and nail!
  • Don't submit a design of your own. You will automatically gravitate toward your own flag no matter what.

This rule was really really hard for me during the Mississippi flag referendum. There was even a point where the committee looked me and said "you design it". I said "no". The process was too far underway to abandon our initial design strategy.

Speaking of strategy, this is where you might really sway a flag design committee. Have them put on a flag design contest. It's not necessarily the committee's job to design the flag.

I thought that is was imperative that the new Mississippi design come from within Mississippi, or at least from a native. I also encouraged the committee that it was OK for several people to be potentially credited with the new design. Experience told me that a definitive design may never come across the table and it may be necessary to borrow from several designs to get what we were after.

I forgot how many thousands of designs came through, but a theme began to materialize where quite a few entries simply replaced the Confederate canton with a field of stars. Some were so similar, that we knew we had our basic design. We felt it important to give all those designers credit if the proposed flag had won at the ballot box. I believe maybe 8 or 9 people were going to receive the credit. I think their ages ranged from 7 or 8 years of age up to retirement age.

The one rule we gave everyone entering the contest was straight forward. Proposals sent to the design committee were to be simple, distinctive and recognizable at a distance. That was it!

I have one more "don't" to throw in. If I offend anyone, I apologize on the front end.

  • If you have any say in your committee's process, never never never never ever allow an advertising agency, or a professional graphics designer into the loop. They will totally mess things up. It's not that these folks aren't nice people, but they're way too clever. They're trained to come up with new fresh innovative logos and whatever for advertising or letterheads, and then are masters at brow beating people into accepting their product. Simultaneously, they are utterly incapable of dumbing themselves down enough to create a simple effective timeless flag. I will guarantee you that the modern advertiser or graphics designers would never come up with a Texas flag in a million years.
  • If you are asked by a flag committee to actually design a new state or national flag proposal, remember. Check your ego and personal bias at the door.

Then, regardless of what type of flag it is, determine if there is any past flag history. It could be that there is already a flag available that would serve your constituency well, making a new design unnecessary. It would ultimately be up to the committee to make the call, but you would have done your part.

In presenting my US state flag proposals, I reintroduced old flags where I could. From there, I attempted to salvage something from current flags in order to introduce something different, yet simultaneously familiar. Flag committees will appreciate your thoughtfulness. There's no need to completely reinvent the wheel unless there was no wheel to begin with.

  • If there are absolutely no historical alternatives, and there's nothing to be salvaged from a current flag, try starting off very simply. Start with something like a bicolor such as Poland for example and work your way backwards from there. Who knows, a bi- color may be just the thing that the committee is looking for. If it's not, be patient and keep modifying things until an acceptable model is reached.

Once more, I can recommend some basic do's and don'ts, but at the end of the day, you're the Vexillographer in charge.

  • First, encourage a traditional design whether the flag ends up being very simple or more complex. I briefly mentioned this several days back, but traditional designs are superior to modern contemporary designs. Modern contemporary designs will quickly have a dated look and will not be nearly as desirable or inspiring later on as they were at the moment they were introduced.
  • Avoid placing objects alone in the upper fly quarter of the flag. The US naval jack is a pretty good design because the constellation of stars encompasses most of the field as it visually works its way from hoist to fly. Thus, the US naval jack works OK. The small cross in the upper fly of the flag of the country of Georgia works OK because of the collective balance in the flag's design. On the other hand, Nunavut and Rwanda and even Zambia have flags that don't work. It is very difficult to see a lone object in the upper fly of a flag, even in a stiff breeze.
  • If you can completely avoid putting stuff in the upper fly corner, you'll be better off.
  • Don't feel that you need to be completely bound by heraldic rules and other vexillographic tradition, but at the same time, use them as a guide.

I have always wanted to design a solid colored flag of some sort with a single device placed below the line of the illustration below. It would be most unusual design, but it would also be practical. Take a look at Colonel S.B. Webb's Regimental flag.

[flag design sample] image by Clay Moss, 31 October 2005

I don't who designed the flag, but I can tell you that they were very observant and had paid a lot of attention to fluttering flags. This is easily one of the most ingenious flag designs I have seen. The designer knew that the defacement would be seen much more easily if placed where it was. Placing the device in the upper hoist or in the middle of the flag may have been the more traditional thing to do, but placing it low and a bit toward the hoist guaranteed that it would be visible under the greatest number of circumstances.

  • If you're going step out on a limb and submit a radical flag design, at least submit one that matters and can perhaps set a positive precedent.
  • Never never ever place yellow/gold and white together. The flags of New Orleans, Nunavut, Perak, the city of Portland, Oregon, the Vatican, etc.. don't work. There are also other colors that shouldn't be placed beside each other, but you should be able to figure them out.

Clay Moss, 30-31 October 2005