VisCom 3 :: Post #3 :: Vexillology

This is a piece written for Vis Com 3 at Seattle Pacific University.


I was pleased to find out that we would be watching and writing about a video discussing vexillology, which actually holds a special place in my heart. Flag design lumps culture, design, sociology, and psychology into a big tasty pot that makes for a delicious, savory meal to mull over in the mind.

Roman Mars’ TED Talk speaks to many things that designers deal with on a regular basis, and the North American Vexillogical Association’s principles of flag design are, in reality, something that designers should consider every time they try to create simple, memorable marks for their clients and projects:

1. Keep it Simple
2. Use Meaningful Symbolism
3. Use two to three basic colors
4. No Lettering or Seals
5. Be Distinctive or Relative

From these principles, good logos and good flags can be created. While logos have less (what I’m calling) ‘historical and social equity’ to draw upon, we’ve been talking about design research, and no good logo has no thought put into it: Chicago’s flag is great because it represents something that Chicago’s citizens identify with; NBC’s logo is great because it’s color psychology affects people as they see it, and has become recognizable in and of itself.

Something immediately apparent in Mars’ talk is that a great design has adaptability, is adoptable, and is versatile. His example of how the Amsterdam and Chicago flags were prevalent throughout their respective cities is a brand success story, pure and simple. This is something our own designs should strive towards.

Another lesson that Mars reinforced, albeit indirectly, is that one design does not work where another would. Besides the basic thoughts about readability of text at a distance and other visual considerations, the error of using a state seal or coat of arms as a flag highlights a level of ignorance on those who published that design. More often than not, these choices are made by committees- a designers’ worst enemy. “A lot of people tend to think that good design is just a matter of taste, and quite honestly, sometimes it is actually,” Mars said, but he continued on and noted that most designs do not end at the ‘good taste’ stage. Discretion is still very much necessary, in all of our work.

To remind us about the importance of good flag design, I leave you with the (now replaced) Provo, Utah flag:

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