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This is a study of flags to explore how we use colors and shapes to represent complex ideas.

Flags unify a group under one ideology, they are significant to the way humans socialize. A strong flag is symbolic of a cultural group and crosses language barriers. The challenge here is to achieve this with our own flag design.

But before engaging in this exercise we first must learn about what makes a good flag good, and a bad flag bad. To examine this closely there is a wonderful resource provided by the North American Vexillological Association ( Here you can find a downloadable PDF that covers the 5 key principals of designing a flag:

  1. Keep it Simple (The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.)

  2. Use Meaningful Symbolism (The flag's images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.)

  3. 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.)

  4. No Lettering or Seals (Never use writing of any kind or an organization's seal.)

  5. Be Distinctive or Be Related. (Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.)

What's great about this literature is it's intended to aid communities in flag designing initiatives around the world, so it's written in a way that can be understood by anyone (not just designers).

The Challenge

Design a flag for a fictional society that represents it's qualities relative to these key themes:

  1. Environment

  2. Economy

  3. Societal Strengths

These 3 characteristics shape the culture of the people that live in this fictional society, the challenge here is to create a flag that will resonate with these imaginary people.

Step 1

First each designer has to select at random a natural environment for their society to take place.

When we did this exercise I printed the below images and stacked them upside down, then had each person pick their location. I think it's really important that this selection be random, because I don't want the designer to have preconceived notions about the society they are examining. The less familiar the designer is with the elements of the culture they are designing for, the greater the challenge!

Step 2

Now we must identify the resources available to our fictional citizens and how it shapes their economy.

To do this I'm using cards from one of my favorite games, 7 wonders! Side note; I love games like 7 wonders and Catan that engage players in a fantasy of competitive civilization building! :)

I stacked cards in piles relative to manufacturing industries and raw materials that might be the focus of a particular civilization. Then each person chose 1 pile.

  • Lumber

  • Glass

  • Paper

  • Textiles

  • Masonry

  • Ore Mining

If you don't have these cards you could print representative images or scribble on a piece of paper descriptions of these same resources. You can even add your own!

I should note it's possible with the random selection process that you may choose a resource or industry that doesn't necessarily align with the natural environment previously selected. But I encourage you to make it work! I think this is an opportunity for creative story-telling, make it make sense.

Step 3

Finally we need to understand what our society prides itself on. What aspirations has our fictional civilization invested in?

Using the game cards I created stacks of the following categories, and each person chose 1 stack.

  • The Arts/Spirituality

  • Science/Tech

  • Military

  • Commerce

If in grade-school you studied Greek history you might recall the infamous rivalry between the Spartan warriors and the Athenian erudites. Of course the complexities of these cultures was much deeper than these surface-level characteristics, but history remembers what you're famous for. The purpose of this step is to figure out what your fictional society is famous for! Imagine how as a citizen you might be very proud for your country's _________. That's what we want to celebrate with our flags!

Again, there are lot of ways you could represent these facets of society. These playing cards were just a fun, easy thing I had access to. Feel free to take this one step further and create your own!

Step 4

Now it's time to create our flag!

Think about the randomly selected features of this fictional society, and in your mind create a story for the people that live there. How did they come to be there? Why did they develop these particular industries? What societal achievements make them feel proud?

Using colored foam paper we created our designs. This same exercise could be done in a number of different mediums, but remember that a good flag only uses 2-3 basic colors. A flag design needs to be easy to recreate!

Here are some examples of what my team created:

This designer's civilization lived in a tropical environment and are proud to boast a strong army of warriors.

Hence the militaristic symbol of crossed spears over a shield and a dot of red, representing the blood spilled in the name of the flag. The bright green backdrop representing the lush green jungles of their natural surroundings.

In this case the designer had a mountainous region, and told the story of a nation nestled in it's protected valleys. The civilization grew on the basis of commerce and trade with stone as their abundant natural resource. The checkered pattern represents the stacked stones that built their walls, and the red diamond the mountain peaks that surround them.

This flag represents an island nation with an artistic and spiritual nature. The wave-y horizon line separates the sea from the land in a fun, lighthearted way. The multi-colored sphere is representative of the glass-works industry that the country is famous for, and doubles as a rising sun. The sun is a commonly used symbol for worship, and so appropriately represents the religious aspect of this society.

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