Adventures in Vexillology: The Top 10 Best Designed Flags

David, the mind and Maus behind the always thought provoking mindofmaus.wordpress.com, recently approached me with an idea for a collaborative blog post. Here is the chat excerpt:

“…we each write a post or series of posts ranking our top [10] picks for best national flag. You do it from a design perspective. I’ll rank them on historical/political symbolism…”

The offer was just too enticing not to accept. So please read his post as these are meant to exist together like Tanganyika and Zanzibar. That said, make a mental note we intentionally decided not read each other’s posts ahead of time. So it is quite possible this collaboration could turn out to be as unified as Czechoslovakia in 1992. I choose optimism.

And in the spirit of this optimism please feel free to play this video while reading for full effect:

The Four Principles of a Well Designed Flag

Before we delve into the rankings, I must first explain the criteria for my rankings. Allow me to Introduce to you The Four Principles of a Well Designed Flag (TM, Copyright, Patent Pending) which happen to be somewhat similar to the criteria I used to rank the license plates:

  1. Design must serve a purpose. The purpose of a flag is to stand as a representation of a given country. Good design can achieve this. In other words, one must always ask if it is an accurate portrayal of the nation.
  2. Great design excels in its simplicity. Was your flag put together with simplicity or are you trying to put everything your country stands for on its flag? Simply put, is your flag a scrapbook? If so, sorry, you will not appear on my list.
  3. Good design evokes an emotion. A flag should make you feel something. For Americans, seeing Old Glory basking in the morning’s first light conjures up emotions of sacrifice, unity, and freedom. Seeing a Perkin’s sized Chinese flag while actually in China was eerie for me, it was a reminder that I should be on my best behavior.
  4. Good flag design translates into fashion. Can your country put your flag on a jersey and wear it with pride or will you look ridiculous? Yep, those are Nike knock-offs.

*Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands will be excluded from the rankings because their respective flags miss in at least 3 of categories. Most notably that their sports teams don’t even wear the colors of their flag; meaning their flag doesn’t represent their country; meaning their flag fails to evoke an emotion that exceeds that of athletics. My advice to these three, change your flag.

The Rankings

I have categorized this list into two categories, Honorable Mentions (I will not explain), and the top 10 (which I will explain). You can follow along using this list.

Just a mention: The United States of America

Since I am an American and most of the readers of this post are too, I feel that I should explain why the Star Spangled Banner does not appear in my top 20. While the American flag evokes emotions (see above) it misses on many of the guidelines listed above. It’s not simple. It’s kind of clunky. It also takes too long to explain its meaning. Also, U.S. flag jerseys just look ridiculous (see here) and I really don’t like the new flag look for the national soccer teams. Please bring back the white tops!

To sum up, it’s a decent flag, but its meaning by far outweighs its design chops. Sorry Betsy Ross.

Honorable Mention:

(In alphabetical order):

The TOP 10:

#10: Barbados
The only “North American” entry in my top 10 belongs to this tiny Caribbean nation. They did a nice job of fusing a traditional tri-color flag with a clear symbol that appropriately reflects the island nation. The color is a little muted, but that trident is just too dang cool.

#9 Brazil
Brazil gets bonus points simply because their flag translates well to their soccer jerseys. It’s the most awe-inspiring kit out there. But what makes this bandeira top 10 worthy is its curved arch that gives the circle element a sense of depth not seen on many other flags. Ordem e Progesso indeed.

#8 Bhutan
One of the most isolated countries on Earth has surprisingly one of the best flags. It has a unique color set (not red or blue) and pulls off a subtle diagonal. I can imagine the teams athletic jerseys if only they competed! But let’s be honest this flag has a dragon holding four orbs. What is better than this? (Clearly, 7 others).

NOTE: Rachel disagrees with me on this one. She doesn’t like the dragon and thinks its too complex to put on a flag. When I asked her to point out a simpler dragon, she recalled Trogdor. She wants consument V’s, consument!

#7 East Timor
This flag is sharp. Solid color is in use with many standard flag elements (triangle and star, see Cuba, Puerto Rico) but where it sets itself apart is the tiny sliver of gold that forms an oblong triangle. It’s the subtle touches that tell the story.

#6 Albania
Bold, Confident, Traditional, and Pride are the emotions that are evoked looking at this stunningly simple banner. Ultimately, this is a battle flag, and being a Balkan state this has been followed into many wars. Wait, I’m probably delving too much into David’s territory here, but if he wanted to fight about it, I’m bringing this flag with me. Also, you may notice this is the only flag with an eagle that made the list, but its a double eagle all the way the across the sky (remember this craze?).

#5 Uganda
David’s home for the past year makes my list mostly due to its color. They also take the tri-color to a new level by repeating the yellow, red, and black bands. The crested crane is a bold choice in a landscape dominated much more intimidating birdlife (see #6).

#4 Switzerland
This flag is on the list because of its understated simplicity. Yet, this flag also fits the Swiss persona so well. I think that Swiss designers are constantly inspired by their flag. Just look at the Swiss influence in Typography and products like Swiss Army Knives. The are all understately simple. Coincidence? I think naught.

#3 Kyrgyzstan
This flag represents the hope of a people who are in need of some hope. Yet the flag remains simple, has good color, and the symbol would make for a nice patch on an athletic jersey. 4 for 4!

#2 Saudi Arabia
This is a sharp, sharp flag. Why sharp twice? Because the Arabic typeface in use looks sharp, and that sword looks sharp. It’s also a fitting representation for a country that still uses swords to chop off the hands of thieves.

#1 United Kingdom
It may be shocking to you, but the flag I like the most from a design perspective is that of the United Kingdom. The Union Jack just hits it on all levels. It uses space well, forms an interesting pattern, and the colors are labelled appropriately. The texture in the details of the flag is also done well, it gives it a solid layered feel. It also is fashionable (oversized hats withstanding) and allows Team GB to confidently compete in style. I selfishly hope that England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales stay in a union just to preserve this flag.

One Closing Thought…

David, please don’t miss the opportunity in the next year to gaze upon with splendid awe the Union Jack whisking high above the spires and smokestack along the great River Thames whilst enjoying your Marmite and toast.

In closing, did you think there any snubs? Were some over ranked? Did I just nail it? Please chime in below!

53 Responses to Adventures in Vexillology: The Top 10 Best Designed Flags

  1. Top five snubs: Germany, Sweden… These two nations fit their flag colors like no other.

    Why is Switzerland not top 2? Arguably the most iconic flag on earth!

    • Brandon

      @Carl – Germany in the top 5? Really? Their flag colors didn’t seem to suit them in WWII… or the east half of Germany for the next 50 years.

      • I thought this was the design of the flag post, not historical? I do agree though.

        • Brandon

          Sure. That is a fair point. Also, it doesn’t surprise me you like the Swiss. I can see their influence in your work.

    • Terrible list, stupid criteria

      • What criteria would you use @kumpt? Who would be your top choice?

    • Kai

      I see the British flag, but how about the Welsh flag, that one is just amazing, much better than the Swiss!

      • David Harrison

        Welsh flag not in the top 10, unbelievable probably the coolest flag around!
        By the way your number one choice of the United Kingdom fails your own criteria foe selection, namely :
        Design must serve a purpose. The purpose of a flag is to stand as a representation of a given country.

        As Wales is NOT represented on the flag, the flag cannot be considered for inclusion in the list, Sorry, your criteria not mine!

  2. Pingback: Adventures in Vexillology — The Top 10 Best Symbolic Flags | Mind of Maus

  3. susan hundt

    oh my gosh!!! Trogdor?? anyway Brandon this might scare you but my first thought of best flag was United Kingdom. I think that England is just as slimplistic as Swiss flag.

  4. Rachel

    I don’t necessarily dislike Bhutan’s flag, and actually I love the dragon on it, I just don’t think it really fits on a flag. Its incredibly detailed… honestly, you can’t really see it in all its detailed amazingness unless you’re up close.

  5. The tenuous and uneasy overlap between our lists is indeed reminiscent of the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar.

    That said, I was thinking about featuring Uganda in my Top 10, but didn’t want to open myself up to charges of bias by including all three of the countries in which I’ll be spending most of my time this year.

    Nice work!

  6. Kyle Collins

    Could you imagine this on a soccer jersey: Its undeniable.

  7. Kyle Collins

    Link

    (no img tags allowed)

    • @Kyle: If territories were allowed (which they were not), I think I could fill half of the list with them. It’s a gold mine and the Isle of Man would have been near the top of the list.

  8. I also think that the UK has the best flag design. But when it comes to second best, I would go for Switzerland’s flag. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Joe

    The American flag is the best you bitch.

  10. bruce

    I like Britain’s flag and I like Switzeland’s flag, but I’m quite surprised to see that South Africa’s flag is not in the top ten list (or at least given an honourable mention). The flag is well designed to represent the past and the present: the Y represents peace, which is extremely symbolic given its history with the Apartheid regime. Also, there are 5 colours used on the flag to represent what South Africa calls ”The rainbow nation”, a term coined by Desmund Tutu. If anyone has ever been to South Africa, they will agree with me when I say that the country is really the rainbow nation: every colour or race you can think of is found there. That said, the bright colours and sybolic meaning is fashionable and can be worn with pride.

    • kym

      +1 not sure why South Africa’s flag is never on these lists! It really is a fine looking flag.

      SNUB

      • Bruce and Kym – I assure you, if wrote a post about the top 5 places I want to visit in my lifetime, South Africa would be near the top!

  11. Tom

    What about Wales!? It has a dragon too but it actually has a full blown story behind it king Arthur style and is arguably a better dragon than the other one as it sits on the flag design much better.

    • Thanks for your thought, Tom:

      According to my rules, I had to consider the United Kingdom as a whole. I know that can be a bitter pill to swallow sometimes.

  12. mbarb

    Canada is the best. Represents Canadian love of nature, it’s easily recognizable, simple, and a maple leaf looks damn good on those Canada hockey jerseys.

    • mbarb, would it make you feel better to know that if I did a post on national anthems, Canada would clearly make the top 10?

      Thanks for reading!

  13. Max

    A huge thank you from the United Kingdom!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Mike

    Wales arent in the union jack expert!

  15. So sport jerseys affect the quality of a flag? Get real slut

    • @kumpt – I think jerseys should reflect the national colors not the other way around. Thanks for chiming in.

  16. Luke

    Semi-agree. Love the list. Would replace the Albanian flag with St Lucia. Find Albania too dark and sinister. Also, think Palau needs a mention. Thanks, very enjoyable

    • Sergio

      Albanian flag is stunning! Red like the blood, and victorious like the Eagle. It deserved a better place in the ranking I think. Anyway..

      • Sr

        The worst flag is Albanian one

    • Emirjan

      So you would put a yellow triangle instead off symbol that is know for thousands of years

      Albanian flag should be #1

  17. Gentos

    Albania Nr#1 :)

  18. that beautiful black eagle in red sfond.tells for many wars fought by Albanians ,this flag was the food ,the weapons,the blood ,the power of Albanians to stand up again and fight for the country .

  19. John

    I agree with a lot of these, but I disagree about Brazil, which has a few sins like the motto and the diamond not fitting into the rectangle (the old imperial flag did and looked much better) and I’m not sure I like the Kyrgyz flag – it would have been stronger with just the sun and without the cross-hatches.

    One I think deserves to be on here is the Turkish flag – bold, simple, has inspired at least 30 other flags (the original star & crescent), and has a long, long historical pedigree. It makes a smart jersey, too.

    Albania is probably my #1 – the Roman Imperial eagle and the black on red. Sexy.

  20. Adoks Gnabtiurf

    Kazakhstan easily wins.
    I like the colour scheme and its simplicity as well as the simplified eagle and sun, which sums up the country’s ‘steppes of gold’ perfectly.

  21. Pingback: Flamuri i shqiptarëve, ndër më atraktivët në botë - Portali Telegrafi » Portali Telegrafi

  22. Kris Madrigal

    Have you seen the flag of the Philippines? It’s very historical and hispanically influenced.

    • VoronX

      Gold on white is a poor choice, however. It doesn’t show up well from a distance.

  23. Nick

    Give a nod to the Lone Star! Not a country, but a damn good flag nonetheless.

  24. VoronX

    Top Snubs: Israel, Canada, Iceland (or Norway), Greece, Turkey, Cuba, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Vietnam, The Gambia. And Historically, I would have to say some of the best-designed flags (independent of symbolism) in history were the Nazi flag, The Confederate Battle Flag, and the Japanese Battle Flag. Their excellence of design is part of the reason they remain such strong symbols to this day.

    • VoronX

      also: Pakistan, South Africa, Namibia, Suriname, France.

  25. Jeremy

    The list falls well short.

    Must include:

    Japan (excels in its simplicity)
    Canada
    Bangladesh
    Amsterdam’s flag
    South Africa
    Turkey
    Greece

    • LELELELELELE

      i dont enjoy Greece flag it hurts my eyes

  26. Ron Higgins

    I agree the UK flag is one of the best, one can argue if it is number one as thats debatable. But it would be in the top five. I’m miffed old glory was not considered top ten? It would be in my book. But it would be at one, if it was based solely on recognition. Followed by Union Jack,then Canada, China, Japan and Switzerland. And we must mention Israel,India and Argentina and Turkey.

  27. B

    The only red and blue up there is UK, in the number one spot, but that is one of the most common color combos in dlags?

    • B

      I meant to say flags

  28. Sr

    Italy, Britain, USA, Canada, France, Sweden, Iran, Germany, Mexico, Japan are the top ten flags respectively.

  29. Humbled that you rank the UK flag as your favourite! You’re a star!

    I’m great at flags and I’m trying to learn as many as I can :-) (just in case I get a quiz)

    One of my favourite flags is Macedonia.

  30. Potatochipeater

    What about the 3rd reich and the rising sun

    • Kevin Zaccaro

      Yeah, some of these are stupid considering that he said the US flag was too complex even though it is easy to remember and draw and Bhutan has a highly detailed dragon. What double standards!

  31. LELELELELELE

    No Canada, not even in Honorable mentions. Why not

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