August 31, 2016 - No Comments!

A case for the adaptative flag

More often than not, I’ve stumbled upon flags with complex symbols or coat of arms tilted on a 90° angle; which makes the flag design hard to appreciate.

Croatia Flag Banner

Croatian flag banner next to Rovinj's city flag banner

Owl with tilted head

This is due to the fact that many countries use outdated European heraldry principles for the norms of usage of their flags. Other countries have a set of rules that proves either inconsistent or overly complex. Lastly, other countries just have no guidelines whatsoever for their flags usage. This happens to be a matter for heated discussions amongst flag nerds on the internet:

After researching into the subject and really analyzing every detail of the flags I came across. I noticed many flag designs lacking pragmatism. Coming from a branding and web design background I strongly believe that the rule of thumb in contemporary design must be to develop a visual system optimizing each element for different applications depending on the size, proportions, and medium.


Many a time while travelling or living abroad I’ve stumbled upon flags that caught my eye. Like the beautiful national flag design of Estonia, representing a typical winter landscape in the Estonian woods.

Flag of Estonia

Flag of Estonia

Estonian Flag Landscape

Sky, trees, and snow: a typical Estonian winter landscape

Unfortunately, flag design is yet another under-appreciated art-form, which goes completely unseen in some cases. Specially, when talking about city flags. However, there are plenty of sources online that cover a great deal of interesting topics on the subject. And so, thanks to the internet I became acquainted with the principles of Vexillology.

Vexillology is the scientific study of the history, symbolism and usage of flags or, by extension, any interest in flags in general.

Adaptative Design

For instance, a logo that takes up a 10 meters-wide billboard, it can be stylized with many fine details and ornaments.

IBM billboard

IBM billboard with an intricate pattern masked on the iconic logo

However, when we need to use the same logo for a 36x36 pixels website icon, there is a need to simplify the visuals in order to retain readability and brand recognition.

IBM favicon

The intricate iconic logo gets simplified to single a monochrome bee icon for the favicon

Just as the navigation menu of a website can display the name of the web pages when browsing on a 21 inch desktop monitor.

Navbar on Desktop

…and it can be shrank down as a “hamburger icon” when browsing on a 4.7 inch mobile screen.

iPhone hamburger icon

In the design industry, this practice is known as Adaptative Design (not to be confused with Responsive Design). However, flag design doesn’t seem to catch up with today’s design standards. A reduced minority of countries, such as Hungary, adopted a simple system of alternative designs for their flags.

Hungary State Flag

Hungary State Flag

Hungary Vertical State Flag

Hungary vertical state flag with fixed coat of arms

...but there is plenty of room for improvement out there in the world.

The Solution

Taking the Croatian flag issue into consideration, I decided to designed a simple concept that will hopefully start a conversation about adaptative flags.

Flag of Croatia

Official state and civil flag of Croatia

When I started sketching the adaptations I noticed that the overly complex coat of arms and the over-saturated colours were a huge obstacle. For the purposes of this experiment I decided to use softer hues and to clean-up coat of arms to work better on the adaptations.

Redesign concept of Croatian coat of arms

Official coat of arms and simplified concept

Croatia Flag concept 1:2

Croatian flag concept redesign 1:2

Croatia Flag concept 2:1 and 3:1

Croatia Flag concept redesign 2:1 and 3:1

Croatia Flag concept 2:3

2:3 alternative for smaller applications (desk flag / car flag / small hand flag)

Croatia Flag concept 1:1

1:1 alternative for use in social media

Croatian flag pennants

Triangular horizontal and vertical pennants for decoration

Let's see how it would work on a physical format...

Croatia flag 2:3 concept mock-up

Croatia banner concept mock-up

Croatia pennant 3:2 concept mock-up

Croatia pennants photo

Wrapping up

I propose for designers and flag aficionados out there to join me in the struggle to raise the bar of flag design. Country flags represent up to millions of people, their rich culture, and their complex history. It’s time for us to start looking at them with the respect they deserve. It is time for vexillology to increase expectations, and catch up with the needs of the modern world: a need for adaptative flag design.

Tell me your thoughts @borishrncic

Published by: Boris Hrnčić in Graphic Design, Thoughts

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