The L&TM5K Awards for Flag Merit
Best Flag (Tricolor): Estonia
You can't get much more classic than a tricolor flag design. A tricolor's bright, contrasting fields do a great job of identifying your army on a confused battlefield, provide a striking visual accent against the ornately carved stone of your public buildings, and give your population relative flexibility when dressing up in the national colors. But please -- red, white, and blue has been done to death, to the point where it's not even useful anymore ("Are we in the Netherlands, or Luxembourg?" "No problem, there's a flag. D'oh!"). Red, white, and green; Orange, white, and green: these combinations are fresher, but hardly unique. Estonia's tricolor, on the other hand, is muted yet individual, dignified yet surprising. It takes a grownup color palette, and uses it in a flag that is remarkable for its simple, elegant distinction.
Runners-up: Armenia, Botswana, Lithuania, Gabon.
Best Flag (Figurative): Kazakhstan
When you deviate from simple color fields, it is easy to get your flag design into real trouble. Look at Uganda, Dominica, Macedonia, or South Africa for great examples of ways to make a hash of it. Kazakhstan succeeded where so many others have failed by keeping the primary flag design element, color, under control. A fairly complex central design and the inward-side filigree characteristic of the "Stan" flags are rendered spare and elegant by their rendering in just two mature and memorable but unconventional colors. One of the best new flags in recent history.
Runners-up: Angola, Bhutan, Turkmenistan, Barbados, Kyrgyzstan, Uruguay.
Best Flag (Classic): Portugal
This is a limited-entry category, as it requires the nation in question to have a centuries-long relationship with the practice of heraldry. Here, the issue is not so much design sense as projecting a vision of your country's sheer accumulated authority, the cred that comes with merely having been around the block several hundred times. Portugal's shield figure is dismissed by some as fussy, but it is set off magnificently by generous rectangles of rich green and red. The most identifying feature of the flag, that shield is the central focus. It's right there in your face, all but daring you to call it old-fashioned. That ain't old-fashioned. That's classic.
Runners-Up: Albania, Denmark, Iceland, Moldova, United Kingdom.
Most Improved Flag: Rwanda
Rwanda's former flag was a tricolor in the familiar African colors of red, gold, and green, marked with a big capital "R" in the middle for the purpose of distinguishing it from the flag of Guinea. No, really. The new flag, by contrast, is an optimistic landscape in green, gold, and sky blue, with a jaunty sun rising over the horizon of, one hopes, a new and more prosperous Rwanda. A profound improvement.
Runners-up: Georgia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Lesotho.
Best Flag (American State): New Mexico
Most American state flags are simply appalling. Sticking a prissy state seal on a blue background isn't a design, and the result is barely a flag. It's just your state seal on a blue background. Eliminating these embarassments narrows the field to only around a dozen real contenders. Of those, New Mexico's banner steps out of the pack for its clean and distinctive design, instant recognizability, and daring coloration.
Runners-up: Alabama, Hawaii, Maryland, South Carolina, Alaska.
OK! Let the dorky second-guessing begin!