Friday, January 15, 2010

Flag Friday I

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent.


Josh Parson’s flag ratings are several years old now, and the world – and the flag of Afghanistan – has changed in the interim. Here’s the flag he reviewed:

He gave it a grade of “C” and a numerical score of 56, citing its use of weapons – more of a concern for him than me, I suppose – and graven images, by which he means general fussiness.

Here’s the new Afghanistan Flag:

Michael5000: So we've got black, red, and green, with a white overlay representing "the classical emblem of Afghanistan with a mosque with its mihrab facing Mecca" on the red stripe. I like it! It's quite distinctive, as only Kenya and Malawi share the black/red/green tricolor and their bands are horizontal, not vertical. The emblem is too detailed to make a great flag element -- see Parson's Rule 2a -- but in this case the damage is not too bad. It is a single-color element, making it possible for an expert flagmaker to replicate it out of whole cloth if they so chose, and it appears to have reasonably venerable sociopolitical cred.

Grade: B


Parsons: Without explanation, he gives it “B-“, 65/100.

Michael5000: A "B-"? Are you kidding me? The Albanian flag is the schizz. As a distinctive national banner, it excels; it's the only red and black flag out there, and its graphic element is immediately recognizable. In terms of simplicity of manufacture, it requires only two pieces of fabric. True, the sewing isn't quite as easy as throwing together a tricolor, but I don't think the local Albanian Betsy Ross is going to have any trouble with a little appliqué. And for overall felicity of design, come on! It's a freaking stylized double-headed eagle, for crying out loud! Very badass, which is exactly what the resilient and often strong-willed Albanian body politic was aiming for. Whether or not you find it visually pleasing, you can't say it's not a very effective national symbol.

Grade: A

Runner Up: Best Flag (Figurative) in The L&TM5K Awards for Flag Merit.


Parsons: Classifying it as “Eyewatering,” he gives it “C+”, 60/100

Michael5000: Parsons apparently dislikes the juxtaposition of contrasting green and red in the center of Algeria's flag. This isn't crazy of him; I hadn't noticed it before, but now that he mentions it the eyes do shimmy a bit if you stare at the little slice of green between crescent and star. But green and red isn't a problematic combination of colors in general, and the layout of this banner manages to get two common symbols of Islam -- the star and crescent and the color green -- out there, yet in a highly distinctive, immediately identifiable design. Neat trick.

Grade: B+


Parsons: Classifying it as “Too Busy,” he gives it “C-”, 53/100

Michael5000: The tricolor base of Andorra's flag is a mashup of the flags of Spain and France, the countries that surround it and support its independent status. What Parsons is calling "busy" is, of course, the frimframmery in the center stripe. There are worse fussy emblems; this one has cows (cows are cool) and appears to be an authentically old-school national symbol. Yet, fussy emblems are always an iffy choice as a flag element -- Rule 2a, again -- and this makes Andorra's flag problematic. Note also that Chad and Romania share the blue/yellow/red tricolor, and that Moldova shares the same tricolor with a fussy central element. Of the three, only Romania's predates Andorra's, but unfortunately the reduction in distinctiveness takes something from a flag's effectiveness as a national symbol even if it has seniority.

Grade: C+


Parsons: Complaining of a weapon and a “corporate logo” look, he gives it “B-”, 65/100

Michael5000: We've talked before about the Angolan Flag on these pages. To summarize: it is extremely distinctive, complementing the same unusual red-and-black look we saw in Albania with a vibrant gold national logo. The graphic elements are simple but arranged nicely. On the downside, it rocks an increasingly dated hammer-and-sickle motif and features a machete, a tool that has unfortunate associations for many Africans. (The flag is also associated with Angola's dominant political party, but this kind of internal political problem goes beyond Flag Friday's brief.)

To my way of thinking, the problems of symbolism are for the Angolans to worry about. Even acknowledging that it has potential symbolic shortcomings, in any event, it's hard to think ill of one of Africa's best-designed and most immediately recognizable national banners.

Grade: A

Runner Up: Best Flag (Figurative) in The L&TM5K Awards for Flag Merit.

Antigua and Barbuda

Parsons: Classifying it as “Too Busy,” he gives it a “D”, 41/100

Michael5000: This flag was designed in a national competition, and is often the case the colors are chockablock with symbolism. The upshot is a pictorial depiction of the sun rising over the ocean into a deep-black sky, which is jarring, remeniscent of those Magritte paintings where part of the image is in nighttime while another part is daylit. In any event, framing the sunrise diagram with hot red wedges to create a "V for Victory" motif was a bad idea; it just makes the whole thing kind of cramped and ugly. Redeemed to an extent by whole-cloth simplicity and immediate distinctiveness.

Grade: C-

Flag Friday II will feature Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, and the Bahamas.


The Calico Cat said...

Fun, fun, FUN! (& WTF, since when do countries change their flags... I must have been under a rock on that one.)

DrSchnell said...

Albania's flag is cool in the same sort of way that Wales' is (which, alas, you're not likely to review here, them not being independent and all).

Aviatrix said...

While you require the local Betsy Ross to be able to sew it, I require the local children to be able to produce an endearing but unambiguously recognizable facsimile in crayon. That's where Afghanistan and Andorra fall down for me. The Antigua and Barbuda colours may be chockabloc with symbolism, but it's too much for me. What can you expect from a country that can't even pick one name for itself? I agree however, that Albania has a great flag.

Calico Cat, a country changing a flag is often associated with regime change but sometimes the country just wants a new look.

PB said...

I cannot claim any sort of flag reviewing expertise, but my visceral reactions to these:

Afghanistan - I actually like the old flag better. I think the swords, in this case, are pretty cool, and I like that the circle is closed by the Arabic script (I assume?) at the top, rather than having it at the bottom of the wreath, as in the new flag. On a side note, if I could in any way read what the writing said, there's a good chance I'd knock it down a full grade, but as I can't, I don't mind it as an artistic flourish. Also, I think the colors are a little more classic in the old flag. Old flag: B+, new flag B

Albania - Nothing to add; it's just flat out awesome. A

Algeria - Not a big fan of bi-colors, especially with white being one of the two colors. C

Andorra - I'm really not a fan of that color palette, especially with the bronze-ish crest on yellow. I do like the crest, and am willing to overlook the writing since it's a Latin motto (although hardly an inspiring one - "united courage/virtue is stronger"). B-

Angola - Again, the bi-color doesn't do that much for me, though I think the horizontal with red and black is definitely better than Algeria's. The logo doesn't do it for me at all - the industrial sickle feels a bit tacky, and the unfortunate machete is just too front and center - the swords on the old Afghan flag were at least artfully rendered. C+

Antigua and Barbuda - Just a mess all over - nothing to add to the analysis. By the way, let's hope Dan Brown never gets his hand on this - I shudder to think at the potential sexual connotations of the symbolism here. C-

Kritkrat said...

How the hell could anyone not give Albania an A+?! The only flag that gives it any competition is Lebanon!

Michael5000 said...

DrSchnell, if the Welsh Flag Dragon got in a fight with the Bhutan Flag Dragon, who would win?

Aviatrix, I feel that the Crayon Test is a significant contribution to our criteria here.

PB, Glad you're along for the ride.

DrSchnell said...

That's easy - the Welsh one. The Bhutanese dragon is too full of curlicues, and his leading claw is faced inwards, so he'd claw his own face in case of a sneak attack. The Welsh dragon, on the other hand, is ready for action right off the bat. Points for the Bhutanese for all the flames, though.

Voron X said...

Afghanistan- Writing! Ahhh! More writing! Aaiiiee! Meta-flags! EEEEeeeeeeeiiii! Meta building {sigh}. The all-white element on color does give it a nice look, but couldn't they have just used a giant Crescent instead? Still, it passes the Law of Seals test. (Detailed here: B P.S. the old flag: gold on white major rule of ticture violation - yech!

Albania - I know it violates the traditional NW European Rule of Tincture, but Black/bright red gets an exception in my book. It's simple awesome. A+

Algeria - The Red-on Green does violate the rule of tincture, and can be bad in grey-scale as well as with red-green color-blindness, and the fact that red/green tends to clash, being on opposite ends of the color wheel. I notice that in images on the web they often darken the red and lighten the green to give more contrast. Nice, simple, easily identifiable design, though. Would a slight fimbriation have hurt so much? B.

Andorra: See Romania/Chad/Andorra/Moldova rant here:

"Andorra, come on, 8:9:8? You're not fooling anybody. Really, if you're going to make the middle stripe wider to honor Spain, then do it in a 1:2:1 proportion. You are hereby ordered."

The above is a reference to the fact that although Andorra *technically* has a different flag than ChadRomania wihout the seal, the slight widening of the central stripe isn't noticeable enough. I'd personally widen the central stripe to half the width of the flag AND reverse the red and blue.
C to C-. BTW, I think your picture above might not have the 8:9:8 proportions.

Angola: Yes, it's very distinctive and has an effective color scheme and isn't too busy, but I can't really get on board with the machete (or Mozambiques AK-47) B+ to A-. (Cue discussion on why so many countries would want a roman execution device on their flag...)

Antigua and Barbuda. Not a hater. It's cute, and full of Island whimsy, and exceedingly unique. I'm kind of partial to rising/setting sun motifs (Kiribati anyone?) maybe because my last name is related to such things. Oh yeah, and I'm probably biased to V's as well. The important thing to realize is, it's not a picture, so light and shading don't really come into play. You can't have a light sky next to the sun, and blue is needed for water more than sky, and we already saw with Angola that black-red-yellow rocks nicely. It's hard to criticize it, really. Still, looking at pics, it looks better still than flying, so I'll go with an A-.