Friday, July 23, 2010

Flag Friday XI

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.


Parsons: Without comment, he gives it an "B", 74/100.

Michael5000: The flag of Djibouti does its job of being a recognizable symbol pretty well, taking fairly conventional elements and combining them in a distinctive fashion. This is in part due to the unusual pastel tint of its blue and green fields, and in part to its use of white in the left-hand field -- fields abutting the flagpole are generally darker than the rest of the flag, but that pattern is reversed here. Too, the red star looks a little too small for the space it occupies. So yes, the flag of Djibouti is distinctive and recognizable. But to an extent, it arrives at that effect by looking just slightly, just subtly, not quite right.

Grade: B-


Parsons: "Do not put a picture of a parrot on your flag!" demands Parsons. "(This goes for you too, Guatamala)." For this, and "bad colors," "graven images," and "it being "too busy," he assigns a "D", 40/100.

Michael5000: Hmm. It's fussy, it's figurative, and it fails the Betsy Ross test with flying colors. Seven distinct flying colors, to be precise. The three-tone stripes create an inherent asymmetry that I find deeply unsatisfying. And, it's in the long, stretched-out 2:1 ratio. There's not much to love about this flag qua flag, and I could hardly disagree with Parson's "Do not put a picture of a parrot on your flag." However... I will go as far as to confess... he's kind of a cute parrot...

Grade: C-

Dominican Republic

Parsons:Without comment, he assigns a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: Without comment? Really? Because, although Parsons and I are generally on the same page regarding fussy figurative detail on flags, I'm usually a little more flexible and forgiving. But the flag of the D.R. is pretty egregiously fussy. The white cross through blue and red fields are, sure, terrific. But that bit in the center! Here's a description, from the Wiki:
A small coat of arms featuring a shield with the flag design and supported by a bay laurel branch (left) and a palm frond (right) is at the center of the cross; above the shield, a blue ribbon displays the national motto: Dios, Patria, Libertad (God, Fatherland, Liberty). Below the shield, the words República Dominicana appear on a red ribbon (this red ribbon is depicted in more recent versions as having its tips pointing upward). In the center of the shield, flanked by three spears (two of them holding Dominican banners) on each side, is a Bible with a small cross above it and said to be opened to the Gospel of John, either to chapter one or chapter 8, verse 32, which reads Y la verdad nos hará libre (And the truth shall make you free).
Heavens. This would be a preposterous level of detail for the flag as a whole, let alone for the little patch in the center. If you've got such specific flourishes in your design that they are not visible to the naked eye -- the Bible is "said to" be open to a special verse? -- it's safe to say they are not contributing to the overall effect. Purely conceptual elements in a flag design are not going to help you rally to your side on a chaotic battlefield.

Do not put a Bible flanked by three spears and topped by a small cross on your flag! And don't YOU get any ideas, Guatemala!

Grade: D

East Timor

Parsons: Dr. Parsons was either writing before, or using a list compiled before, 2002, the year that East Timor joined the happy community of recognized states.

Michael5000: The flag of East Timor, which if memory serves is still our youngest country, is distinctive, highly visible, and satisfyingly flaggy. It very nicely pulls off the trick of distinguishing itself from the other 200-odd flags without leaving the tradition of easily made, easily recognized whole-cloth banners. Two complaints, however -- the East Timorans, like the good people of Dominica, have made the unfortunate choice of the 2:1 ratio (at least officially, anyway; I believe most 2:1 flags are generally corrupted in general use into something closer to the more comfortable 5:3 ratio). Secondly, somebody seems to have gone to a great deal of trouble to establish that the star is rotated so as to not conform to any obvious symmetry. That drives me a little crazy.

Grade: B


Parsons: "The Colombian flag was not very good to begin with, fine effort from Ecuador making it worse." Charging "plagiarism," that it has "graven images," and that it's "too busy," he assigns a "C+", 64/100.

Michael5000: Sigh. We might as well start with the "plagiarism" bit. Yes, the flag of Ecuador is similar to those of Colombia (which Parsons calls "original") and Venezuela. Behold:

This shouldn't be too surprising, though, seeing as how they used to be three parts of the same country. Nowadays we call it Gran Colombia, but at the time (1819-1831) it was just "Colombia," a loose federal state that eventually got so loose that Ecuador and Venezuela calved off as independent countries. All three remnants of Gran Colombia took that country's flag as the starting point in coming up with their own banners, and there you have it. Their flags look similar, just as you'd expect. History is not plagiarism.

Now then, what of the "graven images" and "too busy" accusations, applied to a simple tricolor? It is not, as it might at first appear, an instance of good Dr. Parsons neglecting his medication, nor do I think it is his reaction to the Dominican Republic's issues, applied to Ecuador due to a compositor's error. No, I think that Parsons must have realized -- despite using a graphic of the plain civil flag on his website -- that Ecuador is one of several Latin American countries where the more elaborate state flag is in common use.

...and while it is certainly handsome -- I think the primary colors of the Gran Colombia flags look pretty sharp against a clear blue sky -- it is certainly as fussy as any flag burdened with an official seal.

Photographic evidence suggests that there are quite a few Ecuadoran flags that have had the state seal sewn onto only one side of them. You can tell, for instance, that there is a seal lurking on the reverse side of this one:

Which is pretty cool, in a flag-geeky sort of way: it yields a banner that is a state flag on one side, and a civil flag on the other. Two for the price of one!

I gave the flag of Colombia a B+. Essentially the same, but like Dominica and East Timor stretched into the elongated 2:1 ratio, Ecuador gets a...

Grade: B


mrs.5000 said...

OK, I've got to admire the Dominican Republic for a flag which is basically an exercise in magical realism--not only is it "egregiously fussy" with invisible details (I can only imagine those heated debates about which verse of John the Bible is said to be open to), but IT CONTAINS ITS OWN IMAGE! So all those inscrutable details are repeated in an infinite regression, because the state has declared it so. Try that with crayons! I'm afraid I am somewhat smitten...

Jennifer said...

I usually agree with your assessments pretty closely, but today I'm skewed!
I think the flag of Djibouti is a little cuter than you're giving it credit for, but I think the flag of Dominica is much cooler! I love the shadowed effect the black lines give, and the parrot is adorable. Plus, kudos for using purple.
I'd grade easier on the Dominican Republic, too, just because if you took the seal off, what you have left would be awesome, unless that look is far more common than I'm aware of.
East Timor: at least online, there's an optical illusion for me caused by the two triangles that makes the right side of the flag look wider than the left side, which bugs me even more than the tipped star.
My two cents.

Dug said...

I'm going out on a limb and defending the seal in the middle of the flag. I think it lends interest to some otherwise dull tricolor patterns. If the children need to draw the flag in school they can leave the seal off and you still get the idea. Plus they could sell seal patches for all the Betsy Ross wannabies.

That one sided seal is a bit strange though. It's like Ecuador's flag is the Pittsburgh Steelers football helmet of flags.

Rebel said...

I'd put East Timor's flag is right up there with Estonia's. It's a good look for a flag, not too fussy, but unique enough to identify & remember.

DrSchnell said...

I don't think East Timor wins "newest country" honors anymore - (depends on how you define it). Kosovo is by some counts, Montenegro by others.

chuckdaddy said...

East Timor's flag may be my favorite so far. I think symmetricality is overrated, and I particularly like images that are almost symmetrical, but not quite. The off-star, the triangle with the same base yet different height... I could just keep on going on...

I kind of like the parrots and really like the idea of it becoming a trend. Maybe that's what the US could do to keep highly factorable 50 stars if we add Puerto Rico. PR could be just be represented by a parrot in the middle of our flag.

And I've gotta say, I don't get your prejudice against 2 to 1. Why can't flags be slightly different proportions? Think outside of the rectangle a little.

Eavan said...

Venezuela was the only one of the three countries to manage something elegant. I don't know what the stars represent (which is embarrassing, because I learned how to draw them in school in Caracas as a child), but they turned a boring tricolor into a distinctive one.

UnwiseOwl said...

Perhaps I'm biased by living in Australia (actually, I don't need the perhaps in that sentence, I know that I am), but I like the 2:1 ratio. For starters, it's just simpler (that crayon test being very reliant on accurate ratios and all), but for many flags it's a marked improvement.
Take Ecuador. If it wasn't in 2:1 ratio it would be blocky and considerably less attractive, but in this format it is comfortable and elegant.
Timor Leste: The red is supposed to be overcoming the black and the yellow. At 5:3 it looks more like a game of pac-man. Both of these flags are just uglier at a 5:3 ratio.
Dominica, though; the 2:1 makes it worse, without a doubt.
It's worth rememberign that the 2:1 ratio is often a historical throwback and acknowledgement of a countries past, too, as much as shared colours or symbols. A 2:1 flag is often an indicator of a Commonweath (or former Empire) country, to mimic the Union Flag (another that just looks better at 2:1).

Michael5000 said...

Wow, when did all these comments show up?

Lessee... Mrs., nice Borgean (??) take on the Dominican flag.

Jennifer, yes, it's a damn cute parrot. And purple! I'm with you on the optical illusion point; we'll see it more on future flags.

Dug, I think this project needed a pro-seal voice. Can I bring you anything out on that limb?

Rebel, well I don't know about "up there with Estonia. But yeah, it's a good 'un. If you Google around for it, there's a charming picture of it on an East Timoran fishing boat.

DrSchnell, apparently memory didn't serve. I understand we'll start to experience that more and more.

Eaven, see, I'm not sure about Venezuela's being more elegant than the other two. I do like the off-kilterality of the Columbia/Ecuador duo. But it's a long way until V, so I don't have to make up my mind yet.

Chuck, Unwise, obviously, if you like the 2:1 you like the 2:1. But it's not particularly radical for me to suggest that long-and-skinny doesn't have the aesthetic appeal of a more slender rectangle. People have been nattering on about the aesthetics of the Golden Ratio for centuries -- lots of centuries, I believe -- and the 3:2 or 5:3 or Finland's 18:11 or Denmark's wacky 37:28 are all more or less approximations of the ol' 1.618:1.

If that's too theoretical, try this experiment: look up the Flag of Australia on Google Image. You'll find lots of Australian flags at their proper 2:1 ratio, but you'll also see many instances where they are are misrepresented at something closer to the Golden Ratio. In my trawling for flag images, I have noticed this for all of the 2:1 flags (with the possible exception of East Timor) -- the online images, including photographs of actual flags in actual use, show a strong tendency for these flags to get blunted down. I think that they just look more flaggy that way, not just to me but to people in general.

Now, UnwiseOwl, it's an interesting and important point that you make about the 2:1 flag being a historical marker of the British Empire. I had no idea about this connection (which I've looked into, and you are of course correct). Partly, that's just personal ignorance, but in my defense it's not as if the Union Jack is consistently represented in 2:1. Again, if you Google Image "Union Jack," you will see as many images -- ignoring the Brit-themed merchandise, but just looking at the actual, flying flags -- of blunted Union Jacks as of de jure 2:1 Union Jacks.