Roman Mars' TED Talk On City Flags (And How You Can Apply It To Designing Your Own Flag)

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As people who work with flags every day, we can get pretty excited about the ins and outs of flag design and construction.  It’s a little nerdy, sure, but we love it!  So, it was really fun when we found out that someone gave an entire TED talk on flag design, specifically the design of city flags.

In this TED talk, Roman Mars, the host of the design radio show & podcast 99% Invisible, goes through the good and bad of designing a flag.  According to Roman (and the North American Vexillological Association), here are the key elements to designing a good flag:

  1.  Keep it simple
  2. Use meaningful symbolism
  3. Use 2-3 basic colors
  4. Never use text or seals
  5. Be distinctive

He references Chicago’s flag as an example of a well-designed flag.  The two blue stripes represent the city’s key waterways, while the four red stars represent four key parts of Chicago’s history.  Colors are simple.  And because it’s well designed (and backed by civic pride), you see it everywhere in Chicago.

Why are text or seals in flags a bad thing? Flags typically hang on poles high above the ground.  Since they are being viewed from longer distances (and usually in passing), the elements need to stand out.  Official seals have a lot of intricate detail that can only be seen close up, and text, especially when small, will never be read from a distance.  

The principles of a well-designed city flag apply to designing your custom flag too.  Keep it simple.  Create a design that has meaning.  Use a few core colors.  Stay away from text or minute details that no one will ever see when the flag is flying high.  Keep these things in mind when you’re using the new flag designer, and you’ll be sure to create a beautiful flag of your own!  And if you like flags and have 18 minutes, you can listen to the entire TED Talk here - it’s definitely worth your time!


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