Flag Design Guide
One of the most important, and fun, parts of creating a nation is designing its flag. A nation's flag is the symbol that the nation identifies itself with. It is therefore very important that the flag has a memorable design that fits well with the nation it represents, and looks good. This guide aims to provide some general rules of thumb to follow when designing flags. It borrows heavily from the guide Good Flag, Bad Flag, but also contains some tips specific to a nation's flag.
What is a flag?
A flag is a symbol created with the purpose of representing a specific place, organization or nation. Flags are usually rectangular, but there are examples of flags that don't fit this shape, like the flags of Switzerland and Nepal. A flag is meant to be raised on a flagpole and seen from far away, so a good flag needs to have a design that can still be recognized when you're not standing near the flag.
TODO: add a little illustration of the different parts of a flag (canton, field etc)
These guidelines are useful to avoid some of the most common flag design mistakes. They're not meant to be followed 100% of the time, but are useful to consider when creating a flag.
Keep it simple
It is very important to avoid overloading your flag with too many details. A good rule of thumb is that a child should be able to draw the flag from memory. Adding too many details to a flag makes it harder to remember, and therefore makes it less recognizable as a symbol.
Use meaningful symbolism
The primary purpose of a flag is to symbolize whatever they represent. It is therefore very important that the symbolism of the different elements corresponds to the values or history of the nation they represent. Of course, symbols can have different meanings. For example, the color blue can symbolize the sea, but it can also symbolize the sky, or maybe even symbolize a more abstract concept like hope. Symbolism is not just in the colors of the flag, but also general design elements. For example, tricolor flags, especially red, white and blue ones, are often associated with liberal democracies.
Use 2-3 basic colors
It is a good idea to avoid using too many colors, and limiting yourself to only the basic flag colors, which are red, blue, green, black, yellow, and white. This is because using too many different colors can make the flag feel too busy, and make it less recognizable. Another good rule to follow is to make sure that all colors contrast well with their adjacent colors. Yellow and white have a high contrast with most other colors, which is why you will often see most fields of color in a flag separated by yellow and white.
TODO Examples: Tolstoy flag (3 colors), Savaguard flag (2 Colors, also uses a non-standard color, but makes it look good), IRL Republic of China flag (5 colors, but works because of the use of yellow and white to separate the other colors)
Avoid lettering or seals
Flags are, by their nature, meant to be representative of something else. Their goal is to be an easily recognizable graphical symbol, even at a distance. Adding text or a seal to the flag makes this simple graphic design too busy, and it is usually very hard to see the difference between one seal and another, unless you're standing very close to the flag. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but these are usually flags that would be easily recognizable without seal, or flags where the seal is very easily recognizable.
TODO Examples: Alexandria flag (example of how to use graphical symbols instead of a seal), Maine flag (Example of what NOT to do: don't put a seal on an all blue background), Moloka flag (Example of one of the few times where seals work. Moloka works because the seal consists mainly of 4 colored fields, and because the background behind the seal is also distinct)
This tip is specific to flags on Minecraft servers. Unlike flags in real life, Minecraft banners have some very specific limits for what is possible to recreate with them. It is therefore a good idea to consider how well the flag design will translate over to the banner format, while you're making the flag. A good flag should look good both in image format and in the banner format. One notable exception to this rule is if you decide to treat your banner and flag as two separate symbols. In that case, you will have both a flag and a banner, that don't necessarily look like each other, but both symbolize your nation. These will still tend to have similar color schemes, as those colors often serve as a symbol of the nation.
TODO Examples: Alexandria flag/banner have the same recognizeable design in both formats. IWW flag has a slightly different design to their banner (Possibly, this needs to be confirmed.)
Consider how the flag will look as pixel art
This tip is also specific to flags on Minecraft servers. Flags are sometimes built as decorations in-game, either by constructing a flag pole with a woolen flag at the top, or by building it as a sort of mural on a wall/floor. It is a good idea to consider how the flag will translate to these enviroments, where the dimensions that you have to work with are very small. Flags on flagpoles tend to be around 5x3 blocks, while other flag decorations are usually around 7x5 or larger. These small dimensions mean that most details from a flag will not be visible in pixel art format. This does not mean that you can't have interesting flag designs. You should just consider how well these designs will translate over to pixel art.
TODO Examples: Accelerada flag, flag pole and wall pixel art.
How to design a flag with FlagMaker Jr.
FlagMaker Jr. - A very powerful tool used to create flags.
Miners Need Cool Shoes - A good tool to create banner designs for Minecraft.
Good Flag, Bad Flag - A short, but very well made, guide on the basic principles of flag design. Compiled by Ted Kaye of the North American Vexillological Association.