May 07, 2020
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Flag symbolism explained, in 5 infographics

Denmark-based design agency Ferdio created a series of infographics that explore the commonalities of flags in more than 200 countries. 

The most common flag layout is three horizontal bars — known as the tribar, which was made famous by countries like Germany and Argentina. It the 18th century, countries would often stitch together three colors from their coats of arms into flags, according to City Lab

The vertical tribar, the second most popular layout, came into prominence after the French Revolution.

“It upended the structure of society in Europe, and it signified that by upending the horizontal tribar,” Ted Kaye, a flag expert and expert judge in BDN Portland’s flag contest, told City Lab. “The very nature of that verticality of the [French flag] represents a revolution of the then-order of Europe.”


The most common colors among flags are red, white and blue, while orange is the least common color. No country’s flag uses purple because purple dye was hard to find in the past and reserved for royalty, Kaye said.


The colors are also symbolic. Shades of red can symbolize anything from blood to progress. Some colors can mean the same thing. For example, blue and white both have links to peace and freedom.


The star is the most common shape used in world flags, followed by the shield and the cross, according to Ferdio.


Taking all of these common themes into account, Ferdio created flags for continents, and even the whole world, based on the most common characteristics between all the flags.



Below are the finalists in our contest to design a better flag. You can vote for your favorite here.

“Portland Beacon” by Matthew Morey


Designer’s comments: The purpose behind this design for the flag of Portland is to display a beacon of pride in being a Portlander and a beacon of welcome to all others, just as the lighthouses of Portland welcome ships into its harbor. The lighthouse also represents Portland’s rich history in the maritime industries which helped Portland become the diverse, ever-growing city it is today. The goal was to accomplish all this with simple and dynamic use of shapes and a reference to the original blue and gold color scheme of the current flag.

“Jewel of Casco Bay” by Jeff Woodbury


Designer’s comments: Green for Forest City. Blue for Casco Bay. The zigzag echoes waves on a rocky coast. Portland is the central point: the peninsula in the center, pointing to the stars. Indents above and below center represent the Fore and Presumpscot Rivers. 12 stars shine for the 12 major islands of Casco Bay. Each 4-pointed star is a compass rose, symbolizing both direction and the individuality of Mainers. The stars in a grid combine to weave the warp and weft of lobster traps and sailcloth. Turned on its end, green side down, the constellations illuminate forested mountains. Green side up, and ships rest safely at anchor. Uncomplicated, but not simplistic. A flag for Portland.

“Resurgam Flag 2″ by Jeremy Hammond

resurgam Designer’s comments: Blue and gold represent the sea and prosperity and provide continuity with the current Portland flag. In true heraldic form, the image of several overlapping anchors depicts a busy port. The number of anchors was chosen to honor the four fires the city has survived and in visual form to exclaim the city’s motto, Resurgam.

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