All of the world's flags, ranked by fussiness
From least fussy to most fussy, measured in Palaus
NOTE: For anyone that was here yesterday, I redrew the Palau scale to make the sorting a bit more sane and weighting for color changes. This is still not scientific at all and is presented for your amusement. If it still bugs you that Japan is ranked lower than Palau, please step away from the computer and take a walk outside. I hear it's lovely.
There are essentially two ways to draw things on a computer. One is bitmaps, the way your digital camera does it, by putting little dots on the screen. The bigger the picture, the more dots you need, and the bigger the filesize. But for a given quality, everything you take a picture of is more or less the same filesize.
However, there's another way of drawing, called vector graphics. This is the way logos, architectural drawings, and other "hard-edged", non-photographic images are made. In vectors, every line and flourish requires a bit of code. The more shapes, the more code. The advantage is that, for simple images, the filesize can remain small no matter how big the final output is. A properly-constructed vector image can be blown up to billboard size with no drop in quality.
Given that every mark in a vector image adds a bit to the file, the size of a vector file is a good indication of its complicatedness or fussiness. So when designers talk about a design being overly complicated, it's not a matter of taste, but actually something we can measure.
I've been thinking a lot about this in the context of the New Zealand flag debate, and the rivalry that has broken out between Kyle Lockwood's ferns and Aaron Dustin's "Red Peak". Full disclosure: I am totally on team #RedPeak for many many reasons besides filesize. But to scratch an itch, I've downloaded a set of Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) world flags (thanks to Sean Herron's Flag-Webicons Github repository), and I thought I'd spend an hour visualising the different world flags ranked by the filesize of their SVG representation, adding Lockwood's design from Wikimedia Commons.
This is unscientific as all heck but kinda fun. In order to display the difference between the contenders, I've invented a unit of vexillological fussiness called a Palau, after the simplest flag in our survey. Think of a Palau as a measure of the number of individual pencil moves needed to draw a flag. All other flags are presented as multiples of Palau (so 3 Palaus is 3 times more fussy than the simplest flag).
A few observations:
- I don't know why Palau is smaller than Japan or Bangladesh. There are some tiny variations in the files, I guess.
- The fussiest flag in the world is Serbia's, weighing in at an astonishing 30.1 kiloPalaus. Though vexillologists will say it's very bad form, that seal is IMPRESSIVE.
- About a quarter (58 of 198) of all flags in the world are 3 Palaus of fussiness or less. "Abstract" simplicity isn't radical, but actually very common.
- Red Peak is extremely simple (#20 on the list at a mere 2 Palaus). When I couldn't find a SVG of this brand new flag on the interwebs, I drew one myself in code. Took me 3 minutes.
- This exercise makes me realize how distinct Red Peak would be on the world stage. The upward triangle is such a simple motif, but has rarely been used.
- The current NZ flag lags in 148th place at 66 Palaus.
- The Lockwood fern is far more complicated, at a weighty 169 Palaus, bringing up the rear among what Roman Mars has memorably called "SOB's", for "seals on a bedsheet".
This actually matters. All those curves in that fern are hard to draw and hard to get right. If the fern is adopted as the new flag, be prepared to see it drawn wrong, over and over again. Contrast this with Dustin's instantly memorable instructions for drawing his flag.
Anyway, this insomnia project has rambled far enough. Here's hoping design sense prevails.