The World Flag is both a powerful and vibrant symbol representing all the people of the world. It was designed with both geopolitical and artistic design themes in mind. The use of country flags themselves was a deliberate and well thought out idea emerging from the challenge of creating a symbol that people everywhere on the globe could immediately connect with.

History and Design of  the Flag:

The Original World Flag Design 1988

In 1988 Paul Carroll envisioned a global image that would resonate with the people of the world. He chose flags as the mark-making system for his original design. Because of their inherent symbolic, nationalistic, and subconscious power, individual flags offered intrinsic possibilities for his vision. “Moving individual flags into the global realm—transcending borders, race, and religions—creates unique impact from micro to macro and back, Carroll wrote. The New Scientist noted that “[t]he power of symbols to both inspire and unite people finds its most relevant and meaningful perfection in the national flags and banners of the world.” The challenge of assembling 160 flags into a meaningful, engaging image was daunting. The options and combinations were virtually unlimited. For Carroll, the mission was well beyond a piece of art or a one-time experiment. He set out to create a global symbol that would change and evolve as the world changed and evolved. He wanted the World Flag to grow organically, creating historical documents in time. The original 1988 design represented the 159 members of the United Nations, plus the U.N. flag. In order to create a 13 x 13 “flag” rectangle, Carroll eliminated a 3 x 3 area in the center. Placing Buckminster Fuller’s sky-ocean (Dymaxion) map in this space made it the core around which the design would grow. With an awareness of history, philosophy, and geopolitics, the first World Flag was born. Major global concerns—the Cold War, apartheid, the Middle East, and other political and social issues—all influenced the design.

Evolution of an idea:

Since its inception The World Flag has evolved to include every country flag of the world and additional territories and provinces.  The flag as it now stands has 216 flags including the United Nations flag.

The World Flag 2008

Below I have outlined some of the geopolitical and geographic symbolism found within the flag.

Description of symbolism found within the World Flag.

  • In the center is the Earth with a white background symbolizing peace and purity while the green represents nature.
  • The white of Japan draws the eye downward creating the image of a flagpole. This then becomes a Flag within the World Flag and also symbolizes a “P” for peace.
  • The fulcrum of Saint Lucia, whose triangle reaches toward the sky, symbolizes the fragile environmental balance of the Earth and its nations.
  • Japan (left) is one of the wealthier nations and Bangladesh one of the poorest.
  • The United Nations in the center symbolizes unity.
  • Just above Earth’s center the three sun signs within the flags of Argentina, Antigua & Barbuda, and Uruguay (left to right) symbolize the rays of light and hope shining into the flag of Tibet above. These four flags collectively represent the life-giving power of the sun both lighting the Earth below and shining upward into the flag of Afghanistan, flanked on the left by Lesotho and on the right by Kenya. Within those flags are symbols of hope, peace, and freedom challenging the internal conflict(s) faced by Afghanistan today. The underlying meaning here exists within the tribal history of these nations.
  • Although not encompassing all the world’s religions, the next three flags above, Vatican City, Saudi Arabia, and Israel (left to right), are a symbolic challenge to transcend the politics of religion and find a common spiritual ground.
  • Above these the olive branches of Cyprus symbolize peace and hope.
  • At the top, the tree of Norfolk Island’s roots reach into the white of Cyprus representing peace as the soil from which new life may grow.
  • Above the United States flag is Ireland and below is Italy, representing the designer’s multicultural heritage.
  • To the left of the U.S. is China, symbolizing the opposing tensions of economic and military power in the world.
  • Opposite each other center left and right of the Earth image, you find the U.S. and Russia; symbolically representing the historic impact of The Cold War and its shaping of the current geo-political landscape. Here also the ongoing tension of these two superpowers whose collective actions still have major impact on the planet as a whole.
  • To the right of Russia is Swaziland, whose blue band represents peace and stability representing Russia’s movement toward freedom and democracy.
  • Above Russia is Nicaragua, whose blue and white pattern works visually to tie in with the blue and white of Russia.
  • The four corners of the earth are represented by Sweden on the top left, Nepal on the top right, Tuvalu the bottom left, and Malaysia on the bottom right. Each country is in a relative opposite location of the planet from each other.

Additionally the flag itself has many design elements formed by various geometric patterns and color placed together. If you look closely you can see many arrows showing left to right created by two flags next to each other. Also if you look for the flag of France you can see many blocks of color, blue and red, essentially blurring the boundaries between countries. This concept is repeated just below and to the left where the flag of Vietnam blends together with the flags of Guinea and Chad. This can also be found throughout the design, (look for the Seychelles and surrounding flags to find the artistic design elements there). If you notice the two flags at center just below the image of the earth you can see the circle elements used by Japan and Bangladesh. Below these in the center is the flag of Laos adding to the symmetry.

It is difficult to see the many artistic design elements and balance of images working together within the flag without taking a closer look. How telling that the very complexity of design within the World Flag reflects our world.

The design of the World Flag mirrors the essence of our shared planet; A diverse landscape of  language, art, music, politics, and religion. By taking a closer look at each other through sharing and learning, we can help make the world a better place, together.

The World Flag; Teaching Unity – Sharing Diversity