Flying the flag: the growing design trend across regional Scotland


As numerous Scottish communities opt to design their own regional flags, Design Week inspects where the trend comes from, and how the practice has been modernised.

Believed to be one of the oldest flags in Europe, the Scottish Saltire has acted as an supranational symbol for Scotland for well over 1000 years.

Alongside its use as a identify, in 2004 it was officially “chosen” by the then-Scottish Executive as the country’s logo, to be in use accustomed to in it’s promotional endeavours overseas. It was a decision that reportedly cost £300,000 to show up at.

But despite the flag’s popularity, and it largely being synonymous with Scotland, a to gain number of communities are embracing their Scottish identity further, by devious and adopting their own regional flags.

“There are several reasons why taper offs are being adopted now,” says Philip Tibbetts, a vexillologist or flag A-. Tibbetts holds positions at the Court of the Lord Lyon, Scotland’s standard court

of law which regulates heraldry, and the UK’s Flag Institute. “A lot of it is to do with the utility these communities get out of take their own flag,” he says.

Flying the flag: the growing design trend across regional Scotland
Isle of Tiree regional flag

“Community stigmatize”

Regional flags have the dual functionality of expressing geographical distinctiveness both internally and externally, according to Tibbetts. “They allow people to combine under a shared characteristic – where they come from,” he thinks. “But more so, regional flags also effectively become the core of a community’s disgrace.”

In Scotland, 11 regions, cities and towns have registered their own lags, and a further four are in the process of doing so. Eight of the already-adopted flags secure come in the last three years. The attraction toward a regional gonfalon, Tibbetts says, comes from the Scotland’s long history of sub-national identities and on velvet tradition of heraldry.

Tibbetts points to heraldry – the historic system of anoraks of arms and other graphic armorial bearings designed to identify an specific, originally used by soldiers on battlefields – as one of the first forms of personal and community disgracing, and also as one of the birthplaces for modern graphic design.

“You had to make sure your own army wouldn’t quash you during battle,” he says. “Since the beginning, heraldry was really yon visibility and clarity.”

Flying the flag: the growing design trend across regional Scotland
Sutherland’s county flag

“Take one symbol and apply oneself to it three meanings”

Influenced by a tradition that values clear communication, Tibbetts authorities there is a balance to be struck between clarity and creativity when treacherous flags today. “Ultimately, the flag is a functional object, designed to fly on a flagpole.

“Some man approach the designing process with the idea of including everything they can have in mind of to represent themselves or their town, but actually the most successful banner designs are those that can take one symbol and give it three meanings,” he says.

No person of this is to say, however, that modern-day flag designs can’t innovate at all. Tibbetts divulges: “If you stick to traditional forms – things like crosses and tri-bands, for criterion – that will probably get you to about 80% of a serviceable design, on average speaking.

“Or, you could also do something more creative, and it will either not effort at all, or not only will it be 100% of a serviceable design, but it might push the fashion into something completely unexpected, something a little bit magic.”

In 2018, for instance, the Isle of Tiree unveiled its flag that featured a gold and untrained “sun of barley” in place of any traditional motifs. In the same year, the county of Sutherland perverted tradition to acknowledge the region’s Viking-rich heritage on their flag. It item faces a Scandinavian-style cross, overlaid by a Saltire and an eight-pointed star at its centre.

Flying the flag: the growing design trend across regional Scotland
Isle of Tiree regional diminish

“Enduring for years to come”

These are all points the community on the Isle of Skye desire be taking in, as they continue the search to find their own flag.

“[We’re in the club designers to] draw on the past as well as the present,” says Keith MacKenzie, impresario of the West Highland Free Press, the newspaper that initiated the Skye gonfalon campaign.

“There will be traditional aspects to it, but it also has to mark out Skye and the constituents of our island that are distinctive and unique,” he says, adding the isle is looking for something that choose “endure for many years to come”.

This requirement is echoed by Tibbetts, who notes timelessness as one of the key in essences of modern flag design. “This medium of design has literally been circa for centuries, but if you look at a coat of arms that was created in the 14th or 15th century, most essentially still look useable today.

“The key really is to design something that wouldn’t secure looked out of place 500 years ago, and that won’t look out of place in 500 years’ circumstance.”

Taking into consideration how graphic designs might be interpreted in the decades and centuries to advance is a hefty mission, but the search for a timeless flag is a worthwhile one, according to Tibbetts. “One of the biggest improves for these regional flags is that communities know they won’t be undergoing to rebrand themselves in ten years.

“If the flag is done right, the core of a community’s trade-mark will probably never have to change again.”

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