Exploring the Color Theory of Flags

What is color theory?

Color theory is an important part of a designer’s process. You need it to be able to create an eye-catching and interesting end product. We use the color wheel as a guide to help connect the colors that are being used. For example, the wheel is split up into three categories; complementary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors. Those categories are used to determine which colors look best and where. This tactic is used everywhere in design; every logo, advertisement, or website you see has been carefully color balanced so that the design is optimized for the viewer’s eye. Flags are another extraordinary example of designs that use color theory to emphasize the different elements showcased within the design.  

A look into color psychology 

Color psychology ties into color theory in a very important way. It aids the brain in connecting meanings and feelings to the colors seen by the eye. Warmer colors are associated with passionate emotions such as love and anger. Cooler colors are associated with calmer emotions such as serenity and sadness. When you pair this psychology with color theory, you can get a deeper meaning behind a design that may not be visible to the naked eye. For example, we associate love with Valentine’s Day. Still, when you look deeper into the rich reds and magentas used within designs, you can understand passion, warmth, and devotion. Color psychology plays a very important role in flag design, as it aids to the deeper meaning behind the design choices. 

Chicago Flag

The Chicago flag is a well-known flag for folks who live in Illinois. It has a rich history behind the design. The current flag was created by Wallace Rice, though his original 1915 design had two fewer stars than the current four. The flag is made up of the colors blue, white, and red. Not to be confused with the American flag, the colors chosen by Rice have very specific meanings tied to the city of Chicago. 

The three white stripes represent the north, west, and south sides of the city, and they are divided by two blue stripes, which represent the bodies of water that pepper the city. The blue stripe between the north and west sides represents Lake Michigan and the northern side of the Chicago River, while the blue stripe in between the west and south sides represents the southern portion of the Chicago River. The four six-pointed stars in the center of the flag represent the core moments of Chicago’s history. The first star represents the Chicago Fire (1871), which was a crucial moment at the beginning of Chicago’s success as a city; the second star represents the World Columbian Exposition (1893); the third star represents the Century of Progress Exposition (1933), and the fourth and final star represents Fort Dearborn (1939) which is another turning point in Chicago’s history. The placement of all of these elements work together to create a minimalist map of Chicago while also showcasing the important events of the city. 

The flag now has an extreme amount of emphasis over the culture of the city, with people proudly flying the flag all throughout as if the flags themselves were markers on a map that help people navigate through important monuments of the city. The flag makes Chicago unique; it has been unchanged since the fourth star was added even though there have been campaigns to add a fifth star. Those campaigns have been shut down because the four stars are what represents Chicago, that is what makes Chicago and it’s flag unique. 

Image from Britannica

Color theory over the rainbow

It is no surprise that the colorful month of June incorporates the use of color theory. Pride month is a very important month for the LGBTQ+ community, and these identities’ flags each have important meanings embedded in the colors that are used. It is important to note, that the classic rainbow flag does not follow standard flag code, which helps to aid the fact that these flags are unique and special. 

The current rainbow flag that we see today was created by Dan Quasar, a Philadelphia resident. This flag is called the Progress Pride Flag and the colors black, brown, white, pink, and blue have been added to symbolize the inclusivity of gender and skin color. The original colors of the pride flag are still present; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. These colors stand for life, healing, sunlight, nature, serenity, and spirit respectively. Color theory and color psychology play a very important role in the order of these colors which is what makes it a good design, the meanings are clear and easy to identify. The flag itself is well known, and even changing the design doesn’t hinder the power and meaning behind it. 


Flags are noticeably symbolic, and in history have been used to place emphasis on important movements. But when you really dive into the history of the design choices behind historical flags such as the Chicago flag and the Pride flag, you can truly understand why those specific colors and motifs were chosen. Then with the knowledge of color theory and psychology those choices become evident. 






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