This post indicates that using flags to represent languages is probably a bad idea: http://www.456bereastreet.com/archive/200604/indicating_language_choice_flags_text_both_neither/

What about using flags to represent countries? Are there any countries whose residents will be upset about if you use a particular flag to represent it?

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    According to flag<->language association - I agree it may be troublesome for some countries/flags. From my experience with sites shown in foreign language - the flag is the best to spot how to switch language (to English usually). Commented May 2, 2012 at 7:58
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    How many visitors do you expect from the controversial countries? How many visitors do you expect to know the flag of their own country?
    – Barfieldmv
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 11:02
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    Using the English Flag to signify 'English Language' would be controversial.
    – PhillipW
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 12:59
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    If the Olympic games and the World Cup (for example) can use flags to represent countries, so can UIs.
    – Rahul
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 14:09
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    Canada has two national languages English & French, but only one flag. It sounds like a bad idea. Commented May 3, 2012 at 19:42

4 Answers 4


Generally, the official flag is an accepted representation of the country (not language as OP mentions) because each country has only 1 current civilian flag. However, there could also be separate flags for the navy, for the head of state, the military, and other special purposes. The official flag shouldn't create any controversies or misunderstandings.

That being said, I can think of one country in the world where the official flag isn't accepted by a significant minority of population (up to at least 25%) for political reasons. In my native Belarus, many people consider the results of the 1995 referendum, which brought back the Soviet-era coat of arms and flag, to be fraudulent/invalid/unconstitutional. Yet, this political disagreement isn't active or directed at third parties so no front-end designer or developer shouldn't worry about random people demanding to change the flag. It mostly expressed in personal actions, such as displaying the old flag or denying to salute the new one.

  • There are probably a bunch of flags that cause sensitivity. There was a "Flags of Australia" live wallpaper for Android promoted on Australia day and it lacked the Aboriginal flag, which was completely unacceptable and got a lot of negative feedback because of that. Commented May 7, 2012 at 5:44
  • @Tyriar: The conflict was over a special flag not the national flag.
    – dnbrv
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 21:56
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    Agree with this answer, as long as you can easily update your UI if flags change.
    – Kramii
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 13:05

Flags for language is a no-no. Flags for countries should be OK, but you have to get onto a particular side in terms of politically disputed areas. What about a Palestinian flag or a Jewish one for disputed parts of Israel? The wrong one there gets people killed.

The return question is, why do you want to define a persons country? Is it their selection - in which case flags might work - or are you doing this for postal address purposes - which will prove a challenge in disputed areas.

Of course some disputed areas you might not be interested in, but the Tibet/China conflict has been going on for years, and there is no reason for not working with the Tibetans. Just don't put them into China.

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    A small correction, it should be Israeli flag vs PLO flag vs Hamas flag in your example. However, your example is relevant to representing territories (e.g. specific cities), not representing countries as countries. Commented May 2, 2012 at 13:18
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    Thank you. I think you have jsut demonstrated the core problem! Commented May 2, 2012 at 13:58
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    The conversation is about identifying whole countries not just contested territory. There's no country in the world with significant controversy surrounding its national flag.
    – dnbrv
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 13:59
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    I think you will find that the Tibetan flag ( corrected in my answer from Nepal ) is highly controversial. Commented May 2, 2012 at 14:02
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    I thinks that the name of the country goes together with its flag. E.g. If refer to the country Tibet then you use its flag, if you refer to the autonomous region in PRC, then you use PRC's flag of the region. If your UI has a alphabetic list of countries that includes Tibet, you probably already made your decision. Commented May 2, 2012 at 18:19

Using the formal flags to represent countries shouldn't be controversial,
however, it may not be a good UX if you use flags alone.


  • How will you sort them?
  • How will color blind users recognize them?
  • 1
    • How will blind users recognize them ? Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 16:50
  • @NicolasBarbulesco read the bold text in the answer. Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 22:55
  • @ Danny — What ? Blind people will have a problem distinguishing flags, no ? Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 23:01
  • How do you sort them by name? In what language?
    – André
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 8:55
  • @NicolasBarbulesco: his two examples aren't meant to be exhaustive. Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 15:59

Controversies exist, but they stem more from the country than from its flag. That said, choosing the flag can itself can be controversial too.

Among a list of countries, if you list Israel, with its flag — or this one ? :-) —, this is controversial.

Displaying the flag of Palestine can be controversial too. We have an example of that here.

The flag of Tibet has been outlawed by China. In Tibet, if you own this flag, the Chinese authorities put you in jail.

According to @Dnbrv, there is a little controversy around the flag of Belarus.

Regime change in a country may need particular attention, we can see it these days. A new flag is chosen, and the old flag becomes associated with the old regime, so showing the old flag can shock and be dangerous.

Thus, Zaire has changed flag several times since its independence.

Rwanda has a new flag, and Rwanda's old flag is now associated with the regime of the genocide.

More recently, Libya abandoned the flag which was the easiest flag to draw in the world, and chose its new flag, with the star and crescent.

  • flags.net doesn't seem to allow direct links to flags. The last flag you mention results in an error image. Could you update your links please?
    – André
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 8:54

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