Second Drafts Of History: Time to choose a flag

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Report by NewsroomPlus.com

Contributed by Stephen Olsen – see also LinkedIn Pulse

Five years ago, in 2010, I wrote a short article for a now defunct magazine called ProDesign. The topic was the design of the New Zealand flag, and the title of the published article was ‘First Drafts’. 

With the moves to institute a flag change currently being run as a glossy  “engaging with government” exercise, it seemed time to dust that article off and give it a simple cut & paste reprint, below, at the end of my first proper post on LinkedIn.

The impetus for ‘First Drafts’ was reading a piece in the Sunday Star-Times in which Sean McGarry, the then president of DINZ (the Designers Institute of New Zealand), was featured injecting a very abstract design as part of the languishing ‘flag debate’.

Before I renew contact with Sean to see if he still has a copy of his draft design, I do recall something that was visually reminiscent of a Split Enz album cover!

Prodesign editor Michael Barrett responded well to the idea of an article back in 2010, and under Sean’s leadership of DINZ it dovetailed neatly with an additional call to members of DINZ to engage on the challenge of flag design generally.

The next stop in my research was a straight line to flag advocate extraordinaire Lloyd Morrison – a name that would, you’d think, have been mentioned frequently as a touchstone for the potential flag-changing path that the country is now on.

Lloyd – who sadly passed away in 2012 at just 54 years old – had amassed a string of remarkable business achievements in his life, and supported many initiatives – as noted in a tribute from NZEdge.com producer Brian Sweeney.

Yet one of the most elusive campaigns Morrison devoted his relentless energies to was not about building a business, it was about changing the flag.

In 2010 his battle with cancer was taking a toll, and yet I’ll always remember he still made time for an interview for ProDesign, and furthermore for a ragtag meeting with McGarry, myself, Scoop’s Alastair Thompson and PR man Gerry Morris to entertain ideas for re-igniting that elusive campaign.

Fast forwarding to 2015

It’s interesting now to see Gareth Morgan, and the Morgan Foundation, enter the fray. And interesting to contrast Morgan’s Six Dumbest Objections to Changing Our Flag with Morrison’s Eight Reasons For A New New Zealand Flag

Morrison – reasons to change:

  1. A flag is meant to be flown
  2. A flag needs to be instantly recognisable
  3. A flag is a brand
  4. A flag needs to connect emotionally
  5. A flag should represent great design
  6. A new flag can honour our past
  7. A new flag should say one thing
  8. The times they are a changin’

Morgan – dumb reasons not to change:

  1. You should never change your flag
  2. Our soldiers died for the flag
  3. We are all from Britain
  4. I like it
  5. Waste of money
  6. Flags don’t matter, do something important

One way that DINZ has been taking part this year is through a video, educatively describing how 5 principles of design can be applied to flags. Unfortunately, and somewhat like the Flag Consideration Panel roadshow, the views racked up on Youtube are an unstellar 131, and amazingly the window of time before ‘design sourcing’ shuts is 16 July.

Listen up people, that’s just half-a-month left to:

  • ahem, share what you ‘stand for’ (quick it entitles to you have your name included on a national flagpole!)
  • hold or be part of a discussion in your community (there is a kit)
  • get your school involved (there is a kit for that too)
  • or meet the officially selected panel on their national road show, with just six stops left before it finishes up at Te Tii Waitangi Marae on Sunday 5 July.

And all happening 175 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Between 17 July and 19 November the 12-member Flag Consideration Panel (or should that be a jury?) will be trimming designs down so that there are just four alternatives to flag preferences on in Referendum #1 between 20 November and 11 December this year.

Referendum #2, also binding, will be run up that magical mystery flagpole from 3-24 March 2016, and the question will be how does the new ‘chosen one’ fly next to the old ruling flag? Which one will be the best bet to take a flutter on?

Not feeling inspired?

Michael Smythe at Design Assembly has written a nifty overview of what’s likely to unfold, using that well-worn wedding saying as the parameters for what we should expect to see emerge, namely: Something old; Something blue; Something borrowed; Something new.

Arch-comparator Australia may not yet be biting this bullet, but it’s bound to happen there too and ideas have certainly been kicked around for years, like this example included in a very good overview of Australian graphic design by Canadian Robert L. Peters in 2007.

Coincidentally with New Zealand, Fiji has been on the move to a new flag this year as reported by Fijian journalist Richard F. Naidu for NewsRoom_Plus, and will definitely be first past the post by a long margin.

In Fiji feedback is due to end this Wednesday, July the 1st, when designs will be submitted to Cabinet for consideration and a vote in the Fijian Parliament will decide the new Fijian flag in time for the 45th celebration of independence on October the 10th.

Reports out of the newly democratised nation relayed by Radio New Zealand have been that the Fijian public have been alienated by the process. Of the 23 final entries, nine feature a triangle emerging horizontally from the left, while five feature an identical wave and sail design, four have an identical boat on a straight line, and four others feature yellow stars or a sun. But after 1000-plus entries that went in, it was reported that designs were a matter of ‘design by committee‘.

New Zealand’s own provocative ‘committee of one’, Gareth Morgan, has been seeking to spice up the design process here with a newly announced competition, especially calling on designs that best acknowledge the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi, saying he’s concerned a lot of entries don’t represent Maori fairly enough.

In good Morgan fashion there’s a prize too of $20,000, and entries close on Monday 13 July – details at designmyflag.nz and it’s well worth checking the latest entries (no jokes there!), which will in fact go before not just Morgan, but designers Mark Pennington (head designer Formway), Catherine Griffiths (designer and typographer) and Desna Whaanga-Schollum (Nga Aho co-chair) to help choose a winner to put into the mix by 16 July.

Off the sidelines for one day

Having revisited all of the above, I have been motivated today to think of what I would possibly submit as a flag design if a flag designer I could be, just for one day. Extra motivation was that during the week I was interviewed by Kristen Paterson, Station Manager at Wellington Access Radio about my views as a ‘working journalist’ on what’s wrong with journalism. Part of my take on that was that it is a temptation or trap as a journalist to be forever an elevated spectator or commentator, and seldom a participant.

For today I got a sudden idea for a flag from heading up Wellington’s Kelburn Parade and being captivated by the blue sky – of late, a rare and beautiful climactic spectacle – and the way that two lofty cranes were positioned, thus:

A little bit of photoshopping later and I ended up with this:

Kind of what I had in mind, but what could I add? This?:

Yeah, NAH : )

Then I was reminded of that constant image, of our two main islands of Te Ika a Maui and Te Wai Pounamu; pervasively, potently and ever-presently present. Those two fingers to the world, one called north and one called south – so often left off the edge of the map. Wouldn’t or couldn’t that be a compelling element of ‘our flag’?

Then with recent satellite imagery of our long snow-covered land in mind, and a big nod to a matariki item at the Big Idea, I came up with this second draft effort of a woven motif showing off Aotearoa New Zealand in summer (yet to be submitted!)

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Looking back 

PRO/DESIGN MAGAZINE – February/March 2010

FIRST DRAFTS – pdf copy here

Brief: In a landscape format, output to an A4 or A3 sheet of paper a simple, distinctive design that communicates a compelling point of difference and edge for ‘brand New Zealand’. Must be able to be flown on a flagpole. Also known as a flag.

Deadline: Some time this decade. The sooner the better.

The design community should take the lead and provide the solution to calls for a new New Zealand flag, according to Designers Institute of New Zealand (DINZ) president Sean McGarry.

Having now entered the ‘flag debate’ through a feature in the Sunday Star-Times, Sean is convinced that the flag can only be made better by design, and that the design community.

“I engaged on this not as an abstract exercise, but because it represents the best kind of challenge, namely how do you solve a problem like the NZ flag?” McGarry says. “The essence is that we’re a different nation now, in a different millennia. This is our logo to the world and we’ll only get one chance to make this change.”

Lloyd Morrison, the passionate businessman who launched the NZFlag.com campaign back in 2004, is 100% behind the principle that focusing NZ’s best design minds on this problem could be just what’s needed to get a result.

“The push for a referendum on NZFlag.com six years ago failed – mainly because we underestimated the huge effort required to communicate the aims, objectives and benefits of the campaign. The underlying issues haven’t changed: New Zealanders are still not emotionally connected to their flag, and are still dissatisfied with its design and with what it represents”.

Morrison is keeping the issue alive at NZFlag.com and on a Facebook page (New Zealand Flag) but strongly believes the leadership this time around should pass to a body like DINZ.

Some things are changing. The Tino Rangatiratanga flag is now getting its due – flying on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and other public sites for Waitangi Day this year. And next to rumblings about becoming a Republic made during bonnie Prince William’s visit in January, were vox pop comments such as “Let’s change our flag first and see how we feel after that”.

For Morrison the way forward is to have a well-staged, publicly open process – probably leading to a panel that could possibly commission and select designs, through to public agreement on one final contender to go up against the reigning flag. “That way it’s one versus one,” he says.

The same three questions he employs to challenge current support for what we have, could well be an acid test for the final selection, namely: What do you like about it?, Specifically what parts about it? And a handy clincher: What makes it different from the Australian flag?

In amongst its high profile endorsers – many of them sports people, including All Black legends Colin Meads and Graham Mourie – the earlier 2004 campaign certainly captured some designer input from the likes of Peter Haythornthwaite, Donna Cross, Jeffy James, Turi Park, Cameron Sanders and Michael Smythe, with Dick Frizzell commenting “I can’t imagine why anybody WOULDN’T want a new flag!! ”

Interestingly, the Returned Services Association said it would back changing New Zealand’s flag as long as a majority of voters support a change in a referendum. It’s been noted that if a new flag was chosen, the likelihood is the old flag and its history would not be forgotten and that it would be flown for ceremonial purposes.

Morrison says that NZFlag.com put forward a silver fern design, one of our best known national visual icons, as a prompt for discussion and not as a proprietary option – and adds that he has no one preference from new designs that emerged in 2004 or from existing contenders. For instance, like muso Barnarby Weir, he is a fan of the well-known Friedensreich Hundertwasser design for a New Zealand flag.

Canada offers direct parallels of a country that shifted its flag from what Otago academic Josh Barton has categorized as “Colonial nonsense” to a flag that is instantly recognizable.

Thanks to political leadership there – back in 1964 would you believe – the Canadian parliament created a special flag committee and tasked it with finding a flag design in only six weeks. Exactly 35 meetings later the maple leaf flag was born – winning out over 389 rivals that contained beavers and 359 with fleur-de-lis. Go Canada!

Will Australia beat us to the flagpole with a new flag? What will it take for change to happen here? Are you up for it? ProDesign certainly is. Alongside DINZ and NZFlag.com we will be running some suggestions on flag design on the ProDesign blog (www.prodesign.co.nz) Until then visit the links below for hints on flag design and examples of designs that arose during the debate stimulated by NZFlag.com

Links:

ENDS

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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