Down to the flagpole

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Report by NewsroomPlus.com – Contributed by Stephen Olsen

By Friday this week, time will have been called on the first phase of a process for deciding on a new New Zealand flag – or not.
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To many observers this has been a muddled process, where the process itself and the cost of the referenda in particular, has risked obscuring what matters most: the actual flag design.
As Lisa Owen put it on TV3’s The Nation at the weekend, choosing a new flag hasn’t exactly got off to a flying start. And when she questioned Flag Consideration Panel chair John Burrows on his sense of “a mood for change in all of this”, the best he could respond with was: “It’s hard to tell”.
It was noteworthy last week to see some (belated) criticism coming from within the design profession, from Fraser Gardyne – a past president and Fellow of the Designer’s Institute of New Zealand (DINZ).
As we recalled here at NewsRoom_Plus in June, an almost-dying-wish of flag change proponent Lloyd Morrison had been for a body like DINZ to take the lead on bringing options to the public. At minimum there would have been a strong designer presence on any panel that was formed – the Flag Consideration Panel has none – and with the added possibility that the sourcing of designs be put through a commissioning phase.
What we’ve had instead might be described as a ‘free for all’.
Peeled back Fraser’s chief criticism was that no allowance for the educative benefits that a measured approach to “shaping a visual identity for New Zealand” could deliver.
Off his own bat, Fraser decided to put out a media release out of a mixture of frustration with a process he saw as having been “politically hijacked”, and a panel formed more around “political expediency than professional design expertise”. See the full release below.
Whereas the ‘free for all’ had been giving the impression of inviting comment and inclusion, to Fraser’s mind it was just bringing confusion to the design challenge and “forgetting about what we want to achieve”.
To end up with a mishmash of ideas and no great public buy-in by the end of this week would be one thing, but to end up on 20 November with four wishy-washy design alternatives (in some form of final design) being put forward to vote on would be “worse”.
It’s easy to agree with Fraser that there has been a gigantic lost opportunity in not having a more integrated involvement of professional designers to closely support, develop and communicate the design end of those alternatives. And good, again, to see the Morgan Foundation doing something to, as general manager Geoff Simmons told Lisa Owen, “flush out some genuine designers”.
John Burrows is right that the next stage of narrowing down designs is a “huge undertaking” – especially if, in his own estimation, 5000 of the 6000 ‘entries’ received by the Flag Consideration Panel are of a “very high quality”.
One of the questions that the next stage of consideration begs is just how much involvement from the likes of DINZ has been factored in, and how much may or may not be surfaced from behind closed doors between 17 July and 19 November – a not inconsiderable 18 week period.
The Youtube clip provided by DINZ and the Flag Consideration Panel spelt out five core design principles: Simplicity; Colour; The Rule of Thirds; Symmetry/ Assymetry; Context.  We can expect this ruler to be run over flag contenders.
Given the vast array of what amount to variations on a theme there will need to be round after round of careful sifting. Things that casual designers might not have thought about much will need to be tested, such as whether the flag design works in grayscale – designer-speak for black and white.
Another test, in terms of context, will be whether proposed alternatives lend themselves to being redrawn and reinterpreted. What element might end up being used in facepaint at a sports event, for instance? Or does that matter? Ruling out pictograms, what compelling design might emerge that could also communicate some “meaningful symbolism in its purest form”?
Like Lisa Owen, I’m already concerned that the alternatives thrown up from shaking the tree from the additional Morgan Foundation exercise (which closes at midnight tonight)  all remain “quite conservative”. The limited gallery of colour variations and continued predominance of red, white and blue aren’t wildly encouraging.
If, as Fraser contends, we’ve got things backwards, what could be the best type of “rethink” to happen in the next 18 weeks?
Wouldn’t it be great for a start if the roundtable considerations that go on could be reasonably transparent and feature some progress updates?
By now the sets and subsets of alternatives – from twee kiwis to compelling korus, from Southern Cross stars to unfurled ferns – seem more than apparent.
The relative strictures and tensions required of this heraldic-type, nation-bearing symbol do tend to conspire against the truly imaginative, so as some compensation it might be necessary to at least have some inkling of a perceptive back story or an historic message or two, that can be articulated in relation to the four ‘chosen ones’ at the end of the selection.
Supposedly one criteria will be to arrive at an alternative that waves goodbye to overt Britishness, and to allow for a set of four designs that can still be open to improvement and iterations.
Fraser’s valid concerns about a waste of time and taxpayer money would obviously be compounded if for want of a mere colour change, or one more tweaky mix-and-match, or one more reductive design (taking something out) a design that might otherwise be a true contender falls by the wayside.
If this falters, the public fatigue that could result might mean it’s an opportunity that may not come our way again for many a year.
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Media release: 9 July 2015
Government approach to new flag design too political and unprofessional

A leading member of New Zealand’s graphic design community is calling for an urgent rethink on designing a new flag because the current process has been politically hijacked, does not have the buy-in of the public and will likely result in an outcome that nobody is happy with.

Past President and Fellow of the Designer’s Institute of New Zealand (DINZ), Fraser Gardyne, says the politicisation of the flag change process has not only ignored professional input from New Zealand’s visual communication experts, but it will also not have buy-in from a large portion of Kiwis.

“I can understand that Prime Minister John Key would be unhappy at having the Australian flag confused for our flag when he attends an overseas function, but the essence of any good ‘brand’ begins with the buy-in of all stakeholders,” says the former convenor of the graphics section of the NZ Best Awards and Pride in Print Awards judge.

“The first step, before design even begins, should be a public discussion to get people on side – even a vote on the issue – once the pros and cons to changing the flag have been well explained. Secondly, the design profession, whose business is visual communication, should be engaged.

“Right now the Flag Consideration Panel is more one of political expediency than professional design expertise. A committee decision – especially one this large – will likely only end with a mishmash of ideas, confusion and, without public buy-in, that’s going waste taxpayer money,” Mr Gardyne said.

Establishing a truly professional design process to create the national flag is the most important step, and it will be difficult to come up with something that is truly compelling when the majority of stakeholders (the public) believe the ‘new flag exercise’ is just an unnecessary expense.

“At this late stage, professional designers should be called in to help the panel sift through the thousands of submitted flag designs, and match up those that best visually communicate the core values expressed in ‘What we stand for’ feedback. That’s a daunting task for most people to get their heads around, but designers practice it every day.

“I think the problem with the changing of the flag is that it has been politically hijacked. The process that Government has set-up has an appearance of inviting comment and inclusion, but just brings confusion to the subject.

 “Designing a new flag is about shaping a visual identity for New Zealand that is distinctive, easily recognisable and that we would become proud of. It’s about articulating a message and a perception – it should communicate visually. It’s not about a pretty picture everybody likes, it’s about what we are trying to say about ourselves.”

Mr Gardyne said that the principles of good flag design include:

  • A restricted colour range
  • Simple graphic shapes that are distinctive
  • Easy to draw or reproduce (even by a 5-year-old) from memory

Successful designs like the Japanese and Canadian flags, are simple and strong and easily recognised by their national associations – the rising sun and the maple leaf.

“We’ve got things backwards and I am worried by what this might mean for our flag. We need something that is distinctive, that is uniquely ours, and something that we all want – not a political convenience,” he said.

ABOUT gardyneHOLTFraser Gardyne is the Creative Director of gardyneHOLT, a graphic design and branding agency located in central Auckland. The company specialises in branding design for export companies that can easily translate across national, cultural and language barriers. The agency also offers translation services and is a carboNZero certified company.

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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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