As Eddie Izzard showed in one of his typically entertaining stand-up routines, flags were crucial when it came to claiming territories. The mark of British colonialism still sits in the top left hand corner of the New Zealand flag that was first flown in 1902, but not everyone wants it to stay that way, including John Key, so, as part of a $27.5 million two-year project, the government has launched the first public phase of a campaign that aims to get Kiwis engaged in the process of deciding whether we need a new one. PLUS: some of the ideas suggested so far and lessons from vexillology.
A 12 person flag consideration panel was announced in March and it is chaired by by former deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Canterbury Emeritus Professor John Burrows. Writer and reviewer Kate de Goldi of Wellington is deputy chair and other prominent names include Saatchi & Saatchi's chief executive Nicky Bell, MediaWorks board member Julie Christie, Xero's Rod Drury and Beatrice Faumuina.
"What we're trying to do is find out how people see New Zealand," says Burrows. "What do they stand for? What's really special about New Zealand to you? Those key themes will help us choose the designs."
Clemenger BBDO won the business in a pitch and the TV ad features a range of suitably ethnically diverse New Zealanders (an issue covered in satirical fashion in the Agency web-series). The campaign has also extended into outdoor, digital and social (Burrows was unsure how much of the $27.5 million is dedicated to campaign spend, but we have asked for confirmation). It is also running a nationwide roadshow to encourage New Zealanders to share what they stand for. And, in a nice bit of patriotic/narcissistic incentivisation, those who engage online can have their name etched on the nation’s flagpole, which will fly the new (or old) flag in Wellington. So far, he says over 1,000 people have done so.
New Zealanders have also been invited to send in designs or ideas regarding a possible alternative flag and, five days in to the campaign, there are already 250 (of varying quality). Four designs will be shortlisted by the panel for the first postal referendum, which will be held this year using a preferential voting system. The winning design from that will then face off against the current New Zealand flag in a second binding referendum to be held next year.
That's the intended process, but the parliamentary select committee currently underway could mean that some changes will be made to the bill before it goes through legislation in July. Some have questioned the methodology (specifically the fact that the yes or no question 'do you want a new flag?' isn't being asked first) and others are questioning the cost. Most of the budget is for two postal referendums ($17.3m) and public consultation ($6.7m). And if a new flag is chosen, it is estimated it will cost $2.3 million to replace them all.
But as the government explains: "To have a process which is legitimate, and for the outcome to endure, it is important to do it properly. Our current flag has served us for over a century, and it is possible that a new flag would serve us for another century or longer."
Burrows has been impressed with the number and quality of the submissions so far and while he says it's too early to tell whether the prevailing mood about the flag referendum is positive or negative, he believes that fact the the video detailing the history of the current flag has been watched over 40,000 times is a good indication that people are engaged with the issue. And there is also plenty of time, he says, with submissions closing in by mid July and the final referendum is scheduled for next year.
He didn't want to pick a favourite design, but when asked if there are any other examples of good flag changes from around the world, he points to Canada, which changed to the maple leaf design in the '60s and is "now one of the world's most accessible flags", and South Africa, which was the result of a constitutional change and brought in elements of the ANC and The Union Jack. Both were examples of Commonwealth nations stepping away from the Mother Country and while many believe we aren't closely attached anymore and need to get rid of the outdated Union Jack, the excitement over the royal baby and Prince Harry's visit seems to show otherwise.
- Check out some of the public submissions here, Otis Frizzell's suggestions here and Lyndon Hood's very funny suggestions here.
- Check the FAQs here.
Much of the commentary on social media has related to the fact that there are more pressing issues to spend that amount of money on, or that this is a distraction. And some designers are also aggrieved—as they were after the crowd-sourced Auckland Council logo creation process—because they feel the discipline is being devalued by opening the process up to everyone. Some have also raised concerns that there are no visual artists represented. Burrows says the panel would be happy to take a good idea that isn't drawn well and hire a design firm to whip it into shape. He also said design companies are free to enter their own designs, although he confirmed that the winning design won't receive any compensation, just the honour of having their design being chosen (maybe just try and sneak your name down in the right-hand corner).
Burrows says the government could've gone through parliament and said 'this is what we're going to do', but he says opening up the decision for debate is part of a true democratic process. The government was very clear about getting the public to vote on it, he says, and letting the public choose a flag is something he believes has never been done before around the world.
So does the crowd have wisdom? Not all the time. Paul Catmur doesn't think this approach will work. Apple's Steve Jobs famously avoided research because people didn't know what they wanted until he made it for them. And as Metro's editor Simon Wilson wrote recently about the Michael Parekowhai sculpture on the Auckland Waterfront, "we, the public, are not good at firing up our imaginations. We like what we know. We see things as they are, and not as they might be. It’s one of the reasons we value artists in the first place: in theory at least, they are more likely than the rest of us to be able to imagine how good something completely new will be."
Roman Mars, host of the brilliant 99% Invisible podcast, recently discussed the concept of flag design and how it doesn't generally gel with bureaucracy. So for all those seeking flag glory, it's worth remembering these rules.
Here’s a trick: if you want to design a kickass flag, start by drawing a one-by-one-and-a half inch rectangle on a piece of paper.
A design at these dimensions held 15 inches from your eye looks about the same as a three-by-five foot flag on a flagpole a hundred feet away.
Your design has to work within that tiny rectangle, because unlike other designed objects, a flag is usually seen at a distance. It is also often in motion and partially obscured ...
1. Keep it simple
2. Use meaningful symbolism
3. Use two to three basic colors
4. No lettering or seals of any kind.
5. Be distinctive
And a StopPress employee who has been severely reprimanded for his poor taste in TV pointed us to this flag-based series on Big Bang Theory.