Studio Alexander’s geometric effort wins Gareth Morgan’s flag comp

Over 9000 designs were submitted online as part of the government’s $27 million flag consideration campaign (and many of them were ‘avin’ a laff). But businessman and philanthropist Gareth Morgan, who is a big proponent of changing the flag—”to bury this artefact that tells a lie and is an insult to Maoridom”—didn’t feel the brief was adequate, didn’t feel people understood the history of the existing flag and didn’t feel the Treaty of Waitangi was being placed at the core of the process. So he decided to stump up $20k for an alternative competition and incentivise designers to come up with something that would tell the story of New Zealand. And Auckland design agency Studio Alexander beat out around 1000 entries for the prize with ‘Wā kāinga / Home’. 

Like the Auckland Council’s crowd-sourced logo competition a few years back, some design proponents felt the discipline was being devalued by the crowd-sourced submission process and the fact that no compensation was to be given to those who created the designs that went on to be chosen for the upcoming referendum. There were also some doubts about the design credentials of the judges on the official panel. 

“Our imagination was captured by the Morgan Foundation’s professional approach,” says Studio Alexander principal Grant Alexander in a release. “A good brief, design professionals judging and an appropriate financial reward. Our design team, Alice Murray, Thomas Lawlor, Jared McDowell and I have worked together successfully on other award winning projects, so I felt confident about having a go at the flag.” 

In a post explaining the rationale for the competition and the reasons this design won, Morgan said it brings the different parts of New Zealand society together, similar to the South African flag. The three coloured triangles symbolise Maori (red) who invited their Treaty partners to share the land, the heritage of British settlers (blue), and our modern multicultural society (black). These three influences are brought together by the white space, which is also reminiscent of the Maihi (the diagonal bargeboards) on the front of a Maori meeting house.

To choose the winner Morgan enlisted the help of a team of designers Mark Pennington, (head designer Formway), Catherine Griffiths (designer and typographer) and Desna Whaanga-Schollum (Nga Aho co-chair). The judges focused on the flag design, while Morgan was more interested in the story behind the flag. And Studio Alexander’s effort was the one design they could agree told a strong story and adhered to the principles of good flag design, something host of the 99% Invisible podcast Roman Mars discussed in an entertaining TED Talk. 

As the judges said: “A thoughtful, well-executed submission displaying pure graphic form, this design reached the judge’s second-level shortlist, before being a late inclusion in the final selection. The symmetry of the composition conveys a formal sense of place and calm, however, there was a reservation that this tended to an overly cerebral geometric, rather than an emotional force which would engender strong attachment and feelings. In one breath this design is identifiably Aotearoa New Zealand, in another it just holds back from entering new territory expressive of inherent explorative and innovative characteristics of New Zealanders.” 

  • Check out the finalists named by the judges here

Morgan said Studio Alexander’s effort won because it “meets both criteria or substance as well as flag design requirements. In other words it was the only flag that was on my short list as well as that of the judges.”

Each entry was put forward as a public submission and the winning entry will now be put forward as Morgan’s submission. But there’s no guarantee the consideration panel will choose it as one of the four that are scheduled to be voted on in November. 

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