Photo / Newsworthy
Photo / Newsworthy

OPINIONPoliticsMarch 3, 2016

A creative director’s last lament for this whole sorry flag fiasco

Photo / Newsworthy
Photo / Newsworthy

Our impossibly torturous flag change process has left us with two terrible options. Design industry professional Simon Pound explains why he’s sticking with the status quo.

You know someone’s in real trouble when they have to call in their popular, tough mates to help out. So I feel sorry for John Key, having to get Richie and Dan to come in to try to save his flag project. And I don’t just mean that in a sneering start-to-an-opinion-piece kind of way. In fact, I really supported the goals that John Key set out in wanting to change the flag. It’s just his process is bombing, has been bombing for a long while, and should, mercifully, bomb for the last time when the final flag referendum results are returned at the end of this month.

As a branding/design/corporate communications professional I’m actually in favour of many of the things decent Kiwis find gross about this process. Stuff like trying to create a saleable brand for New Zealand, and taking this chance to use our flag as a marketing and storytelling space. I even support the use of a pretentious word like storytelling in that sentence.

But that’s as far as it goes. As an exercise, it’s only as good as the story. It’s not a good idea when the story we’re telling with our flag is that we’re a bunch of design numpties that ran a laughable process to come up with a terrible eyesore that’s unfit for purpose.



Because that’s the shape of it. The proposed alternative does not function as a flag, it’s simply not a finished design, and, most importantly, it hurts my eyes.

It isn’t just my eyes and John Key I feel sorry for, I feel sorry for Kyle Lockwood. It’s not his fault his designs dominated proceedings and are not really quite good enough. The issue here is with the process. He took part in what was pretty much a Denny’s colouring-in competition, and did very well. But that should have been a starting point for creating a great flag. It’s almost unbelievable that they went with it, as is, to be the new proposed flag for an actual country, but that’s only the start of what was wrong here. To see what could have been look at what Toby Morris did with it in five minutes, and then feel sad. Or maybe angry.

I outlined what a different, actually useful process might have been in this wee Facebook rant that went more bananas than anything else I’ve put up there with 1000 likes and 300 shares, and another big number of likes and comments on the shares for whatever that’s worth. That’s not very much at all, as Red Peak has shown us. Although, this rant did go further than the middle-class gang patch Red Peak urban liberals. People from outside the inner-suburbs media echo chamber were commenting favourably as well. It even appeared uncredited on reddit and wasn’t torn a new one.

Aside from good-naturedly and not-very-cleverly insulting a great proportion of the country in point number 7, my flag rant laid out a serious process that could have produced a useful flag or piece of design. As sad as it is that a good process wasn’t followed, it is heartening seeing how many people agreed that an actual design approach might be a good thing. If only the politicians and their advisors did as well.

It’s been a shimozzle from end to end. On the day the flag panel was announced I was on the RNZ panel worrying that there were no designers, artists, flag experts or young people on the panel. And it just got worse, with baffling decision after bizarre interview, though it was kind of nice when our country became an international laughing stock. We reveled in the attention. Even CNBC got in on the action, asking (and proving the mainly-true media rule that the answer to any question in a headline is no): Could a kiwi with laser eyes be on this nation’s next flag?

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More to be sorry for: my friends have been harangued with my unsolicited opinions on this. And so, this will be the last one. I’m going to be voting, reluctantly, to keep the current flag, and hope very much that we will get a chance to do this again, properly. Maybe as part of a grown-up attempt to set out a good Republic structure, that makes Aotearoa a name of the country and that includes people that have some actual experience about flags and design.

I hope then that some great stories are made and told and that we as a country can go to an educated vote with decent options. In the meantime, let’s try not to get too down on the waste of money and opportunity this fumbled legacy project has been by remembering it could be worse: the proposed alternative could actually get in. Please do remember to vote to retain the current flag.

Because all the people that like the alternate/Lockwood/ tea towel flag will be voting for it, so you must do your bit. And, really, no offence to anyone that does like the alternative for any reason. In fact, one last thing I am really sorry about is the way that the opinions of All Blacks and any others who do like the Lockwood flag have been treated so rudely. Everyone’s entitled to put their bit in: the people that love it, and the people that don’t. But in design, some opinions do matter more than others: like those of the people that will be using a new design the most/longest.

It’s interesting then that the support for change is weakest amongst the under 30s: the people that need to live with this, and also the people with the best-functioning eyes :)

Here is the wee Facebook flag rant:

We got the most middling mainstream and embarrassing of flags as first choice. No shock really. A terrible process gets terrible results.

Here’s what a better process could have looked like:

  1. Ask the public to submit the symbols of NZ they care about.
  2. A panel of artists, designers and notables picks top symbols.
  3. Ten top professional design studios are funded to develop flags, each referencing those symbols and national colours, taking into account little things like suitability as a flag.
  4. That becomes the first long-list.
  5. People can vote and talk about those and submit their own options, guided by a good level of initial understanding.
  6. These are then voted on and condensed into a shortlist by a panel of designers, artists and notables with some actual young people involved not a bunch of good but very old school NZ people that represent the past not the future of NZ.
  7. We then don’t go to a public vote because jesus have you seen the taste of the public here? Have you visited a shopping mall? Are we known the world over for our chic populace and exceptional design skill? No, we are known for jandals and singlets and houses that leak and fucking cows. Our national symbol is a bird that cannot fly. We are not good at this stuff. We are not a nation of design aficionados. The only time someone here is called a design aficionado is as an insult. We sold more Shania Twain albums per capita than anywhere else. Kathmandu is considered fashion. Possum haircuts are near compulsory. We are not a nation that has shown any kind of suitability to choose its flag.
  8. Instead, you get experts to pick some good options, spend ages telling the stories behind them to the country and then, only after there is wide understanding of what they are trying to do, with a very clearly communicated definition of success, do you go to a vote – and only then one stacked with good options.

And we would probably still not get a great outcome because design by committee is not a good way to design and sometimes the best thing for tomorrow is very hard for most people to see from today if that is not something they are very practiced in. That’s not elitism, it’s fact, just like you wouldn’t ask the public to vote on the best way to build a bridge or to have a vote to set the OCR.

We ran a process that wouldn’t have got a good colouring-in competition winner.

The panel had no designers, artists or many people of tomorrow. The final four were three terrible unsuitable ferns and a laughable koru. You couldn’t make this shit up.

The good thing is we now have a chance to do this right. Vote for the current flag and then let’s have another crack at this in a few years. While we are at it let’s change our name to Aotearoa / New Zealand and perhaps get the people of tomorrow to make the choice, not the elderly and unusually politically involved that vote in postal referendums.

The people that will live with any new flag don’t even use the post -that is how poorly this was conceived from top to bottom. One last thought: can you imagine changing the national anthem and having no musicians?

That is what we did here.

We tried to change the flag with no-one with a fucking clue about flags or design anywhere in the mix and we got exactly what we deserved.

Keep going!