Vexillology: the language of flags – selecting the new New Zealand flag

Let’s start with the management summary: New Zealand will select a new national flag, potential top contender the Tukutuku is great, but can be greater. And Meneer D has a suggestion for just that.

Not all languages use words. Some languages use symbols and are graphical in nature. We all know icons and pictograms. Flags are another way of communicating without words. And a strong and recognisable way as well.

New Zealand flag
The current New Zealand flag

New Zealand is currently in the process of selecting a new national flag. The current flag (left) is overly complex and only represents part of its heritage, more specifically: the British, with the prominent Union Jack in the ‘honor’ (‘canton region’) of the flag. The blue represents the ocean and the stars the Southern Cross in the skies above the islands. The New Zealand government published a longlist of 40 new flag designs:

“The Panel has reviewed all 10,292 suggested flag designs and announced an official long list of 40 flag designs. The designs included in the long list will go forward for further investigation as part of the official design review process. In mid-September, the Panel will announce the 4 alternatives which will be ranked in the first binding referendum.”

Longlist of new New Zealand flags

If you are not from New Zealand or not that familiar with New Zealand culture, heritage and symbolism (like Meneer D) or just want to know more about the reasoning behind all those flag, you might want to read new zealand flag design – long list of 40 proposals unveiled. It explains the symbolism of the koru the fern and the unfurling new fern frond. The Maori black, the Southern Cross, the ocean, the islands and the clouds.

All nice and interesting (and interesting it is! How many countries change their national flag?), but what makes a flag a good flag? And how to avoid having a bad flag? There are some bad designs in the longlist above. The article Good Flag, Bad Flag (PDF) by the North American Vexillological Association explains it all. A good read! (And interesting to observe that they dare not to mention that the USA flag should be considered a bad flag… Those fiftysomething stars are too tiny, too laboursome (and thus expensive) to manufacture. Can a child easily draw it? No. They thoroughly have to count all the lines and stars and each star has five tiny little points. You’ll end up with a mess.)

Pax Zwanikken - Tukutuku
Tukutuku by Pax Zwanikken – design for new New Zealand flag

But back to the New Zealand new flag designs. This blog post is basically a response to a Tumblr article this should be the new New Zealand flag, and this is why… The article makes a case for one design, the Tukutuku by Pax Zwanikken (the puns in Dutch Meneer D could make with that surname ;-)) and for a big part I agree with the argumentation. Nevertheless, I like his design and children can easily draw it.

The multiple heritages and symbolism is in there. The Maori art patterns in woven fabric, that can also be extended to British tartans, the simplification of the Southern Cross with diamonds. Not that bad.

NewZealand flag designs Tukutuku
Tukutuku by Pax Zwanikken – original on top, variations by Meneer D

However the overall design feels a bit dull. I am missing out on some freshness. The cause: the grey. But what if you replace the grey with blue? On the left I made a meshup. I have replaced the grey with the blue of the current New Zealand flag. What you end up is more symbolism: the diagonals with red, white and blue refer directly to the Common Wealth link, currently represented by the Union Jack in the ‘honor’ (top left corner) of the flag. The red and white (and black) still representing the Maori colours. And you also introduced one of the strong symbols in other flag designs: the blue of the ocean.

I disliked the white triangle a bit (especially in a larger version if you click the image), so I changed the white to grey. But that does not seem to do the trick.

According to the Good Flag, Bad Flag rules, the contrast between colours should be strong. And with the black and blue here, it is not the case.

New Zealand flag Tukutuku lightblue variations
Tukutuku by Pax Zwanikken – original on top, variations by Meneer D

Thus I mashed up another version. I replaced the grey with light blue. The same light blue as in the flag design Koru (Blue) by Andrew Fyfe. Now you have the symbolism. But the blue is not the British blue, so the flag will not be dominated by the British heritage. The contrasts are high enough, the image looks distinct and fresh. Fresher than the version with grey and with stronger symbolism, since a few more references are added by changing grey to blue.

With most selection processes, you go from a longlist down to the last few contenders. In this case: four. If you have your winner or winners, is that it? Usually: no. The winning photo(s) will be optimised for publication. The Next Topmodel will not be ready for all the international catwalks and most product designs will have another round of optimising and tuning to get things perfect. Just leaving the top four as is, will give you four flags with all winning elements in it, but not necessarily all combined in the best flag.

In this case: the New Zealand government would be wise to not just pick a winner based on the referendum and that’s it. They should choose to optimise the four before the referendum and perhaps even have the Kiwis pick from certain variations.

Therefore Meneer D (me) proposes for the New Zealand government (or better: the Panel) to optimise the top four and go with some variations. The variation below included (Though it can be a matter of taste what is the best or most optimised. My design variation is not necessarily the best optimisation, by all means!).

Of course this will never happen, if any Kiwis will read this post at all, the Panel was quite clear: “A potential new flag should unmistakably be from New Zealand and celebrate us as a progressive, inclusive nation that is connected to its environment, and has a sense of its past and a vision for its future.”

Meneer D is not from New Zealand. He could not have been much farther away: he is from the opposite side of the earth, from The Netherlands…

Any comments are welcome!

New Zealand flag Tukutuku lightblue
Tukutuku by Pax Zwanikken – variation lightblue replacing grey by Meneer D



Auteur: Meneer D

Meneer D is een taalpurist en woordengoochelaar.

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