Dear John

John,

I’ve watched your video which describes the reasons you believe we should change the flag.

I am one of the many New Zealanders who strongly agree with you.

I know there are some who have dismissed this whole process as a waste of money and a distraction from other more important issues. I don’t agree with that. I believe we are all capable of doing more than one thing at a time and actually I believe the symbols we use to represent ourselves on the international stage are important and worthy of discussion.

It’s well publicised that your preference is for a design featuring the silver fern. The fern is a symbol we should all be proud of, and indeed my own submission to the design process was a simple silver fern design on a black background (what a shame that we let terrorists and pirates steal that option from us).

However, as shown by the English Rose, Scottish Thistle and South African Springbok & Protea (as well as many many others) it is possible to have a strong and widely recognised national symbol without necessarily having it represented on the national flag. Indeed all three of those countries have simple and distinctive flags which are also well loved and recognised. Whether our new flag includes a fern or not will not change at all the fact that we use and will continue to use the silver fern symbol almost ubiquitously, everywhere from rugby teams, to coins, to war graves.

During the process of public consultation I learned a lot about what makes a great flag design. I’ll admit prior to this I wasn’t familiar with the term “vexillology”. Presented with new information, I changed my opinion. There were a lot of very average designs proposed, but there were some great ones too, including this, which I now consider the best of the bunch:

redpeak_in_use

The Red Peak, by Aaron Dustin

http://aotearoaflag.tumblr.com/

This is a considered and elegant design.

It has a story, referencing the Maori myth of Ranginui and Papatuanuku.

It cleverly combines two halves.

On the left a nod to tukutuku panels, with the traditional colours of black, red and white:

redpeak_left

On the right a reference to the stars and Union Jack from the current flag:

redpeak_right

It is designed to be a flag, with a single black panel in the critical top-left corner, which is prominent when the flag is hung.

It does not look out of place when displayed alongside other great flags, as will often be the case

flag-gallery-redpeak

vs

flag-gallery-fern

(yeah, nah!)

It works large and, importantly, small:

flag-small

It is also very simple to draw, even for somebody with no artistic skills:

redpeak-draw

I was pleased to see this included in the long list and was looking forward to making the case for why this should be selected as the new flag design in the referendum process.

So, I was saddened and disappointed to see the four designs which have been selected for the short list.

I know you want this to be a democratic process, but frankly, given those choices it feels like no choice at all, since three of the designs are so similar and two are identical except for substituted colours. At the moment it’s like being asked to choose between a Carl Jr, a Big Mac, a Whopper and … actually I don’t know the burger equivalent of the hypnoflag, so I’ll leave that to your imagination.

To win broad support, a challenger product or service needs to be remarkably better than the status quo (e.g. selling something on Trade Me vs using traditional newspaper classifieds). I worry that none of the options which have been put up will succeed on that basis. Even as a strong supporter for change, I don’t believe any of these four designs are good enough. But, worse, I worry that one of them will be preferred over the current flag anyway.

You have set this process up, and you (and probably you alone at this stage) have the ability to change it.

I ask you to reconsider the short list, to replace one of the two identical silver fern designs with Red Peak, and at least give us the option to choose.

Regards,
Rowan

103 thoughts on “Dear John”

    1. In addition to the petition, can we mount a legal challenge against the panel’s choice? The panel gave us three designs when it was asked for four – not three with different colourways on two of the same design. So it didn’t do its job.

      1. Yea i agree. Leave out th snarkyness. Isigned but would prefer the petitjon focused on th issue at hand- the flag design. Its a pity this issue is muddied by th politics.

  1. Nicely presented and it takes courage to say you agree with the flag change since half the population don’t want the change. Safe to say there will be no trolls!! I have to say I sit on the fence – there is my courage. However the 4 choices are not really choices and it’s very disturbing. Feels like the decision has been made and the choice is pretend. A reflection on democracy today or just the flag choice!

  2. I’m in the same camp, and would vote for aoteroaflag or maybe Gareth Morgan’s winner.

    But now I’ll be voting to keep the incumbent, because I definitely don’t want any of the four “options”.
    If we change it, we’re stuck with it for the next century or more.
    If we keep the current flag, maybe in 10-20 years we can do this again, and do it better. That’s my hope anyway.

  3. The “Red Peak” is undoubtedly the best contender, and I expect it would be the only one likely to change the flag if it were on offer. But if it was selected the proportions would bug me forever. The white chevron is too fat and the red triangle is too small. It is possible to visually balance it by enlarging the red triangle, making it closer to the size of the others by not slavishly sticking to a 4×2 grid. It would still be very easy to draw from memory. It is after all “peak” of the name, so why should it be visually diminished? I would like for this to replace any one of the short list choices but hope there is room for aesthetic refinement in this process, particularly if the original designer agrees.

    1. I’m sure this design could be improved.

      However, this is where designers seem to be confused. It’s not an iterative process like you may be used to. In this situation, we need to be careful not to confuse better with best.

      Indeed the final decision seems to have been made for us already. Take it, or leave it.

      1. Yes. Sadly this is not a design process. And unfortunately “Least worst” is not the way to select something of such importance. The process has been a total failure.

    2. I agree completely. The red triangle should be the same size as the black and blue triangles, so that each of the four colours are the exact same area on the flag.

  4. 100% agree. The new flag should _become_ a symbol in its own right, not simply be a mash-up of pre-existing ones (that each come with their own baggage).

  5. Rowan, Nice and simple words. As a designer, I’m disappointed that the selection group were weak enough to be swayed by one person (the PM) and selected two designs from a designer who didn’t have the balls to select one design and only one, of his many alternatives. I am against the status quo of keeping a flag with reference back to the British Empire. We have moved on from there.

    Of the flags selected by the committee, ferns are great if you think the All Blacks are the essence of NZ but there are many of us who have a far wider view of this lovely land. For decades now, Korus have been overused and are not the only Maori graphic with power and meaning. I dislike all the chosen alternatives for these simple reasons.

    The solution needs to be simple and easily understood. I like your reasoning.

  6. Like you Rowan, I am an advocate for change but the design you prefer here is one that simply leaves me cold. The trouble is that you are never going to find a one-size-fits-all solution so what I like maybe isn’t what you do and vice versa. I could have put up a design of seven pink stars on a white background or four squares on a blue background and manufactured some story about how it represents something of our story. Say what you like about the fern but at least it does have some context and it instantly something that New Zealanders identify with even if it isn’t a plant that is exclusive to this country. As for its ability to be drawn easily, when has that ever been a prerequisite for flag design? Can you honestly say when you have last drawn a flag? I admire your passion but sadly I think the process has been mishandled. We’re never going to have a flag change in our lifetime when the winner should have been introduced meanwhile allowing those that wanted to still stand by the current one to do so and allowing the new one to build favour.

  7. I am one of those that is strongly opposed to changing the flag and this is why…. The flag is a symbol of our nation our country both past and present. I believe we are doing a dishonour to those soldiers who went to war and bravely fought for our nation under the existing flag. Some of those soldiers never came home. Is the term “lest we forget” just something we say when we commemorate our fallen soldiers and war heroes? This is where I shall mention that just recently I viewed a photograph of WW1 hero Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone at Gallipoli. He is seated outside his bivouac where he has a New Zealand flag. A flag that he would have been proud and honoured to fight under along with his comrades in arms. Our ANZACS Australians and New Zealanders fought together and again some never came home but one of the reasons we want to change our flag is because it closely resembles the Australian flag. Did this rivalry matter when they bravely fought together 100 years ago? When we commemorate our ANZACS on the 25th of April every year do you think that it is appropriate to fly a “new” flag? I personally think it disrespectful. That is my opinion and I am entitled to it. Lest we forget.

    Liz Ford

    1. Hi Liz

      Thanks for your comment. I respect your opinion.

      I lived in the UK for three years. During that time I passed through immigration at Heathrow many times and was always interested to note that while I waited in the slow queue, those from Germany, Italy and other countries who we joined the British to fight in the wars would enter quickly via the fast European queue.

      The world has changed a lot over the last 70 years. I believe we are right to continue to forge our own path. I don’t believe it’s disrespectful to those folks in the photo you refer to. Wasn’t this exactly what they were fighting for, in the end?

      We don’t forget them. We only have the opportunity to do this because of them.

      Rowan

    2. What about the soldiers that fought in the land wars and the boer war? Isn’t using the current flag just as disrespectful to them?

      My grandfather went to Italy as medical corps. He didn’t go to protect a flag, he went to save lives and protect our freedoms. He is buried under a silver fern, as are most servicemen in military graves

    3. And it’s not just the immigration ques. If you take that logic Liz, then do you also agree that Britain and NZ have already dishonoured the soldiers and their families? Would my ancestors feel honoured that even though they lived, fought and died under the British flag last century and before, that their mokopuna can not even choose to be in Britain longer than a tourist visa allows?
      But someone from Germany or Italy, or the 23 other EU states can easily settle and work and live there if they choose. How would our fallen soldiers from another era feel about that? That to me shows how close our ties really are these days…a token gesture at best.

      Honour the dead, of course, but that doesn’t mean we have to hold onto a flag from another era.

  8. This reminds me of the 1999 Australian republic referendum.

    Before the politics started opinion polls showed most Australians wanted a republic. They probably still do.

    What they didn’t want was the offered republic model.

    The No campaign focused on the model’s flaws, not the big question.

    Although the No camp won, the issue wasn’t settled. It will come back.

    That’s where we seem to be going with our flag debate. If Parliament was keen to change the flag it should have started with a “do you want to change the flag” referendum and worked from there.

    Get the big question out of the way before getting bogged down in the details.

    Maybe we’ll vote for a new flag next year. If we don’t, the question will roll around in another 20 years or so from now.

  9. Brilliantly said. This and the similar Wa Kainga by Alexander Design are far, far superior. Subtle yet strong references to many natural and cultural features that define our national identity. To me it symbolises navigation, arrival, settlement, prospect, place, unity and diversity. It has an upward lift creating a positive, optimistic spirit. Colours are familiar and meaningful. Importantly, it is abstracted which leaves it open to interpretation and meaning, whereas the fern is limited by its literal nature. the fern doesn’t have the ability to be interpreted as anything else.

    Most frustratingly, the process of getting to the final four was non-democratic, despite some good options in the 40 shortlisted designs. It feels like a huge anti-climax and waste of time and energy.

  10. We should fly the UN flag with a large black NZ in the middle. Start the world growing up from this silly parochialism that leads to conflict between nations.

  11. If we have to do this at great expense – the validity behind the reason for change and the outcome should stand solid – read the letter from Rowan, it has merit.

  12. One option may be to draw for eg Red Peak on the ballot paper? Or your preferred option. At the moment the process is an embarrasing farce (speaking as a kiwi expat in London).

    1. I thought the same at first, but then I realised – yes that’s the point – it looks like a flag, maritime signal flag or otherwise, it looks like a flag. And yes, it sticks out like a signal – for me it is an incredibly strong design – again I now get that this is the point – for it to stick out. I noticed this particularly in the mock up on the Team NZ yacht.

      Also, I think the proportions and colour sequence are right. Top left is black, and where my eye begins the journey. Black in Maori is also the symbol of Te Korekore the first potential.. The Blue and white is also a good link to the British heritage and seems fitting to be side by side with the Te Korekore, reflecting the treaty partnership. The red is in the right place too. Papatuanuku should be connected to the ground. The white chevron for me symbolises Te Ao Marama, the world of light and Aotearoa, the Long White Cloud enshrouding the earth. This is why I think the greater thickness of the white should be as it is vs a slimmer white chevron and larger red triangle.

      So yes, Rowan, great letter and great advocacy for this important symbol. It sure bugged me that 3 of the 4 choices presented were pseudo choice and further that the choice set up process is so flawed. I too am gob-smacked at the composition of the “committee” and the lack of designer input.

      I really do feel the Flag Consideration Panel has failed in its proper mandate – what they should have been “considering” is not what they thought the flag should be. They should have been considering a range of choices for the public to vote on. Three silver fern designs does not look like a range of choices. It does look like what they thought it should be – and ever so coincidently what the PM thought it should be.

      Feeling disenfranchised. For something as important, there should be more empowerment – yes add this flag to the choice!

  13. 100% agree that IF we were to change our flag at all, we should be considering a more abstract & geometric design that stands strong alongside the other iconic flags of the world. In regard to the ‘Red Peak’ design, I think the proportions work fine if we think of it insteqd as a white peak (snow capped mountain) with a red core (volcanic origin).

  14. Damn, this flag sucks. If this was selected as our national flag, I would either sue someone or ditch to another country.

  15. But, as you’ll note from the picture, Brazil has an odd, fussy flag that breaks all the design rules and the Canadian one isn’t much better.

    (I suspect the reason why simple flags (as opposed to complex coats of arms) were favoured about the time that the UK made the union flag was that they were easy to sew together and clearly visible on the battle field – neither is an issue today.

    I think the real problem with the flags is that the government is wanting a better corporate logo that will somehow convince people to buy our milk or book a holiday here. Which does seem kinda unlikely – although there is undoubtedly a large group of people who think we’re run by the British, it probably doesn’t affect their holiday or cheese selections.

  16. Big fan of the blog. Keen to see a separate blog entry on the below paragraph. It’d be cool if you could elaborate a bit more on this comment.

    “I know there are some who have dismissed this whole process as a waste of money and a distraction from other more important issues. I don’t agree with that. I believe we are all capable of doing more than one thing at a time and actually I believe the symbols we use to represent ourselves on the international stage are important and worthy of discussion.”

  17. Interesting, but I totally disagree. The red peak flag looks very generic like half the other geometric flags out there. You seem to regard that as a selling point but we’re a small country, realistically most people outside of Australasia wouldn’t be able to remember that the red peak flag is NZ’s flag. Any links it has to our culture or identity are far too weak for the rest of the world to recognise and that sort of geometric coloured design has been done to death by other flags.

    I was pretty firmly in the camp of saying we should keep our current flag, but I have to say I actually quite like the black and blue version of Kyle Lockwood’s flag. When I see it in amongst other world flags (ie your Yeah, Nah! captioned picture) I think it looks good, and very recognizably New Zealand’s flag. We could do much, much worse.

  18. May have copied and pasted this and sent it to the PM himself. Well said Rowan. I would be so proud to call this flag our own.

  19. Boring flag is boring.
    I think “boomerang” whenever I look at it.
    I didn’t like any of the 40 flag shortlist so I’ll be voting to keep the current one.

  20. Good letter and discussion. I for one prefer the current flag. It seems odd for people to characterise it as ‘not reflecting present day NZ’. We live in a democracy founded on Westminister principles. Our judges follow english common law. We are members of the British commonwealth, the Queen is the head of state. I don’t mind being associated with Britain. Most of us have some ancestral link to the UK and the UK still provides a significant number of immigrants. The fact that it looks like Australias is not surprising – kiwis and Aussies are about as similar as you can get – nothing could be more natural than our flag being close to Australias. So for me the inset of the Union Jack with the stars of the mighty southern cross is about right for me.

  21. Has no-one else noticed that the white part of this symbol (the part that kind of stands out – to me, anyway) is pretty much the ancient Pagan male gender symbol. It is called “The Blade”. Just saying! :)

  22. Hi Rowan,

    I see you’ve replied to a few comments in a reasoned manner, the same way you’ve presented your post. I appreciate this as so much of the debate is dominated by politicalisation or just'”It’s looks ugly”.

    I actually think the Lockwood design is a better alternative than Red Peak. I believe the Silver Fern is a symbol that all New Zealanders can identify with an unite behind. The Southern Cross is the same and also represents our geographic place in the world. The Fern stands out like the Maple Leaf of the Canadian flag and I found it easier to spot in your flag lineup, seeing it before Red Peak. I believe it a Silver Fern is eye-catching and memorable and would be recognised around the world in the same way the Canadian flag is.

    I think Red Peak does look like a nice flag but my initial reaction to it is that it looks Norwegian. It takes a corner from the junction of their cross and rotates it 45 degrees and replaces one part of blue with the black of the Arctic night to show their place in the world. I’m not sure if they have more snowy peaks than us or not but I think it will bring to mind Norway for a lot of people around the world rather than New Zealand. I don’t feel it represents us as well as a Silver Fern.

    I can remember the last time I drew a New Zealand flag. It was in Intermediate School during the Olympics, before the age of copy and paste. I don’t think flag designs need to be kept simple any more as children are adept at using the technology that now exists to allow more detailed designs to be printed rather than drawn by hand.

    I’m undecided on whether to change the flag or not. I’m enjoying the compelling reason being presented for and against a change, when I’m not swimming through all the derogatory or thoughtless opinions out there.

    1. Hi Bryan

      In terms of the silver fern being a strong and powerful symbol, I couldn’t agree with you more. Whether we choose a new flag or stick with the current design it will continue to be the symbol we use to represent ourselves at home and overseas. No question.

      What has been lost in all of this discussion is that we are trying to choose a design for a new flag. Not a new symbol, or brand. One of the things which appeals to me about the Red Peak design is that it stands so strongly alongside other great international flags, including the Norwegian flag, which I included in the graphic in my letter, where as the silver fern designs which have been shortlisted just do not. The Red Peak is a great flag. I recommend it to you!

      Thanks for your considered comment.

      Cheers,
      Rowan

  23. Yes! Please! I support adopting a new flag but have simultaneously dreaded what we might end up with. Red Peak is a design I could cherish and would certainly vote for – the others are woeful. Given no suitably sophisticated option among the current shortlist I would (sadly) have no choice but to vote in favour of the status quo. Red Peak is the flag this innovative country deserves.

  24. Hi as a visual artist it has shocked me how this process has been handled. I loved your letter and hope it gets seen. I like a lot of other flag designs but have really grown to love Red Peak. I think it would be wonderful if it was to become an option and I’d fly it proudly if it were to be our flag. Why can’t we have 5 (4) choices?

    1. Everybody has an opinion – which is great! What is even better, people are starting to become passionate about the flag options – which is even better.
      Still – If No 5 comes in, then what about No 6? then No 7? … And so it goes.
      We now all have the option to vote on the four flag designs chosen, and then to vote one-on-one new vs old.
      So – I’m wondering – Should we all get on board with the legally-mandated process and see where it takes us?

      1. My understanding is that there is no option for a fifth flag in the first referendum, given the way the process has been setup. So, the only option at this stage would be for the consideration panel and/or cabinet to agree to swap one of the two identical fern designs.

        The problem with the short list as it stands, and the STV voting process, is that given current preferences there is practically no choice. One of the two identical fern designs will be chosen as the flag to go up against the current flag in the second referendum.

    1. how? assuming that in order to correlate this one know what the french flag looks like how is this going to be mistaken for the french flag? straight lines and 3 of the 4 coliurs being similar? come on mate. id hazard a guess to say this mistake would happen far less than the current confusion between the aussie and kiwi flags.

  25. I was sold the whole flag panel as a consultation ‘have your say’ exercise. I DID NOT know it was a ‘flag contest’ and that the winning entry would be used as the NZ flag! This is unbelievable!!! Can you imagine Toyota saying ‘Design our next car!’ and them using the actual entry to make the car? Yes to the process of gathering submissions, yes to the process of collating and defining the most common or recurring ideas, but then surely you hand this brief over to a (multi-disciplined) and specialised design team. One that better represent the absolute best NZ has to offer! What a terrible shame.

    1. “Can you imagine Toyota saying ‘Design our next car!’ and them using the actual entry to make the car” – nails it. The whole process has been a massive FU from our govt to all designers and their profession.

  26. i disagree with you on that there is better issue and spend our taxes money on like for example our future generations for our public schools without those us people the national party will fall also john key/national party want our attendtions focus away from TPPA

    it a WASTE of money

  27. I agree that the 4 final flag designs are abysmal, however I am still extremely passionate about my flag which I feel fits all the criteria.

    – If we are going to change the flag then change it, don’t have elements from the old flag as we want our own identity.
    – Colour is my passion and I would like to represent our this way.
    – Blue for the sky we all share
    – Green for the land we all walk on
    – Black to white for all the cultures that share it
    – Simple (a child can draw it)
    – Can be recognized in the wind.

    The colours on the website have gone too RGB, they are sky blue and grass green.
    https://www.govt.nz/browse/engaging-with-government/the-nz-flag-your-chance-to-decide/gallery/design/4359

  28. Who says we have let pirates and terrorists steal the real silver fern on black from us? Just ignore it and don’t let them win. It’s been our default sporting flag forever. Make it the real one or nothing at all.

  29. I’m passionately against changing the flag. The Union Jack will always be a part of our history whether or not we retain our relationship with Britain. Even Hawaii kept it in their flag to acknowledge their historical links with the British Empire. As such, I was very relieved that the four finalists are highly unlikely to pose any threat. I absolutely agree that you don’t need the country’s symbol on a flag. I have to say, it would worry me if Red Peak was in contention because it really does stand a chance, but more importantly, I don’t think I would be too devastated if it did win. It actually looks like a flag, and it is distinctive.

  30. so how many times could this flag be erected upside down by people who know little. Yes I know there are other flags out there that, when flipped, become disorientating .. but the peaks can become valleys .. or a V. At least with the current flag .. and the ‘ferns they are still recognisable when inverted.

  31. Your comment “It does not look out of place when displayed alongside other great flags” has actually put me off the peak design and sold me on the fern. I thought one of the biggest reasons for wanting a change was specifically to have a flag that DIDN’T just blend in. The peak design does just look like any other flag and while it would no longer get confused with the Australian flag, instead people just wouldn’t recognise it at all. The fern design, much like the Canadian flag which is one of the most recognisable flags in the world, does stand out and would no doubt be instantly recognised as the NZ flag.

  32. Civil disobedience against poor design has a track record in New Zealand. The original designs for decimal currency coinage were leaked to a newspaper and…..
    Wikipedia:
    “The reverse sides of coins introduced in 1967 did not follow the designs that were originally intended for them. Those modern art and sculpture themed designs were leaked to a newspaper and met a very negative public reaction. The final releases were given more conservative designs in line with public expectations.”
    Now all we need is a groundswell pushing for a LESS conservative design.
    How about something akin to the coastal beacon system that goes back to Roman towns – fly Red Peak, someone in the direct line of sight flies Red Peak, someone ELSE in the direct line of sight flies Red Peak until we have the whole country daisy-chained (geographically-challenged areas excluded).
    I’m in.
    Mapua to Nelson covered……

  33. Hi, Row
    That was really a smart combination. Well done. But I think that the problem is that John won’t be able to help you on this, We are a flagmaker in Auckland. We have already printed the all final four New Zealand flags. Here is the video. https://youtu.be/ATPB3gByM6c
    we are interested to print yours if we can get your permission for printing. Look forward to hearing from you.
    Shane

  34. Rowan,
    While there is some merit in simplicity, I am more in favour of a flag that has meaning and relevance. I don’t feel that the red peak design has enough of these qualities – it could symbolise any ex-colonial country and it’s people.
    I submitted a flag design which wasn’t selected but at least I put 17 reasons why it was relevant to NZ. It is still a simple design (which needs some professional design input) but it is reflective of NZ and our culture and future. See http://www.newflag.kiwi.nz
    I welcome your comments as a designer as well as a NZer.

    And I agree with reekonzl Sep9th who says it blends in too much.

    One other point – I have been confusing it with Gareth (call me Donald Trump) Morgan’s competition winner – that man comes up with some silly ideas and it immediately put me off as the design brief for his competition wasn’t followed and the ‘winners’ were too .

  35. And while I’m thinking – the silver fern is not only a symbol that NZers recognise, but an internationally recognised symbol – which means that we won’t have to go through the re-branding exercise of explaining the new flag to all and sundry (as per the red peak website and every other blog).

  36. >I worry that one of them will be preferred over the current flag anyway.

    Which is of course the whole reason the style of referendum was chosen. Perfect for minority forced change.

  37. The silver fern is on our passports, medals, currencies, coat of arms & on every head stone at every RSA cemetery. It’s our national symbol. The silver fern should be our flag.

  38. Put a small silver fern in the top left black panel and a southern cross in the top right blue panel of the red peak flag and everybody will be happy!

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