New Zealand is attempting to rebrand itself to better convey its national identity and cultural heritage, but those efforts aren’t going as smoothly as one would hope. This week, the country presented the four finalists from an open call to redesign its flag and released facelifts for its banknotes — announcements that proved to many New Zealanders that their government has no business dealing with design.
The four flags all feature nationally recognized motifs: three center on the silver fern while the fourth incorporates the koru, a Maori symbol. Chosen by an official Flag Consideration Panel, the designs swiftly received a flood of public criticism, illustrated most strongly on social media through the hashtag #NZflag. Many Kiwis are let down by the selection’s lack of diversity and creativity, with similar designs cropping up in less-than-inspirational places; others are embarrassed or angry and have mercilessly attacked the designs.
What may be cause for more embarrassment that also raises serious questions about the judging process is that one of the banners is apparently plagiarized — and from the packaging of a four-piece set of plastic plates, courtesy of Kiwi Party Ware, no less. The design was submitted by Kyle Lockwood, who actually proposed two of the four flags vying to win (no word on whether inspiration for his second one came from a party store as well).
This tacky theft has apparently not yet reached the ears of judging officials, as the design is still in the running. If it does remain a legitimate contender, it will be up for vote with the other three in a two-part referendum, the first of which opens in November and will determine the final alternative; the second, occurring next March, will pitch that chosen flag against the existing one. With all the protests against the open-sourced designs, however, perhaps New Zealand won’t end up distancing itself from its colonial roots after all.
The New Zealand Herald‘s Karl Puschmann, who described the designs as a “disgrace,” wrote that the process “has been a brand exercise for NZ Inc rather than a search for a meaningful flag replacement. And that’s a massively wasted opportunity.” As reactions to the country’s new banknote designs suggest, the same could be said about New Zealand’s process to makeover its money. The Reverse Bank has been redesigning the notes since 2011 to ensure that they “meet a variety of aesthetic, cultural, and functional requirements,” and yesterday shared images of the new $5 and $10 notes, which have tightened security features that introduce new colors and holograms. The final results: cluttered collages that cobble together ferns, birds, numbers, national landmarks, and famous faces. Moving the note also introduces even more colors and dizzying effects.
Similar to the flag-decision process, the designer for the banknotes, Canadian Banknote Company Ltd., won an “open tender process,” which pit its proposal against those of five other international companies. The company’s rainbow series, however, has received backlash for over-design — a result of studies conducted by Reverse Bank to ensure that the money’s visuals and usability consider everyone, from indigenous groups to the visually impaired. Criticizing the notes’ flashiness, Florian Hardwig, the assistant editor of typography website Fonts In Use, suggests that such processes need not be so democratic. These significant decisions, he argues, are perhaps better left to the experts.
“Let’s hope that they start involving fewer voices in such processes — one discerning design professional is more valuable than a dozen well-meaning tourists,” he writes, “and that they stop aiming for a common denominator that pleases everybody, for it is too often a mingle-mangle that, in sum, hardly pleases anybody.”
The Reserve Bank will release the $5 and $10 bills first, starting in October; the $20, $50, and $100 notes — all overly saturated with images as well — are scheduled to enter wallets next April, just a few weeks shy of the final flag referendum. New Zealand’s designers, as expected, are disappointed with its nation’s recent decisions.