Designing a flag isn't black and white

LIAM HYSLOP
Last updated 15:41 30/01/2014

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The man who designed the All Blacks' silver fern says it's time for a new Kiwi flag, but his fern may not be the best option.

Prime Minister John Key reignited the flag debate yesterday when he said a referendum on the issue could be held alongside the general election this year.

Designer Dave Clark was commissioned by the New Zealand Rugby Union in 1986 to create the first trademarked logo for the All Blacks, the silver fern design which remains today.

Clark and his team also helped design all of the New Zealand Super Rugby team logos and names, among a host of other high-profile designs.

Any new flag would need to be coloured, not just black and white, Clark said.

"The things I've learnt over time is that, in terms of the colour you're going to use, it should really try and reflect the colours of the country and the colours of this country are green and blue."

Using black was a double-edged sword and could cause problems for a national flag, Clark said.

"In branding and packaging, black gets used to indicate premium positioning, think chocolates or coffee.

"In Western culture it's also the colour of mourning, sadness and death."

If Clark were to design the flag he would develop seven or eight strong ideas and then narrow them down to a couple of strong contenders.

"That's the way you try to work when you're working with visual imagery because visual images work in a different way to words; you need to see the image in front of you to make an assessment."

New Zealanders should not limit their thinking to the fern, as there were many other good icons to choose from including the koru, stars and the kiwi, he said.

Massey University brand expert Professor Malcolm Wright said a black-and-white flag would appeal to New Zealanders, but not the rest of the world.

"A flag is essentially a country's logo, so it's really important because the way it's presented will evoke particular association and remind people about the characteristics of a country," Wright said.

"I think it [black and white] is a good choice to represent us to ourselves but it's not a good choice to represent us to our foreign audience."

While it was important to have a flag that meant something to New Zealanders, a black-and-white flag would appear drab and boring and fade into the background when seen next to other flags, he said.

"We'd be missing an opportunity if we didn't use engaging colours to make sure that when people glanced our way their gaze actually lingered a bit longer."

He agreed with Clark that blue and green were good colour options.

Returned and Services' Association (RSA) president Don McIver said the flag held a special status for soldiers who had fought under it and it should not be changed.

"The major reason is our veterans and ex-servicepeople who have served their country under the flag we have now, and in addition to that, they have seen their comrades killed in action and buried under that flag," McIver said.

"It has a significant emotional hold on our membership."

Wright said it was important to involve the RSA in any potential flag redesign.

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"I really respect the RSA views and as part of this debate it's really important that we hear those views and consider them.

"But I think that even more important than what our troops fought under, is what they fought for."

The sacrifices of New Zealand soldiers meant New Zealand could live in a free and democratic society and that was their real legacy, Wright said.

"I think that's very New Zealand, the sacrifices of our soldiers have played a huge role in that and that's not going to be taken away if we change the flag.

"They will still have that legacy and to me that's the legacy that really matters."

- Stuff

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