Powerful design: Emblems to unite a nation

Published:  August 20, 2015
Issac Teh

Many words have been used to describe the function of design – to improve, beautify, elevate. It is often seen mainly for the aesthetic merits that it brings to the table.

However, in the age-old way that families used to have a dedicated Coat of Arms, design and visuals can also be a powerful representation of identity and unity.


New Flag for New Zealand?

Recently, on Aug 10, the New Zealand government published a list of 40 possible designs for a new national flag. This is part of a long-drawn campaign to update the current defaced Blue Ensign with something that represents their modernity and independence better. The estimated cost of the initiative stands at $17 million dollars and with two referendums slated to be held over the next seven months, we could be looking at one of the most expensive re-branding efforts in history.

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 2.04.53 pm copy

Image Credits: The Guardian

The Union Jack “Crisis”

A national flag is meant to inspire unity and solidarity, this however, is a symbiotic relationship. Take for example the Union Jack, an amalgamation of the flags of the kingdoms of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. As Scotland contemplated an exit from the United Kingdom in 2014, much speculation arose about its fate as the blue in the flag is derived from the Scottish flag. A new flag is something that would involve both the government and the palace as well as much logistical movement as the flag is flown at numerous locations across the country.

What is key here is public opinion. The fact that people were so divided over the necessity of a new flag, shows that people value the visual symbolism and what it stands for and represents nationally. This is a great example of when design or visuals reach beyond simple aesthetics and strive to actually speak for something.

291fd7f copy

One of the redesigns that surfaced when the fate of the Union Jack was uncertain.

Powerful Design

The New Zealand flag change & Union Jack “crisis” are testaments to the power of design and how it is able, in our modern society, to drive spending, actions and national identity. Another great example is President Barack Obama’s ’08 campaign where the Gotham typeface was in some part credited for perpetuating a subliminal message of trustworthiness and sophistication. We all know the story and eventually Obama won, but the idea that elements of design can lend credibility and even build faith in a person is exciting because it highlights the potential in design.

Obama communicated effectively with his font choice during his '08 presidential campaign.

Obama communicated effectively with his font choice during his ’08 presidential campaign.

Lessons from Powerful Design

The idea that design has the ability to demand public attention and affect public opinion, is something that we as designers often seem to forget. With visuals and identity we have the potential to not only shape perceptions but to enable them to do powerful things. With each brand or design, there is potential to make the audience feel and behave a certain way. Until then, we’ll be looking to New Zealand to make the right design decision in selecting a uniting graphic for their nation.

Image Credits:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *