Our Flag Competition

Why did I run the competition?

It was clear from the public’s response that the understanding of what the current flag represents is minimal. It’s a defaced British naval ensign, modified first in 1867 as required by the British Colonial Navy Defence Act, so that the activities of the colonial government could be differentiated from those of the British. Otherwise under international law Britain could be liable for those acts. Two things about that;

  1. The Treaty is our founding document not the unilateral declaration of colonisation made in May 1840 by Hobson. Indeed the colonisation could well be unlawful given it was a breach of that Treaty. The Ngapuhi recommendation has backed that interpretation.
  2. It is a flag of convenience invented by the colonising power, a flag to enable it to avoid liability for the Maori or NZ Wars of the 1860’s – and put that liability to the government of New Zealand.

So given that history – not dissimilar to the activities of the British in Canada and South Africa say – it is long overdue that we establish our own flag – one that has nothing to do with those unlawful colonial acts.

A flag is not just a pretty pattern or a symbol of familiarity – it has to have relevance and meaning to the people of Aotearoa New Zealand – and our current flag fails on that count. It is an artefact of the colonising era that is recognised now as a breach of the treaty – our founding document as a nation.

The Story

So my view of the flag change is that the story behind any design is of foremost importance. I’m no artist or company logo designer or design aficionado – I find much of that stuff hugely subjective and in the eye of the beholder. But for other people form is what counts, not substance so much.

I’m supportive very much of the need to change the flag, to bury this artefact that tells a lie and is an insult to Maoridom, and for that matter all other immigrants to NZ, such as the Chinese who came just as early in the piece as the British settlers.

But we must first get the story right. So as I’ve read through all the entries the government’s Flag Consideration Panel was getting it became obvious very quickly that most entries had notsubstantive story behind them. So without even looking at the design I was able to exclude 99% of them on those grounds.

Hence I decided to try and get people to submit a design that actually had a story – I did that by telling them in the terms of reference what the story actually is and asking them to submit a design that reflects it. We got some great entries in that regard – and so I knew we were on track.

Deciding the Winner

As I say my input was to check that the story behind any design considered was accurate and a balanced reflection of who we, as New Zealanders, are. We enlisted the help of design experts Mark Pennington, Catherine Griffiths and Desna Whaanga-Schollum to make their recommendations. Broadly speaking there are two approaches it seems to me – (a) to build a visual that takes well-known elements of the identity of Aotearoa New Zealand & tries to blend them in a considered and fair way (Southern Cross, Koru, Silver Fern for instance) and then there’s (b) the approach the design community prefers – not to be literally constrained by that, but rather to produce a concept that tells the story fairly and can use whatever mix of colour, shapes, asymmetry & symmetry that the author wants.

Both approaches must meet the demands of vexillology – the fundamentals of flag design. These cover simplicity and colour use so flags can be recognised at a distance and during wind or calm.


We had just under 1,000 entries – not bad. The design panel went through them all and came up with a preferred list. You can view their deliberations here. I then checked each one with respect to the story the flag told – I have no view on the picture itself really.

I must admit my predilection (like many Kiwis) is to defer to the well known symbols like koru, southern cross, silver fern etc; simply because I know what they represent. But for the design and vexillology communities it is form, impact and uniqueness that take precedence. As with any robust process, this naturally created some tension between the panel and myself.

But ultimately for me it’s all about the story being told. After all you want all New Zealanders represented, not just one ethnic group, and we want a story we can pass on down through the generations with pride.

For me there were just 2 candidates that told the story properly. They were ‘One Land Many People’ by Timo Rannali and ‘Wā kāinga’ / Home by Studio Alexander. One was a more traditional design and the other a new one. The latter wins because it meets both criteria or substance as well as flag design requirements. In other words it was the only flag that was on my short list as well as that of the judges.

A third design worth mentioning was submitted by Kyle Lockwood who has made a large number of entries into both our competition and the government process. While his design ‘Colours of Aotearoa’ is in the genre of a modern, abstract interpetation of the relevant themes, his accompanying story wasn’t sufficiently strong for me to pick up on my survey of flag stories.

But what about those of us who don’t want to change?

I’ve already written extensively on this. There are many reasons put forward but I have yet to find one that’s actually credible – mainly they reflect inertia and political agendas. My piece “The Six Dumbest Arguments Against Changing the Flag” sums them up.

At the end of the day the public will decide. Educating and informing the public so it can make a knowledgeable decision is the phase we are now in. I have huge confidence that a well-informed public makes rational choices, but I’m sure we’re all aware of what happens when a vacuum of knowledge persists, the public opinion can be very lowbrow, driven by the noise of extremes. This is precisely why we did our competition – to help the official process reach more people. As you know they haven’t been wildly successful with their town hall tour.

Morgan Foundation Flag Competition Judging Results

The judges went through all (nearly 1000) entries in three rounds. In the first round they looked at each flag flat individually and whittled them down to 123. In the second round the judging panel looked at the flags flying and read the blurb, whittling them down to 14 serious contenders. These were each discussed in depth, in the context of other international flags, to get the list of two finalists with seven on the shortlist.


The challenge to design a flag in response to Gareth Morgan’s criteria and the design values set out by the design jury, was deceptively complex.

To suggest not only our past and who we currently are as a nation, but importantly, to explore where we want to be and go as a nation was a proposition we were interested in seeing responses to — how might design convey these concepts, and galvanise our national spirit.

Overall, we were really pleased with the response to the competition and want to acknowledge the standard of ideas, visual communication design and execution. In our search for a flag that addressed the criteria, and went beyond expectation, fewer entries succeeded in weaving core visual communication design skills and expression of fresh thinking, without referencing the all-too familiar iconography (including the inevitable re-appropriation of the Walters’ koru and the flag of Tino Rangatiratanga).

For the jurors, it was challenging to settle on the perfect flag. A successful design, even if unexpected in resolution, can grow in significance, and be absorbed and embraced over time, as symbolic of our culture and place.

It should be noted that each of the designs selected met the practical design critieria of scale, flying and draping, and being visible in complex environments.


Wā kāinga / Home — by Studio Alexander


What the artist says

Each triangle of colour fits into each others space. Symbolic of the transition we currently have underway in Aotearoa. Maori/Colonial/Multicultural. Coexisting around the Maihi. (white space between the colours). The bottom multicultural triangle in our national colour black is symbolic of strength.

What the judges say

A thoughtful, well-executed submission displaying pure graphic form, this design reached the judge’s second-level shortlist, before being a late inclusion in the final selection. The symmetry of the composition conveys a formal sense of place and calm, however, there was a reservation that this tended to an overly cerebral geometric, rather than an emotional force which would engender strong attachment and feelings. In one breath this design is identifiably Aotearoa New Zealand, in another it just holds back from entering new territory expressive of inherent explorative and innovative characteristics of New Zealanders.

Judge’s Finalists:

1. A New Dawn — by Jarred Bishop


What the artist says

Our new flag should honour our past and look to the future.
This design is inspired by a crop of the Tino Rangatiratanga and suggests a new dawn, long white clouds and the shoulder of a mountain.

What the judges say

While this design may be seen as derivative (and politically controversial as detail section taken from Tino Rangatiratanga), this is a strong abstraction of symbolism. Reductive, graphic, and emotive. The colours and curvilinear shapes reflect that of Māoridom, and multi-culturalism. The upward movement expresses aspiration, freedom and possibility. An openness evolving from a past that is acknowledged rather than erased. At first glance, the koru reference may not be immediately picked up: when it is, this element of discovery is rewarding.

2. All — by Kris Sowersby


What the artist says

Represents all people and all things throughout time. With regards to Ralph Hotere.

What the judges say

A minimalist design that portrays extraordinary confidence, strength, and sophistication. Whilst it acknowledges Ralph Hotere, one of our greatest artists, the circle is utilised as one of the simplest and most powerful graphic forms: all inclusive, democratic, power to the people — I AM!

Te kore, te po, te ao marama [reminiscent of Māori creation story]

Judge’s Shortlist:

1. Mana Taurite — by Phil Dunstan-Brown


What the artist says

Equality. All people of Aotearoa having equal importance. Bound together in history. Moving forward together. Reflecting on those before us. Acknowledging those here now. Preparing for those to come.

What the judges say

Aesthetically and proportionally balanced. The symmetry of partnership and equality is clearly symbolised in the woven pattern of positive and negative shape, constructing a unique visual language. Bold, simple, with a level of detail that remains legible in scale and movement. A directional nod to the past, present and future.

2. Southern Crux – by Phil Dunstan-Brown


What the artist says

The Southern Cross is contemporised. Four stars spun on an axis. Shapes echo the old Union Jack, but form eight points on a compass. There are echoes of Tikanga Māori, but also Pasifika. It talks of our passage here, whether we are first peoples or latecomers.

What the judges say

A bold move to propose something so apparently gentle. Subtle reference to the indigenous cultures pathway of navigation through the Pacific Oceans — the stars, and the Frangipani flower — this is meaningful, symbolic language. A nod to the current flag, the designer has progressed the traditional form of the star shape to one of relevance and distinctiveness. Addresses balance well between negative and positive space.

3. Topana Taurite – by Jeremy Snowsill


What the artist says

The essence of the design reflects balance (tōpana taurite). The theme of balance represents 2 aspects. Firstly it acknowledges our past, the union (treaty) between British settlers and Māori, and secondly it captures our future – the dynamic balance of diversity coming together in unity.

What the judges say

Visually strong, this particular version stands out: internationally it reads as unique in shape and form. Delightful interplay between two forces — a yin yang balance. Successful use of powerful iconography reinforced by contemporary national colours.

4. Raranga Weave 8 – by Pax Zwanikken


What the artist says

Inspired by the geometric forms and colours found in Māori raranga and tukutuku. Weaving has strong roots both in Māori culture and the tartans, checks and tweeds of the British Isles. Since the signing of the Treaty more cultures have migrated here, each adding a thread to our collective culture.

What the judges say

Great link to weaving traditions of Māori, Pacific and British cultures. Reductive with impact. Sophisticated in the weighting of form and placement. Stands out amongst the international flag palette of colour, shape and form.

5. Koru via Walters 01 – by Kris Sowersby


What the artist says

An attempt to turn simplified traditional koru forms, via Gordon Walters, into something strong and appropriate for an Aotearoa/New Zealand flag.

What the judges say

There were numerous attempts in reference to a very respected NZ artist – this was probably the most successful, with a well-considered, balanced composition. An eye for positive and negative space, and colour. Sensitive to the original artistic form, while moving it forwards. Symmetrically powerful. The test fly and drape influenced the decision for this particular colourway (at least one other in the set).


Left corner shows 2 mainsails Euro/other culture (white) Maori/Polynesia(red). Corner page curl represents The Treaty and Partnership. 2 Koru show Male and Female element and 2 people bound together with the white representing enlightenment and understanding.

Flag by Richard Murray

Wā kāinga / Home

Each triangle of colour fits into each others space. Symbolic of the transition we currently have underway in Aotearoa. Maori/Colonial/Multicultural. Coexisting around the Maihi.( white space between the colours ).The bottom multicultural triangle in our national colour black is symbolic of strength


This flag shows

  1. Maori who invented their Treaty partners to share the land; The white diagonal shape is representative of the Maihi (the diagonal bargeboards) on the front of a Maori meeting house.  The white shape is also symbolic of the coming together of all three influences Maori, Colonial past and multicultural future. The red triangle top left is representative of our Maori heritage. This design also references the use of red, black and white in the Tino Rangatiratanga (National Maori flag)
  1. The heritage of British settlers.  The blue triangle top right is representative of our British heritage.  Bordering a white diagonal line symbolic of the Union Jack.
  1. Our multicultural society – now and into the future.  The black triangle is offering up strength and optimism as well as being symbolic of our mountainous landscape. It represents our national colour black already adopted and supported in a multi cultural context.

3_New-Zealand-Flag_progress-and-scale 2_New-Zealand-Flag_influence



Good design should have meaning.  Each triangle of colour fits into each others space.  Symbolic of the strength of transition we currently have underway in Aotearoa.  Maori/Colonial/Future

Good design should acknowledge the past as well as enlighten the future.  Our design shows a clear lineage from the Union Jack through the existing flag to now.  Red, blue, and white and diagonal shapes are a nod to the past with the introduction of Black our national colour representing our positive multicultural future.

Good design should be simple.  Exhibit no superfluous or unnecessary content.  It should be edited back to its purest form.  Our flag is pure and simple.  Less is more.  E.g. Canada and Japan

Good design should differentiate.  54 other countries use stars on their flag.  Our new flag can better differentiate without stars.