F – – – !

Flag – I'm hesitant to mention it.

You may have flag fatigue, however I'd be chuffed if you could take a minute to read my case statement below, then perhaps the story behind my flag's selection as a finalist on the New Zealand Government's Flag Consideration Project Long List. Also – please feel free to share this newsletter using any of the links at the bottom of the page.

–  John

The 1:2 size ratio version of New Zealand Matariki blowing in a virtual wind. Credit:

The case for this flag

New Zealand Matariki is an opportunity as a country to diversify and progress our national visual identity. In the process we can depict ourselves with elements that are ours alone, while also referencing where we came from.
The graphic landscape I have rendered depicts a constellation we live under (Matariki) above the unique cloud and land combination we call home (Aotearoa) – a flag that is inclusive of everyone and exclusive to no one.

It's time to change. Let's do it!

So what happened was...

After ruminating on ideas for a while, on the afternoon of Thursday, 16 July 2015 – with only hours to go until deadline – I initiated, completed and submitted the two draft designs (above) to compete in the field of entrants for the New Zealand Flag Consideration Project.

Submitted, forgotten... until two weeks later when my inbox chimed that my New Zealand Matariki submission may make the official 'long list'.

What ensued then were official requests, to which I replied with a lot of the content you can read here below.

Long white cloud, Hokianga. July 26, 2010. Photography: John Kelleher.

Inspiration / distilling ideas into forms

If I were to point to an inspiring flag redesign, the South African flag adopted in 1994 would be my choice. Even with a wealth of iconic flora and fauna, and motifs such as the Springbok and Protea drawn from this source, South Africa took a different course, and in doing so created a distinctive flag.

In this spirit, I set aside existing motifs and took the dawn landscape we all share to inform the design: cloud sitting over the land (referencing Aotearoa, the most widely accepted Māori name for our country) and the clear night sky populated by the Matariki / Pleiades star constellation.

As New Zealanders, our personal histories contain many trips through this landscape at daybreak, whether to coast or mountains, for work or recreation.

The flags I submitted are distinguished only by the Southern Cross and Matariki star constellations. I favoured Matariki as I believe it is a more unique constellation for representing us as a nation. We are unique, and we'll become truly unique in the sphere of national flags by employing it.

Conversely, the Southern Cross is shared between no less than four other national flags (Australia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Brazil), all of which share a history of European colonisation, a meaning to which the Southern Cross design – for better or worse – has become aligned.

If we desire to put our colonial identity in a new context, Matariki seems the logical choice. Indeed, Matariki also appears in the northern hemisphere, so in a way it also represents all the people who travelled from there to make our country their home.

Additionally, the five-pointed stars in New Zealand Matariki are retained from the Southern Cross arrangement in the current flag, keeping that link to our colonial history.

Don Binney, 1965-66 ©

In terms of the cloud and land formations, these representations are simple, bold and graphic. If I was to link them to our cultural history, I would suggest they reference the visual art of artists such as Don Binney and Robin White. Both these artists featured stylised depictions of our landscape in their art.

The left-to-right reading of the cloud and land suggests positivity and growth.

In terms of colour, the black represents our modern cultural and sporting identities, and green characterises the land we populate.

Development / refinement

Once it was confirmed New Zealand Matariki had made the long list, a few short design sessions were completed to formalise the design, provide some variations on relative size, then provide sets of technical specifications so as anyone could recreate the flag.

Unlike the vast majority of flags on the long list that are designed in the elongated 1:2 ratio, my original submission was in the 5:8 ratio – a size shared by the flags of Argentina, Guatemala, Palau, Poland and Sweden. My reasoning behind this was that so often you see versions of the 1:2 ration that have been compressed –either by design or accident – into narrower formats, so why not just go there from the start.

In the end the ratio chosen for the long list by the New Zealand Flag Consideration Project was the narrower 2:3 format, the most popular ratio used by the world's national flags.

I also collected a few earlier drafts that depicted variations in design, and possible extensions of usage.
Producing technical specifications for the submission was an opportunity to match the concept with certain physical realities such as the positioning of Matariki, and also provide the ability for the most junior of software operators to reproduce the whole flag based solely on it's width measurement.


About the designer

John Kelleher is a graphic designer from New Zealand.

He currently resides with his partner and two children on the outskirts of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, while maintaining a family home in Piha, New Zealand. He currently services his valued design clients located in New Zealand, Australia and San Francisco.

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