Flagging the choices narrowed

Ferns, koru and Southern Crosses are the hallmarks of the 40 designs longlisted by the Flag Consideration Panel for our new national ensign.

Unsurprisingly, there has been criticism about the selections which were taken from the 10,292 submitted by New Zealanders from all walks of life.

Among some of the feedback has been that the flags lack innovation, mean little to Maori, do not reflect our heritage, and are little more than corporate logos and familiar symbols.

Certainly, at first glance, there seems little variety among the 40.

There are five predominant colours: the red, white and blue of the current flag, and black and green.

The Southern Cross from the current flag features on 20 designs, 19 have some form of koru and 11 a fern.

Given the ambivalence around the process it could be easy to dismiss the longlisted designs as underwhelming.

However, given New Zealanders will vote at the end of the year on the four final options chosen by the panel in September, it is important - whatever one's position - to learn about what the designs represent.

A lot can be gained by taking into account each flag's title and synopsis, within the context of the panel's selection considerations.

The 12-strong panel (which includes former Dunedin mayor Peter Chin) said submissions should be based on common principles of flag design.

Flags should be simple enough for a child to draw from memory, uncluttered, balanced and bold; be able to be flown and viewed from either side; should be timeless; and use few colours, and good contrasting colours.

The panel said it heard feedback from the public which was that the flag should be ''unmistakably from New Zealand'' and ''celebrate us as a progressive, inclusive nation that is connected to its environment, and has a sense of its past and a vision for its future''.

The koru and ferns are recognisable symbols of our native bush and, while not ''innovative'' as such, are new elements for our flag.

Two designs contain the seven stars of Matariki - also not on the current flag.

Many of the flags reference Maori - from the Matariki stars to the stylised Union Jack (notably the only representation of that symbol from our current flag).

The traditional Maori colours of black, red and white (the darkness, the blood and the light from the story of creation and represented on the Maori flag) feature in several designs.

The koru symbol, commonly used in Maori carving, also echoes the prow of a waka, or a wave, which is a nod to our island nation, the sea one of our hunting grounds and playgrounds.

The koru symbolises new life, growth, strength and peace, and the idea of perpetual movement gives the flags life, while reaching to the past and looking to the future.

The number of designs featuring representations of the silver fern is hardly surprising given its enduring popularity.

It is found on the likes of sporting, military and emergency services' insignia and bank notes.

(A flag featuring a silver fern is Prime Minister John Key's choice.)

However, both the koru and silver fern flags could present complications, given the organisations with corporate logos using it, and for this reason it could be flagged by the panel once it begins the due diligence process.

The Southern Cross is an important indicator of our geographic location and the fact it has been retained from the current flag is a nod to the past, as is the use in many of the selected designs of the Union Jack's white, blue and red, which still represent our Commonwealth ties.

Public feedback was for a new flag to represent ''unity'' and this is evident in many of the designs from their titles and synopses.

Granted, some of the stunning, imaginative and modern interpretations from the original longlist have been lost, and the panel's choices will not please everyone.

Given how divided the country has been on the issue however, radical designs were probably never going to make the mix.

So, although the longlist could be viewed simply as variations on a theme, the flags clearly fit the brief.

Which four will fly will be decided in September.

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