Concept + Text
Concept + Text
FH JOANNEUM Graz
The investigations started off in Australia and New Zealand, during the last months of 2015. Findings and insights gained from those field-studies were then supplemented with basic research back in Europe the following year and put to final form in Vienna, Austria. This thesis focuses on the flag as a time-honored medium, proceeding to draw parallels to the modern logo. As a logical continuation, the two concepts ‘Nation’ and ‘Brand’ are being juxtaposed, since both brands and nations sometimes can profit from a redesign of both structure and appearance in times of identity-crisis. The logo is being perceived as a core element of any visual identity, thus a flag redesign is being considered as a possible reaction to the crisis of the EU in 2015/16 – since, according to public opinion, the EU was in an identity crisis, especially in 2016, after previous economic and refugee crises (amongst other things).
In today’s modern society, flags have become almost natural phenomena. From the group to the individual: this medium of communication has served mankind’s need for visual transmission of information already for thousands of years and in a myriad of ways. But precisely because of this omnipresence of flags being taken for granted, the cultural-philosophical reflection on the topic creates an understanding for a long-internalized symbolic language and provides valuable insights into areas of the Aesthetics, History, Visual Communication, Branding and Psychology of the Masses. By critically analyzing outstanding examples of flag-design, the thesis also attempts to illustrate relevant areas such as Vexillology and Heraldry.
Aside from the author’s own work (photographs, graphics, et al.) and his scientific literature research, a lot of the material used in this master’s thesis include articles and pictures from newspapers and the press. Above all, the comments, illustrations and caricatures that accompanied the events of the day were included to provide an impression of the topic’s contemporary relevance. Furthermore, interviews and conversations with companions from different parts of the world not only served as inspiration, but in some cases even became key elements of the work. Special attention was paid to three interviews with experts. Although these are only to be found in the appendix, they are thematically drawn through the entire work. All of these elements play together and tell of a trans-national engagement with design, culture, identity and identity crisis. Using the European Union as a contemporary example of such an (big scale) identity crisis, the (hypothetical) redesign of a logo – that is, the flag of the EU – is ultimately being discussed.
The result should serve as provocative source of inspiration (or horror-inducing doctrine) and could be a starting point for future discussions and further investigations.
First of all, the work can bee seen as an original approach to analyzing an easily overlooked field of visual communication through empiric research, structural image research and classic design techniques (e.g. such as golden mean, multiple grid systems etc.). By means of such an experimental documentation, the processes behind the conception, design and implementation of flags (and logos alike) were intended to be conveyed in a dramaturgical, yet meaningful way.
Since the book is somehow a progress report documenting the author’s experience, the structure follows his train of thought as he tries to elaborate an idea – the three main questions raised being: Is a flag a special form of a logo? If flags are indeed logos, does that make nations brands? And: If nations are brands, could rebranding be used as a tool to fight an identity crisis – even on a (trans-)national level?
In order to keep the successive logical conclusions plausible to the reader, the content was then structured using four dominant colors (taken from the transnational Olympic flag). The ‘book-in-a-book’-experience, created by using two different high-quality papers within the book – in combination with the aforementioned colors – helped to further divide the content visually into ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ information.
In the end, this step-by-step dissection of the questions and their possible answers turn the book into some sort of a ‘how-to-manual.’ The book was conceived in such a way that, on the basis of the knowledge gained by reading the book, virtually anyone could then go on to find a reasonable graphic design solution for the issue at hand.
Designers willing to graduate with a degree that is recognised by the state usually find themselves in an awkward situation. On the one hand, they are expected to be as scientifically accurate in their work as any other graduate-to-be. One the other hand, hardly any design student has had sufficient schooling in that area to this point – and at the end of the day, the correct use of scientific writing wouldn’t be what their marks really depended on after all.
The restrictions for scientific writing, however, are manifold and usually contrary to what one might consider an interesting design choice. There have been plenty of individual solutions to this problem. But in my case this grey-area of ‘scientific designing’ actually turned into some sort of creative guideline: I decided to embrace the restrictions imposed on me and took on the challenge to bend them to their extremes. Anything that wasn’t clearly defined in the ‘rulebook’ would receive a contemporary reinterpretation. The result is an experimental design-thesis-centrepiece that is still painstakingly scientific at the same time. (This, by the way, is the sole reason why all the important interviews had to be at the end of the book.)
To perpetuate that thought: of course there would have to be a written, scientific conclusion in the book. But a design-themed-thesis ask for a ‘visual conclusion’ just as much.
The visual conclusion, consisting of three flag designs, is being documented in a booklet (and three posters that derived from it) added in the back of the book. However, those examples only serve as an illustration of one(!) possible outcome to the entire presentation of the problem. While those sample designs are a thorough synthesis of the before mentioned meticulous analysis of the flag-topic, it is definitely not where the main focus of this work lies: the emphasis remains on the academic research – and on the experimental editorial design that was used to convey its findings.
Content-wise, two past eras appeared to be particularly defining for the editorial design of Recapture the Flag. Namely the 1970s, when the Aboriginal Flag was being created, and the 1990s, when the EU was being founded. In order to reflect this visually, a hybrid of two design trends from those days was used for the overall style of the book: The form of the book and its typographic grid is a hail to 70’s structuralist magazine design, evoking objectivity and order, reduction and clarity. But the kinetic dynamics of more rebellious experimentations are in a way closer to the 90’s, by trying to evoke more emotional reactions and seeking to involve the audience’s participation. Even the typefaces that were used throughout the book – the glorious Thesis-Superfamily – in many ways evoke 70s typography (see: Frutiger), while being a product of the 90’s itself.
Speaking of typefaces: two experimental flag-themed fonts were created in the process to be used repeatedly within the book. One being a Semaphore-Font, the other being a multi-layered color font based on the International Code of Signals (ISC) of the International maritime signal flags. (By the way: For those interested in the later, you’re welcome to request the font file for free HERE!)
Finally, the abstracted flag on the glossy cover design, lightly mirroring the reader’s face, summarizes the key insight of the book: flags are all about identity. Like logos, they are only empty vessels, waiting to be filled with (social) meaning. A brief glimpse into the world of flags therefore conveys a much better understanding of human society, in which group identities are based on shared symbols. Thus: Whoever inspects the flag also inspects himself/herself.
True to the tradition of any medium seeking to evoke a cinematic experience, there had to be outtakes for this project as well. This was my way of honoring all the unused material, e.g. mail-correspondances, images and other findings unfit for scientific quotations etc). The Booklet encompassed roughly 100 pages and was titled ‘Die Standarte’ – a visual and linguistic pun:
Die Standarte = guidon
Der Standard = well-known Austrian newspaper