Wednesday, May 08, 2002

FLAGGING INTEREST: The new flag under consideration for use by the European Union, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, is being nicknamed the "barcode flag" for obvious reasons -- although, personally, I think it looks more like the little raggedy carpet they gave me in Kindergarten to lie down on for my afternoon nap:

What's wrong with this picture?

I am a self-employed graphic artist by trade. Part of my job description is to satisfy the demands of the client. The other 90% of the job is to ignore the client's demands and steer them away from imposing ill-considered, whimsical design decisions that will, in the long run, cause them more grief than satisfaction.

Did the EU Flag Committee get their money's worth? Ummm ... well, they sure got a lot of colors. But herein lies the problem:

There's a reason why corporate identity materials are usually limited to one or two spot colors. It's this: Printed stationery and business cards can be produced quite handsomely and economically on a 2-color duplicator-class printing press. Whereas, full-spectrum process color requires a large 4-color press, which automatically elevates your printing budget for every single printed piece -- every envelope that's torn open and discarded upon receipt -- every lousy personalized memo pad -- into the stratosphere.

(The minute you see a company or organization adopt a logo design element that requires process color reproduction, you can infer that their directors are more concerned with impressing one another with their design sensibilities than in controlling expenses and preserving shareholder value.)

Admittedly, I've never designed or manufactured a flag, but the economics are surely similar to that of any other corporate identity concept. Imagine the logistics of purchasing dyes, threads and fabrics in 45 different colors -- and certifiying that each is an accurate match for the required color specifications! -- as opposed to only two or three.

If Koolhaas simply gave the EU what they said they wanted, then he's a hack. A professional would have guided them toward a more economical design. But if the "barcode" design concept is fundamentally Koolhaas' own, he is guilty of gross professional negligence for allowing it to see the light of day.

I have no doubt that the EU Flag Committee feels they got their money's worth. (I mean -- gosh, look at all the pretty colors!) But when they eventually figure out that they've made a mistake -- and they will, just as soon as they start seeing some manufacturers' invoices -- they might want to consider solicting competitive bids for the next flag.

H.D. Miller of Travelling Shoes has some other practical concerns as well:
My advice to the European Union is don't be too hasty in accepting this new design. A few years down the road you might find yourselves regretting the barcode, with all of the anti-individualistic connotations that implies. You might find yourselves longing for something a little simpler, a little easier for school children to draw.

(Note to prospective flag clients: You like complexity for its own sake? You like pretty colors? I like money! Here's a few of my own alternate design comps, gratis.)



UPDATE (from BBC News): "Already unfavourably compared to wallpaper, the TV test card and deckchair fabric, the stripe design is only one of the proposals submitted by the Dutch 'brainstormer'." [So why is this one particular proposal getting all the press? -Ed.]

UPDATE: Grasshoppa proposes his own alternative flag design. Who says irony is dead?


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