Design

Graphic Design

The Union Jack’s highs and lows— London

Preface

Several weeks ago I would have argued that there’s something wrong with the Union Jack. Like any flag, it is supposed to embody and unite, to mark a nation.

Olympics, Union Jack

15 August 2012

Several weeks ago I would have argued that there’s something wrong with the Union Jack. Like any flag, it is supposed to embody and unite, to mark a nation. But it doesn’t, or at least it didn’t until the Olympics happened. I used to feel that it was divisory, poorly positioned and bastardised by design so bad it was practically treason. Never more indelibly evident than in Spice Girl Geri Halliwell’s latex Union Jack dress, surely a career low for such a historic flag.

The Union Jack had somehow parted the population. It could be seen flying over royal estates and council estates but not everywhere in between. The middle class seemed to want nothing to do with it and worryingly groups from the far right increasingly did: the BNP, football hooligans… Prince Philip. It had sadly become more plausible to picture the flag inked onto a flabby appendage than fluttering in our towns and streets. Sure there was an influx of Union Jacks for the Jubilee, particularly on high streets, but it smarted of commerce not celebration. Will the flags be there next summer for Her Majesty’s 61st anniversary?

Designers had bored of it too, abandoning it to rot in memorabilia stores. Or it was tiredly rolled out to express the 1960s spirit, rock and roll, punk and rebellion. Even British Airways distilled it into a limp ribbon smeared over its fleet’s tail fins. The disrespected red, white and blue needed a reboot and perhaps the Summer Olympiad has done the job. Firstly, something that the great Games have managed to amend is a sense of unity. From underprivileged over achievers, through to private school performers and even royal riders, every class proved their class. And consequently flag-waving became a national occupation.

The Union Jack is visually a little dense and has some unfortunate associations but that doesn’t alter its purpose, it’s there to encapsulate a country. And that means everyone has to be behind it, not for the sake of nationalism but for a moment of neutrality among the classes. It needs to be flown above all the right institutions and printed correctly when appropriate. And if you are uncomfortable with it as a graphic then scale it down rather than water it down.

It has been a big summer in Britain: big Jubilee, big Olympics, big rainfall and big debt. Can the flag now make it in the big society? I certainly hope so.

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