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This UK Passport Proposal Sums Up Brexit Perfectly

Scottish designer Ian Macfarlane's clever design won £1,000 in an unofficial competition to rethink the nation's documentation.

by Beckett Mufson
Apr 11 2017, 5:41pm

Images publiées avec l'aimable autorisation de Dezeen.

As Brexit finally begins, the devil's in the details. UK citizens are rightly concerned with the vast economic implications of their country's exit from the European Union, but it's someone's job to sort out the smaller things, like redesigning British paperwork. In aid of whomever has that responsibility, Dezeen hosted a competition to create a new UK passport. This morning Glasgow-born, London-based graphic designer Ian Macfarlane was announced as the winner for a booklet that fades from EU burgundy into the navy blue of the pre-EU document.

The 48-year-old designer generally works for small businesses, like a boutique shoe store and a lighting design consultancy. The prospect of redesigning a nation's passport is ambitious, but in his artist statement he makes his purpose clear. "Britain needs a visual metaphor to honestly reflect the pre- and post-referendum spirit of the country and all those involved," he writes. After winning Macfarlane added, "It was a good idea for a competition. It's an important issue given the situation."

The design's cleverness is rooted in its ambiguity. It can be interpreted as either celebration or criticism of Brexit, or simply an acknowledgement. Dezeen founder and editor-in-chief Markus Sairs, who chaired the jury, says, "It can be read as representing a smooth transition, a nostalgic return or an ominous darkening. This makes it a worthy winner, since the brief called for a design that would represent all UK citizens."

Another jury member, The Guardian architecture and design critic Oliver Wainright, interprets Macfarlane's design more directly. "It represents the 52 per cent [sic] spray-painting over the interests of the other 48 per cent," he says. "It is suitably sinister, like an overcast sky."

Other selected designs from the competition include Special Projects' iridescent "passport for the clubbing generation," and Tim Gambell and Alfons Hooikaas' hyperlocal design which builds each citizen a unique passport based on everything from where they're from to their social media activity.

While design alone can't solve the issues caused by Brexit, an aesthetic endorsed by a nation can affect the identity of its people. In 2014 Norway adopted a currency designed by Snøhetta that was reminiscent of pixel and glitch art. As senior brand designer Mattias Frodlund told us, "The initial thought we had was that this might be the last money to be produced in Norway. This could be the last statement of the paper money." That statement embodies Norway's commitment to technology, design, and forward-thinking. 

Similarly, the UK's new passport design will similarly be tied up in the nation's identity moving forward, although as one Dezeen commenter points out, it's unlikely the UK government will adopt any of these designs. Sairs tells Creators that the response to the contest results have be predictably mixed. "Response to the winning design is roughly divided according to how people voted in the Brexit referendum," he explains. "Among the Remain-voting creative community there has been a very positive response, since the design wittily articulates their fears that Brexit will lead to darker times. Feedback from designers on my social media includes 'Great choice!' and 'Love it!'" 

In fact, it turns out the contest was as divisive as Brexit itself. "The Brexit-voting public don't seem to get it at all," Sairs Continues. "The Telegraph ran a poll about the shortlist and the eventual winner came last, with just one per cent of the vote. Way out ahead were the designs that were more picturesque and celebratory of Britishness, with one featuring coastlines and quotes from literary heroes being their clear favorite." If the design of the new passport represents the UK's struggle to settle on an identity, the struggle is just beginning.

See more of Ian Macfarlane's work on his website.

Related:

Brave New Britain? One Architecture Student Reimagined the UK's Spectacular Future

How 'Political Fashion' Films Predicted 2017 in 2008

'Brexit the Musical,' Because Brits Will Make a Joke Out of Anything

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