Designing State Symbols For The World's Newest Country
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
South Sudan was formed in 2011 after a brutal civil war. A new nation could use some branding - a new flag and new money, new symbols. Anne Quito is a graphic designer who went to South Sudan to work with the United Nations. She wrote about her experience for Works That Work, the international design magazine. She joins us now from Manila, in the Philippines. Thanks so much for being with us.
ANNE QUITO: You're welcome. What a pleasure.
SIMON: What are the factors you had to take into consideration to do things like help create flags and currency for South Sudan?
QUITO: What I learned was these state symbols are really marks of consensus. They're about design, but they're really about agreement. So South Sudan is comprised of 60 ethnic tribes, and for the one symbol that they were able to produce during the time of the referendum to the time of their independence, they produced a national seal. And they had to get the agreement of 28 cabinet ministers representing these tribes.
SIMON: And what's the seal look like? How would you describe it?
QUITO: At first glance, it's kind of really generic. It's an eagle bearing a shield. It's a fish-eating eagle, common to that region of Africa.
SIMON: That must've been a complicated process.
QUITO: Right? It's like having 28 art directors from different ethnic tribes...
QUITO: ...Barking at you.
SIMON: Let me ask you about the new currency. There's a portrait of John Garang...
SIMON: ...On that currency. He was a rebel leader who served briefly as vice president of Sudan before...
SIMON: ...He did in a helicopter crash in 2005. A lot of people loved John Garang, a lot of people didn't. Do you have to worry about that when you design currency?
QUITO: Absolutely. And in my visit there, he was universally respected, if not loved. He was really the only national hero they could agree to. So he actually appears on all denominations of the money. So he's the only really unifying hero of South Sudan.
SIMON: What about other symbols that you have to include?
QUITO: So there's the flag. The flag is a carryover from the People's Liberation Army, so that was an easy symbol. So it's a six color flag that people really used during the second civil war, and it's a natural rallying point. So that's their symbol. And when you're a new nation, you're defining your sort of, like, territory. So this, like, updating of signs was really a big deal, so they made banners and they made these sort of, like, 10 signs to say South Sudan.
SIMON: But you - you have experience and expertise that you could bring to the project. And coming from the outside, sometimes an outsider's eye can freshen things.
QUITO: Absolutely. And it was a humbling experience for me to be honest. The exercise of listening and really looking at design - not just about font - every design question I asked was answered by the political response.
SIMON: Anne Quito joins us from Manila. Thanks very much for being with us.
QUITO: You are most welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.