This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

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15 August 2011

The New Zealand Passport—smart chip; smarter design

They say that no matter where you go in the world you’ll find a New Zealander. And, more likely than not, that New Zealander will be holding a new black biometric passport, with navigation and travel as its core themes.

A quick trip back in time
In the beginning there was the manually read passport. Then came the more reliable machine readable passport, and immigration officials could process arriving and departing passengers more quickly. Today less than 4% of New Zealanders hold non-machine readable passports, and the New Zealand passport has evolved yet again. It morphed into a biometric passport on 2 September 2008.
This latest passport has an embedded electronic chip that holds facial biometric identifiers. You can see the chip in the symbol on the front cover and in the polycarbonate leaf inside the front of the passport (where you’ll find the chip).

An effective and smart design
Yet the new New Zealand regular passport is smart in other ways. It shows how you can increase information on many layers, yet decrease document size; how you can introduce new themes and artwork, yet keep a document consistent and cohesive. Indeed, it is a great example of content and design coming together in a tightly controlled format.

The design is even smarter when you think that you open it without dwelling on the work behind the design—the research, complex file setup, detailed illustrations, and layout work that went into crafting the Clemenger BBDO-designed passport. All you see is the final effective and smart design.
Instead, you get a story (in English and Te Reo Māori) that develops with each turn of the page. It has constant images that form repetitive patterns (ocean, clouds, and the kōwhaiwhai border) showing how New Zealanders found their way to the land and are framed, yet not constrained, by it.

Other elements progress the design. We see the colours change from purple to orange to green to blue, from dawn to twilight. We see aerial views of sea and land and the Southern Cross move across the sky, as we chart navigational techniques. And this process gets repeated as New Zealanders renew their passport every five years.

The New Zealand passport has become a well-made thread that ties New Zealanders to the fabric of home as they fly or sail beyond its shores to other lands. If only all documents could look and travel so well.

If you want to know more about the design elements on each page of the New Zealand passport (and what they represent), visit

If you want to know more about what goes into a passport’s content, visit the International Civil Aviation Organization’s website and view Document 9303. It is available in the six UN official languages at Document 9303 has the current ICAO specifications for travel documents (including machine-readable passports, visas and ID cards) used when crossing borders. But note that not all countries follow the specifications.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Now I'm off to get mine out and have a good look through it!