What is wrong with the world? It appears to be the same, or actually worse than 50 years ago. That is when the design manifesto First Things First was penned and published by Ken Garland. Its important message still lasts today and resonates in the two updates made by other creative professionals inspired by Garland’s words. The initial manifesto is encouraging and stirring, asking us to think of what kind of work we are involved in, and where our creative abilities come in use. There is a request for us to ponder over the significance of the work we do, seeing where it ends and how it affects the society.
The art and design manifestos from 1964, 2000 and 2014 are appealing for everyone in the creative industry not to sell their talent and souls to the greedy hands of capitalism. The proposal is that of a priority change. It is asking the creatives to put their focus and efforts to higher needs than advertising of products and services that don’t help the world improve and progress. ‘We are proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful ad more lasting forms of communication.’ (1964) Furthermore, the 1964 signatory is also proposing ‘to share our experience and opinions, and to make them available […] .’
While the 1964 was a manifesto rather mildly criticizing the society and the designers’ role in it, the updates from 2000 and 2014 address the issue in further detail. The issue of the capital and monetary wealth playing the primary role in a creative professional’s work-life. The issue of creatives’ support of everything that is wrong with the current western world, in which the few exploit expertise of many to create more uninspiring and inessential products. Consumerism is controlling the artists’ thoughts, inspiration and results of their efforts. ‘There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills,’ states the 2000 manifesto with 33 signatories. ‘Consumerism […] must be challenged by other perspectives expressed, in part, through the visual languages and resources in design.’ (2000) Fourteen years later, another group of designers, developers and other communicators came together to sign an update of First Things First. It links up to the previous versions and expands their programme: ‘It is also our responsibility as members of our industry to create positive changes within it. We must work to improve our stances on diversity, inclusion, working conditions, and employees’ mental health.’ (2014)
But what effect have the design manifestos had over the years? The society progressed away from humanism to a deepening capitalism where the monetary rotation is more important than what the money is spent on. The products and services offered are easily making a demand, and the role of creatives is to generate sales, not to improve society or solve the truly important world problems.
The design manifesto speaks to those in creative fields. Is the responsibility for the whole society on our shoulders only? Shouldn’t we expand this appeal further to all other public areas? The change will not come with creative roles getting paid less for their devoted work, starving like poor artists. The change needs to come through high and strong pressure on the governments. Those holding the political reigns must act in our interest to change and improve the society that is currently controlled by consumerism and corporations.
Image source: http://www.hectorserrano.com/index.php?id=97
First Things First, 1964.
First Things First, 2000.
First Things First, 2014.