Task 5 - Triangulated view of First Things First Manifesto (2000)

Posted: Tuesday, 23 February 2010 | Posted by Adam Townend |

The 'First Things First' self proclaimed manifesto, rewritten by the graphic design elite in 2000, is a call to action focussing on Graphic Designers everywhere to stand up and be counted. This was re-introduced to spark a movement from the commercialised designing that helps sell products such as 'diamonds, cigarettes, credit cards and designer coffee' which we are told we need but only for consumerist belonging, and to boost our social status. The manifesto outlines plans to pursue more worthy problems, such environmental and cultural crises.

There were contrasting views on what this manifesto meant to people and how it was received by other designers especially. Rick Poynor, a man who was directly involved with the reprise of the manifesto, writes 'For many young designers emerging from design schools, they now appear to be one in the same. Obsessed with how cool an ad looks, rather than with what it is really saying, or the meaning of the context in which it says it'. This shows that Poynor feels the young designers do not realise the ethical and moral repercussions of their actions as a designer. I tend agree from this perspective as we all falsely believe that in some way the latest mobile phone does show progression, as though its something to celebrate, yet it only makes the most trivial parts of our lives better.

Overall Poyner reiterates the the responsibility for misleading the consumer, or 'citizen' as he wants them to be known, lies directly with the designer. He ends his argument with the quote '... it is possible for visual communicators to discover alternative ways of operating in design.'

Writer Matt Soar comes from a neutral perspective in his article about the revival of the Manifesto by inserting quotes from signatories Milton Glazer and Rick Poyner. The first page makes the manifesto seem like the kick up the backside everyone needed, however, Soar begins to question not only the Manifesto itself but also the agendas of the signatories behind it. Soar writes 'the usual suspects might be understood as the "upper class", or professional elite, perhaps speaking above the heads of, or merely down to the to, the rank and file'. Soar goes on to say that this could be looked at as some sort of dictatorship for what they regard as the right way to design.

Soar quotes Michael Beirut, partner of Pentagram and president of the AIGA, who initially reported that he believed the manifesto was 'intelligently written' but soon had reservations himself reporting 'the dominant response "out there" in the first few weeks of its appearance had been frustration and alienation: a "that's-easy-for-them-to-say" kind of response.' This response could only act as a revolt against the manifesto as the designers involved have already made a name for themselves and are sitting comfortably. Professor Austin Lowery also had reservations about the manifesto calling for an inquest into what practical level of involvement the signatories had with the values espoused in First things First.

I can only agree and question the manifesto as well. My feelings are that no matter how many signatories there are bound by the shackles of ever making any money to survive, as designing solely towards an ethical point of view will never help a designer eat or cloth themselves. I do, however, believe the responsibility is with the designer in some respects, and the line has to be drawn somewhere. I do believe there has been some change for the better as campaigns to re-use plastic bags and recycle have all been successful and has not been at the cost of the designer. There are ethical and moral issues involved in designing for a corporate market, but we have to ensure we can do all we can without hindering the lives of the future.