First Things First Manifesto

The original First Things First manifesto was written in 1963, published in 1964, by Ken Garland and signed by an additional 21 ‘visual communicators’ (Design History, n.d.). It called upon designers to consider their influence and examine alternate uses for their talents opposed to working tirelessly promoting consumerism.

Garland, K., 1964. First Things First. London: Goodwin Press Ltd.

We, the undersigned, are graphic designers, photographers and students who have been brought up in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable means of using our talents. We have been bombarded with publications devoted to this belief, applauding the work of those who have flogged their skill and imagination to sell such things as: cat food, stomach powders, detergent, hair restorer, striped toothpaste, aftershave lotion, beforeshave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water, cigarettes, roll-ons, pull-ons and slip-ons.

In common with an increasing number of the general public, we have reached a saturation point at which the high pitched scream of consumer selling is no more than sheer noise. We think that there are other things more worth using our skill and experience on.

Garland’s manifesto highlights the trivial nature of using graphic design skill purely for advertising. He emphasises how designers are offered little alternative to the prostitution of talent in the consumer arena, allowing the reader to recognise falling into this thought pattern not a personal failing, but a downfall of the design profession. Garland’s humorous list of insignificant commodities designers promote demonstrates the extent of the problem, these banal products ridiculing the state of the profession. Deigning consumer-based design as an unethical utilisation of design skill, Garland’s manifesto highlights the issues, creates an understanding and empathy with the situation before suggesting that there must be a better use of skill and influence. By avoiding blame and identifying with designers using their talent for consumption based projects, Garland offers a chance for all designers to consider their position without feeling accountable.

Lasn, K. et al., 1999. First Things First Manifesto 2000. Eye Magazine, 33 (9), [online] Available at: http://www.eyemagazine.com/feature/article/first-things-first-manifesto-2000 [Accessed 5th December 2012].

Commercial work has always paid the bills, but many graphic designers have now let it become, in large measure, what graphic designers do. This, in turn, is how the world perceives design. The profession’s time and energy is used up manufacturing demand for things that are inessential at best.

Many of us have grown increasingly uncomfortable with this view of design. Designers who devote their efforts primarily to advertising, marketing and brand development are supporting, and implicitly endorsing, a mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very way citizen-consumers speak, think, feel, respond and interact. To some extent we are all helping draft a reductive and immeasurably harmful code of public discourse. . .

The First Things First manifesto was republished and rewritten for the beginning of the new millennium, amongst claims its sentiments were “more, rather than less relevant” today (Eye Magazine, 1999). Further emphasis is placed on the commercial nature of graphic design, building on Garland’s original (1964) to indicate the damaging nature of the designer’s influence. The manifesto identifies the use of talent in consumerism as resulting in a warped perception of the ability and capability of graphic design. The republication of the manifesto demonstrates the continuing requirement for a change of attitude within graphic design, the profession requires an overhaul before becoming completely captured by the claws of consumerism.

Poynor, R., 1999. First Things First Revisited, Emigre, 51, [online] Available at: http://www.emigre.com/Editorial.php?sect=1&id=13 [Accessed 21st December 2012].

The new signatories’ enthusiastic support for ‘Adbusters’ updated First Things First reasserts its continuing validity, and provides a much-needed opportunity to debate these issues before it is too late.

If thinking individuals have a responsibility to withstand the proliferating technologies of persuasion, then the designer, as a skilled professional manipulator of those technologies, carries a double responsibility. Even now, at this late hour, in a culture of rampant commodification, with all its blindspots, distortions, pressures, obsessions, and craziness, it’s possible for visual communicators to discover alternative ways of operating in design.

Poynor’s commentary relating to First Things First 2000 reiterates the persisting importance of the designer to take responsibility for their influence. Building on the manifestos, Poynor alerts the audience to the imperative of acting now, fundamental for a redistribution of talent and an awareness of influence.

Poynor’s later appearance in the response_ability seminar to deliver a presentation discusses the role of graphic designer and ethical challenges faced. Unlike the Manifestos however, Poynor considers the result to the profession if all graphic designers rejected unethical campaigns. (Poynor, R., 2010). The importance of Poynor’s influence in the field of ethics within graphic design is wide-reaching, as a continued activist he helps students and professionals to consider the consequences of their actions, the influences they possess and to respect their skill by utilising it in an ethical manner.

Design History, n.d. The First Things First Manifesto. [online] Available at: http://www.designishistory.com/1960/first-things-first/ [Accessed 5th December 2012].

Poynor, R., 2010. First Things . . . . When Exactly? Response_Ability Presentations Available at: http://www.response-abilityconference.com/presentations [Accessed 23rd December 2012].

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