First Things First Manifesto

Christmas Task: Research

BREIF: seminal document: “read it, reflect upon it, do some more research around it and make a blog post surrounding its contents, what it means to the discipline and how it could relate to you as a practicing graphic designer”


The First Things First document outlined the development of the ‘First Things First Manifesto’ and what it comprised off. It all started in 1964 when consumerism was taking over design.  A group of designers came together and wrote a manifesto to ‘protect’ design for the future, proposing: “a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication” in fear that designers skills were being used to unworthy purposes. “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. There are signs for streets and buildings, books and periodicals, catalogues, instructional manuals, industrial photography, educational aids, films, television features, scientific and industrial publications and all the other media through which we promote our trade, our education, our culture and our greater awareness of the world.”

In 2000 an updated version of the First Things First manifesto was published. Reinforcing the idea that consumerism has taken over design, talking about how that has now become known of what Graphic Design do:

“designers then apply their skill and imagination to sell dog biscuits, designer coffee, diamonds, detergents, hair gel, cigarettes, credit cards, sneakers, butt toners, light beer and heavy-duty recreational vehicles. 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.”

They believe that designers who devote there work in advertising and marketing are “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 manifesto was signed by a further 20 designers and hoped to further the debate of our skills as designers – as problem-solvers – to be put to worthwhile.

In an article written by Rick Poynor, he revisits the First Things First Manifesto as we are at a time surrounded by design. He addresses the fact that we are absorbed so much by design that we no longer recognise the way it which it’s supposed to entice us – it has become natural. “We imagine that we engage directly with the „content“ of the magazine, the TV commercial, the pasta sauce, or perfume, but the content is always mediated by design and it‘s design that helps direct how we perceive it and how it makes us feel.”  The original manifesto was written by Ken Garland at a time where the British economy was booming where consumerism was increasing. Four-colour printing was a rarity and “designers could only dream of American clients‘ lavish production budgets and visual panache” but for young designers at this time that was becoming no longer the case. It then developed that design work always addressed the corporate need – commercial sector of society – and is taking up most of designers time. Within design education, a strong point of view is rarely expressed and you learn more about commercial uses. With the modern world developing, people were more concern with “how cool” it looks rather than communicating the content – “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, these designers seriously seem to believe that formal innovations alone are somehow able to effect progressive change in the nature and content of the message communicated.”

Screen Shot 2017-01-15 at 15.47.41.png


First Things First Manifesto – written by Ken Garland

The link above is for a video I found online that helped me understand the manifesto a bit with seeing it displayed in a motion way rather than just written down. (It’s also a really cool piece of work done by students, using inspiration from important designers.)


The manifesto raised questions against the consumerist culture that had developed, who were purely concerned with buying and selling things and so tried to highlight a humanist dimension to graphic design. It’s interesting for me as a graphic communication student reading this because it’s sheds a different light onto what I already thought graphic design was. I always knew it was problem solving and communicating ideas, but also, advertising and branding. Once reading the ideas from the manifesto, I understand how advertising isn’t just a graphic designers job and that there are a lot of more important that a designer would be more worthwhile doing – e.g. signs, books. Having a sister who has recently graduated into the graphic design world, I can now understand her choices on what career she wants. She has always been very adamant that she was not going into advertising and would always say things like ‘I’d be wasted in that field’ which was something I never really understood. I can now understand how in advertising it would be more important to focus on how it looks rather than expressing a point of view, which wouldn’t be using a designers skills to their full potential – which sounds like a really boring job. In terms of reflecting this into my own practice, I know that the context within my work needs to be just as important as how it looks. I like to think that I see graphic design as radical, a way of communicating strong points of views; making people think. During college, I was always looking a designers work, taking inspiration from the likes of Barbara Kruger, Paul Rand, Saul Bass, etc. However, this is something I definitely need to be more conscious of and think about what kind of designer I want to be. I understand how ethically, commercial-based work is something that I or other designers wouldn’t want to do because there are things are lot more worthwhile that my time and skills could be used for.


Author: ellenreiddesign

First year Graphic Communication student at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s