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FIRST THINGS FIRST MANIFESTO - ANALYSIS - WEAVING UNCONSTRAINED TRAIN OF THOUGHT
FIRST THINGS FIRST MANIFESTO - ANALYSIS - WEAVING UNCONSTRAINED TRAIN OF THOUGHT
First Things First is a manifesto and the brain child of Ken Garland. Endorsed and signed by a number of additional designers and artists it was printed in its entirety in the Guardian newspaper by Tony Benn, a notorious left wing MP, in 1964. A was a reaction to, and product of, society at that time. And railed against the consumerist culture, calling for designers to rethink their practices and priorities. It was then updated and republished with a new group of signatories in they year 2000. What follows is both the 1964 and 2000 manifestos. This article is then an unconstrained, and sometimes wildly erratic, discussion of the manifesto, its meaning and impact on the world of today. by Jon Starkey
1964 manifesto 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, before shave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water, cigarettes, roll-ons, pull-ons and slip-ons. By far the greatest effort of those working in the advertising industry are wasted on these trivial purposes, which contribute little or nothing to our national prosperity. Page 2
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. We do not advocate the abolition of high pressure consumer advertising: this is not feasible. Nor do we want to take any of the fun out of life. But we are proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication. We
hope that our society will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesmen and hidden persuaders, and that the prior call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes. With this in mind we propose to share our experience and opinions, and to make them available to colleagues, students and others who may be interested. signed: Edward Wright, Geoffrey White, William Slack, Caroline Rawlence, Ian McLaren, Sam Lambert, Ivor Kamlish, Gerald Jones, Bernard Higton, Brian Grimbly, John Garner, Ken Garland, Anthony Froshaug, Robin Fior, Germano Facetti, Ivan Dodd, Harriet Crowder ,Anthony Clift, Gerry Cinamon, Robert Chapman, Ray Carpenter Ken Briggs ////////////////////////////////
2000 manifesto We, the undersigned, are graphic designers, art directors and visual communicators who have been raised in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable use of our talents. Many design teachers and mentors promote this belief; the market rewards it; a tide of books and publications reinforces it. Encouraged in this direction, 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 professionâ€™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 citizenconsumers speak, think, feel, respond and interact. To some extent we are all helping draft a reductive and immeasurably harmful code of public discourse. There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills. Unprecedented environmental, social and cultural crises demand our attention. Many cultural interventions, social marketing campaigns, books, magazines, exhibitions, educational tools, television programmes, films, charitable causes and other information design projects urgently require our expertise and help.
it must be challenged by other perspectives expressed, in part, through the visual languages and resources of design. In 1964, 22 visual communicators signed the original call for our skills to be put to worthwhile use. With the explosive growth of global commercial culture, their message has only grown more urgent. Today, we renew their manifesto in expectation that no more decades will pass before it is taken to heart. signed:
Jonathan Barnbrook, Nick Bell, Andrew Blauvelt, Hans Bockting, Irma Boom, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Max Bruinsma, SiĂ˘n Cook, Linda van Deursen, Chris Dixon, William Drenttel, Gert Dumbar, Simon Esterson, Vince Frost, Ken Garland, Milton Glaser, We propose a reversal of priorities Jessica Helfand, Steven Heller, Andrew in favour of more useful, lasting and Howard, Tibor Kalman, Jeffery Keedy, democratic forms of communication â€“ a Zuzana Licko, Ellen Lupton, Katherine mindshift away from product marketing and toward the exploration and production McCoy, Armand Mevis, J. Abbott Miller, Rick Poynor, Lucienne Roberts, Erik of a new kind of meaning. The scope Spiekermann, Jan van Toorn, Teal Triggs, of debate is shrinking; it must expand. Rudy VanderLans, Bob Wilkinson Consumerism is running uncontested;
Ken Garland Page 3
Analysis... ...plus a discussion regarding the state of the world address which takes us through human nature, communism, a little bit of history, religion, back to human nature and ends up where we started, at ‘First things first’ - and in this case also last. When Ken Garland published his manifesto in 1964 he made a declaration to his fellow design contemporaries in an intentionally open and public way. His manifesto though, I believe when viewed through the prism of our privileged position of nearly 50 years in to the future, looks a little aimless, irrelevant and extremely naïve. It was written in the mid 1960’s and contains references to a “saturation point” in advertising, I think we can all acknowledge that our lives today involve us experiencing a great deal more advertising that our contemporaries from 50 years ago. Look at the myriad ways in which advertisers impinge upon our daily lives today, with unsolicited mass texts to thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, spam emails by the billion, billboards and posters spread across everything you can see. From bus stops, to taxis, to the scaffolding that surrounds our sacred historical buildings! Personally tailored and targeted web adverts vie for your attention every time you try to check the weather, television adverts that fill almost the same air-time as the program you are actually trying to watch. Even ‘us’, the general public, we walk around with little adverts on the shoulders of our jackets, attached to our shoes, emblazoned on our caps, hats, taps, cat-flaps? And we are even willing to pay large sums of money for the privilege of doing this, because the advertising has worked. (I am myself am no exception to this) Advertising has now reached global epidemic proportions, with gutter level morals. I would not however assume that even this is the saturation point Page 4
as Ken Garland did. I am certain that new ways to grab our attention and force awareness of new brands into our already input overloaded brains will be found. Given enough motivation - and there is plenty in the advertising industry in the form great dirty piles of hard cash - I am sure human greed will enable us to use our technology and ingenuity to invent brand new ways to distract each other with shiny new desirable toys. Todays apathetic, ignorant designers, coupled with the drone-like sheep we call consumers, dwarf into non existence the 1960’s concerns of Ken and his fellow signatories. And in the same way, tomorrows I’m sure will do the same.
‘...who is Ken Garland to decide what is and is not deemed worthy of inclusion in his list of worthwhile items?’ To my mind Ken Garland’s manifesto lacks a readily identifiable and welldefined specific goal. He talks in a vaguely derogatory way about roll-ons, pull-ons, and slip-ons, and goes on in an almost communist sounding tone of voice about “worthwhile purpose”, “gimmick merchants” and his hopes that society will eventually through of the shackles of his imagined oppressors. But then he also says that he “does not advocate the abolition of high pressure consumer advertising”. He should in my opinion have spent a little less time indulging in catchy sound bites and negative aimless rhetoric, and spent a little more time on a properly thought through statement of intent or desire. After all who is Ken Garland to decide what is and is not deemed worthy of inclusion in his list of worthwhile items? This is another key point of his manifesto. Some people may draw a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction from the use of, and/or collection of, ‘slip-ons’. Whatever they might be? Are they to be denied access to well
designed, aesthetically pleasing ‘slipons’ just because they do not fit into Ken’s poorly defined group of worthwhile consumables? Having said that I do find myself fundamentally agreeing with Ken, so this is all a little Devil’s advocacy, but the point stands. ‘First Things First’ provides no tangible answers or solutions to a problem that is poorly defined at best and non-existent at worst. Although Ken professes not to want an end to consumerism the whole tone of voice of his manifesto seems to suggest otherwise. It has the flavour of some of the early pious, self-righteous, (and undoubtedly well meaning) proclamations from the soviet communist party. ‘First Things First’ harks back, in a very obvious way, to the birth of Graphic Design in the early 1900’s. I believe Ken took his inspiration from Constructivism, Dada the Bauhaus and their respective manifestos. He saw the ideals and highminded notions of the people present at the birth of Graphic Design, what they stood for and what they wrote. In stark contrast he saw what the design community has become today - or was in the 1960’s anyway. He saw it had strayed very far indeed from its genuinely noble intentions that were used as the raw materials when forging this new discipline. I can, and do, sympathise with him in this matter, but those days are gone forever. This is the really real world now and only a few have the time or inclination to consider meaning, beauty or craft skill. Hard-bitten greed merchants run the show now, and you either get on board the ever-accelerating train of commerce to mega rich plaza, or you become a pathetic irrelevance and figure fun to be scorned and pitted. In the current climate you’ll also be lucky if your not to be blamed by the state for every perceived fear and unfounded danger they’ve drummed up and planted in the minds of the bigoted, self righteous, xenophobes we call the general public.
Highly crafted, polished, top quality design from dedicated and talented designers does thankfully have at least a small place left for it in our society. But there is just not enough demand for it so that every designer can have the luxury of being able to do it. There is a hell of a lot of awful tat out there that needs packaging too, and more to the point it needs to look like tat too. Today’s consumers have been programmed by our society to understand the difference between luxury and economy just by the aesthetic of the packaging. New products therefore need to fit into this established framework and give of the correct signals to potential consumers. It is a designer’s job to understand this and produce work that fulfils the needs of the particular project.
‘The Bauhaus is truly dead. We now live in the very real, very greedy, very jaded and apathetic 21st century.’
We are all using visual cue’s everyday learned from experience; it is a consequence of just existing in our society. We start to understand the connotations and denotations of everything around us from foodstuffs to automobiles from a very early age. Whether we are conscious of it or not this awareness lets us know what to expect from any given product and is an integral skill for us to function in society properly. This understanding of signs and visual cues is called Semiotics, and has been studied extensively over the last 100 years. (Please see my essay on this semiotice and advertising for further details on this topic) As designers and students of today we do not have the same luxuries of time and freedom enjoyed by De Stijl, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Walter Gropius back at the birth of graphic design. The Bauhaus is truly dead. We now live in the very real, very greedy, very jaded and apathetic 21st century. We need to make money to live, to eat, to survive, and must do this at almost any cost. When push comes to shove, the chips are down and - insert your own nihilistic colloquialism of choice here - these factors must come before considerations of taste, culture and desire, purely for survival reasons. We would all like to do cutting edge work we’re proud of every day of the year,
but this is just not possible for the vast majority of people working in the design industry. Obviously we can, and must for the sake of our own sanity, try on a personal level to continue to produce work we are proud of. But this must necessarily be done as recreation for a lot of us. That is not to say you shouldn’t always try to produce good work, but if you’re designing packaging for joke dog turds say, and your client wants a cartoon of said dog turd, flipping the bird or something equally as vulgar, or he won’t pay you, then you really have no choice but to turn out almost literal sh?t!
‘...we can, and must for the sake of our own sanity, try on a personal level to continue to produce work we are proud of’ The existence of the ‘First things first’ manifesto I think was born out of a perceived malaise and lack of self worth in the design community. A malaise that I think is very real, and I sympathise a great deal with Ken in this respect, some designers do not even aspire to produce good work anymore.
The general public are even worse and are seldom worth even a mention in regard to design appreciation. In general they are ignorant, self-interested fools who wouldn’t recognise good design if it came up to them and introduced itself as Sir Good Design, ambassador from the isle of really marvellous and very impressive design-land. With regard to the impact of the First things first manifesto: I believe it was, and is, only of any interest to those who are already interested in that sort of thing. I do not think it changed anyone’s mind about anything, their professional practice, or outlook on life. I’m sure it made Ken feel better, and his fellow signatories, and I know it caused a little stir in the industry at the time, but I don’t think it really achieved a single thing. If we were to take Ken at his word and manage all marketing, advertising and production of consumables in a top down ordered manner. Only making available to the general public items and products deemed ‘worthy’. Then we end up with a system indistinguishable from that of communism.
Bauhaus Poster Page 5
Communism & human nature Communism was categorically and undeniably shown by the Soviets to be a flawed system of government in their much discussed and notoriously troublesome nationwide experiment conducted during much of the 20th century - i.e. the USSR. That’s not to say the west’s chosen systems of democracy and capitalism, as means of mass social management has been a tear away success either. It has not lead to a beautiful utopia being created for the benefit and enjoyment of it’s citizens. Heaven is unfortunately still not a place on earth, nor is it a place in the fictional afterlife as a matter of tangential interest, but that’s a topic for another essay. However democracy and capitalism can definitely be seen to be a far better alternative than the failed communist system in almost every way.
‘...time for the USSR was running out. More and more people were getting impatient for the ‘workers paradise’ they had been promised so many years before’ The main problem with the sort of top down management of society enacted by Communism is that it soon becomes impossibly complicated to manage. Plus in the case of the Soviet Union their end was accelerated by reckless military spending to counter the growing perceived threat presented by the Americans. That said, the writing was on the wall for the Soviet Union from the very beginning. During the first few decades of communist rule in the Soviet Union things were genuinely did get better for its people. After all
the primary idea of communism is exactly that, that the country is run for the betterment of the peoples lives. So that things are equal and everyone works for the betterment of themselves, their fellow man and the motherland. The populous saw many changes and many went from farming to factory work. From a central government the entire country was transformed into an industrial powerhouse and during the 1950’s was by almost every measure outperforming America. Problems started to emerge when industrialisation had been achieved. Things had to move on, the people had been labouring in good faith for years for a better tomorrow. One in which recreational items would be available and holidays a reality, the much talked about ‘workers paradise’ they had been promised. But the problem was
A woman rests on a fallen Soviet hammer-and-sickle: Moscow 1991 Page 6
Around 100,000 protestors march on the Kremlin: Jan 20th, Moscow 1991
that centralised management of society at large was just not responsive enough, and could not control with enough detail, the production of the many items society desired. Everything was managed on a countrywide scale, so where as this had worked perfectly well for mass industrialisation and producing cement by the tonne, it did not work at all when it came to fulfilling humans inherent desire for fashionable trinkets, knick-knacks and other ephemera. Where as in the west capitalism provided a feedback mechanism in the form of consumerism. Once the cornerstones of an industrial society like power plants and other utilities were in place in the west, then the system of consumerism enabled the public to get the things they desired on a personal level. An entrepreneur would make something locally and if people wanted it then it was a success. If it wasn’t and people didn’t want it wasn’t produced anymore. This was going on all over America like hundreds of thousands of little social experiments determining what the people really wanted, and in turn lead to more industry and economic growth. Back in the USSR clever people sat in government buildings and worked out mind bogglingly complex algorithms to perform the same task. They thought they could accurately predict everything. Exactly what sort of doll little Ms Comrade would want for Christmas and which kind of car big Daddy Comrade would like to drive. They would then instruct these products to be built on a national scale. This was incredibly efficient and cost effective, it was for the people and devised by the people – a small select group of the people anyway. But was also clearly hopelessly ambitious and destined for failure from the very start. You simply cannot manage a nation of millions with their individual wants, needs and desires by committee. No matter how clever you are, or how hard you try, you just cannot predict and then provide the various material items you need to to keep everyone content and fulfilled. And time for the USSR was running out. More and more people were getting impatient for the ‘workers paradise’ they had been promised so many years before.
the USSR completely disintegrated. The 1970’s brought with it the Olympic games, and for many in the USSR this was the first time they got a proper look at what the west was really like. They saw this on their televisions in the Olympic games coverage which was transmitted uncensored. They saw a stark contrast in the material wealth of the general public. Things like cars and clothes, the freedom people had to wear what they wanted and say what they thought. This sowed the seeds of discontent and fanned them were they already existed. The 80’s brought a new era of paranoia and military posturing in both the USSR and the USA. The cold was really getting into full swing and more and more weapons were being built to counter the other sides growing arsenal. Though Ronald Regan’s much publicised ‘Strategic Defence Initiative’ did clearly cost a great deal it was costing the country significantly less of its GDP than the USSR’s military program. The USSR was in effect bankrupting themselves and coupled with growing unrest at home something had to change. Gorbachev’s solution to this problem was Glasnost. Which was a restructuring of the communist system and a new more open form of governance. This opened proved only to open the floodgates on a tide of discontent and hasten the demise of the Soviet Union. Over the next few years
‘With an innate predisposition toward corruption and greed, and an uncanny ability to ignore the blatantly obvious right up to and well beyond the point of no return, this was always on the cards’ Since the death of communism the end of the cold war and fall of the berlin wall, the western worlds particular take on capitalism has been left to run largely unchecked. With deregulation and privatisation in almost every industry and sector occurring on both sides of the Atlantic. This has resulted in a runaway, headlong race for profits at the expense of almost all other concerns, certainly our morals and the happiness of huge sections of our society. In extreme cases it has even cost the lives of those unfortunate enough to either get in the way of, or fail to become part of, our insatiable desire for more more more! The recent worldwide recession is an inevitable symptom of the western worlds conceited, self-congratulatory opinion of how clever it has been to have chosen capitalism not communism. That and an under-regulated, over confident banking industry. An industry so powerful and conceited that it did not for one second think it could possibly have made a mistake when it... Page 7
Communism & human nature... continued ...predicted hugely unrealistic profits on sub-prime mortgages. It then marketed those mortgages on mass to people who could just never afford to pay them back. As well as failings in the rules and regulations we as a society had let become firmly entrenched in the banking industry; I would lay not an insignificant portion of the blame for the worldwide recession at the door of human nature itself. With an innate predisposition toward corruption and greed, and an uncanny ability to ignore the blatantly obvious right up to and well beyond the point of no return, this was always on the cards. While we in the west had an alternative method of organising society out there in the form of the Soviet Union, we seemed to as a whole have an unconscious desire to compete against them on the level of society Vs. society. This seemed to keep in check, to some extent, the worst excesses of capitalism. Our leaders on some level needed to prove that the standard of living was better for us than them. Indeed the ‘American dream’ is a very obvious illustration of this fact, the unspoken caveat to the notion that “Anyone can make it in America” is “but you’re destined for a unfulfilled, meaningless painful wait for death if you live under the boot of the oppressive Communist Soviet regime.” An interesting and illustrating fact is that in real terms the median average American income has not risen since 1974! Since the west has found itself the victor in this worldwide unarmed conflict of ideas though the breaks on capitalisms cart of consumerism have been well and truly taken off.
positions of power are the only way this is going to work. The primary problem with managing society is human nature. We are greedy, violent, tribalistic, self obsessed narcissists, only one step away from picking up the nearest heavy object and hitting people with it. Wrapped in a veneer of civility and labouring under the deluded assumption that we are intelligent, self aware, cosmopolitan beings. The most dangerous thing about us is that the majority of people do not realise their own true nature! We lie to ourselves on an almost minute-byminute basis, justifying this action and that, coming up with interpretations and excuses for our plans and actions. All the while our animalistic sub-conscious sets out its own greedy, self aggrandising agenda for our conscience mind to explain away as bad luck, good luck, someone else’s fault or supernatural intervention. As a society we need policing and sensible checks putting in place to manage our worst excesses, checks that have recently been sadly lacking in the financial sector. We must be aware of our ignorant tribalistic nature so we can prevent ourselves descending into the cosy, self-righteous bigotry of religious fundamentalism. Or other ‘Us
Vs. Them’ group ideologies. And we must not tolerate this predisposition in others, not all opinions are equal, they can’t be. Fundamentalist Christians believe the Muslims are going to hell and Muslims that Christians are. This is mutually exclusive dogma. In this particular case they are both wrong but you take my point? Balance cannot be struck between something which is untrue and something true, because the halfway point is still untrue. If a fact is demonstrably correct and provable then if you disagree with it then you must be wrong. Sometimes we have to stand up to ignorance and superstition. We must highlight and eradicate opinions and societies that encourage bigotry based on pre-scientific superstition. These belief systems, when looked at objectively from the perspective of the scientifically enlightened 21st century, are clearly hangovers from our prescientific past. Clinging to bronze age interpretations of reality, misogynistic and homophobic social laws and farcical fairy stories regarding the production of wine is not acceptable no matter how much money, land or influence the organisations that promote such beliefs may have. (See the Catholic church)
‘We are greedy, violent, tribalistic, self obsessed narcissists, only one step away from picking up the nearest heavy object and hitting people with it’ Communism was clearly inherently flawed and capitalism is now unopposed worldwide king, but it is far, far from perfect. Capitalism is only the current the best solution we have to the problem of how we organise ourselves on mass. We do need to be aware that it is not the only solution, and we need to manage our inevitable abuse of it with sensible legislation, well defined checks and transparent accountability for those in Page 8
Biblical image of Hell
The EDL demonstrating in Bradford
The future and the present For humanity to last it must be aware of, and leave behind, many of our innate animalistic qualities. Instead of a non-existent magical sky fairy we must embrace logic, critical thinking and science as our saviours and means of deliverance into a better future. This is not to say that we cannot be creative, inspiring, loving or impulsive. We are not robots and should celebrate the best about being human. We have a lot of good points among the bad, and are all capable of great kindness, love and altruism, just as we are equally capable of horrific cruelty, greed and brutality. We must think about our fellow man and our place in the universe, the present and the future. The future stretches out before us as a stream of temporal possibility (I am setting aside the free will argument for another time. I will only say that even if, as seems very probable, this is an entirely deterministic universe in which free will does not and cannot exist. Then as self aware beings (even if our self awareness is illusionary) we must live our lives as-though we had free will. Thus making the whole argument null-andvoid in regard to many social issues. With the notable exception of crime and punishment) and is not there just to be occupied by our tomorrows, but by our children’s and our grandchildren’s. For future generations to have a future ideas that are demonstrably incorrect and dangerous to society must be eradicated with extreme prejudice for the long term good of humanity and survival of our species, tolerance of intolerance is not acceptable.
‘We are going to need to do some serious growing up as a species if we are to have any real chance at long-term survival’
Even living here in the futuristic 21st century with our smart phones, smart cars and smart Superdry clothing (I have a Superdry jacket and I love it); a world where even a calculator watch seems old fashioned! (I never thought I would see the day) We are by no means out of the woods as far as humanities continued existence is concerned. If anything it is more in doubt than at any other point in our history barring the height of the cold war nuclear threat. We are going to need to do some serious growing up as a species if we are to have any real chance at long-term survival. This is going to involve some serious soul searching, clear thinking and the use of science and critical thinking in every walk of life, not just to make our pretty toys or to facilitate easier communication. So what do we require of our leaders? That is a tricky question and one I am not qualified to answer. But what we don’t need is more petty childish point scoring against each other (just watch the footage of parliament for five seconds to see examples of this), no more fear mongering and invoking the worst base urges in the public, encouraging us to hate them (BNP, UKIP, all religious organisations) and no more greed, corruption and lies. These ways of living our collective lives are going to be hard, if not impossible, to leave behind. This is particularly true for those in positions of power, lies and cynical manipulation of the truth, have been the tools of choice for the powerful in society since pre history. They form a fundamental part of the fabric of our society. We’re all so used to the status quo it’s hard to envision any real, fundamental change. Look at our recent history, at the 1960’s, the time when our parents tell us there was actual real hope for genuine positive change in society - incidentally the time
at which Ken wrote his manifesto - and what did we learn? That protest is futile and peace is impossible. We need to try to unlearn these facts, and as impossible as it may seem, strive to make a change. To be better, nicer, more honest and creative people each and every day.
‘...our decadent youth pay less and less attention to everything that does not vibrate, flash or get you high’ It is extremely doubtful society will ever muster up the political will, or self-awareness, to make the required changes and ensure humanities continued existence. Just look at the ongoing global warming denial movement. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that we do have a role to play in the undeniable warming of the world, and if we do then we are effectively signing our children’s death sentences by continued inaction. You would have thought that if there were even a small chance of this being true then people would take whatever action was necessary to rectify the problem. But because it might, just possibly, get in the way of the instant gratification of yet more profits people still refuse to take any sensible action. Or perhaps take the fact that religious zealots are more and more prevalent, if they’re not flying planes in to buildings then they’re trying to deny evolution science in the very heart of the so called free world. Things are not going to get any better while the only people who can be bothered, or have the power, to actually do anything in this world are: The politicians with only their self aggrandising place in history to pursue, the mega rich with their bottomless pockets to continue stuffing money into. Page 9
The future and the present... continued Religious zealots who are either on a mission from God to kill, or save, the rest of us. All the while most of us sit around, apathetic, earphones in, ignoring all around us while we stare straight ahead at our personal media players. We confirm everything we already know in a cosy glow of self satisfied inaction. Our uneducated xenophobic opinions being parroted back at us by carefully selected media pundits that we’ve sorted out from the hundreds of different, sometimes frighteningly challenging or educational, channels available to us. We care more and think harder about which mobile phone tariff we’re on than about what political party to vote for. Political protests now take the form of ignorant bigots killing indiscriminately in every corner of the world. Terrorism is a daily occurrence with suicide bombings seen with depressing regularity on our televisions, and what is our response? We change the channel to check out whatever flavour of the month happens shaking their ass on MTV.
‘...everyone in power is an untrustworthy, sexual deviant, white-collar criminal that just hasn’t been caught yet’
The west is becoming more and more apathetic, our decadent youth pay less and less attention to everything that does not vibrate, flash or get you high. Voting figures drop further and further with every election, while political scandals hit the press on an almost weekly basis. Each subsequent headline further confirming the prevailing public opinion, that everyone in power is an untrustworthy, sexual deviant, white-collar criminal that just hasn’t been caught yet. Nobody believes or cares about a single word our aloof, distant, super-wealthy, lying, corrupt leaders say. The average man on the street doesn’t know who the prime minister is, but does know (and has probably illegally downloaded) whatever song Ryland or ...insert latest, talentless, teen obsession here... has butchered on X-factor / Britain’s got talent / etc last week. Political correctness means we have no winners, no looser, no one is right and no one is wrong. Every opinion however ludicrous must be tolerated and indulged, unless it’s offensive of course. In which case you will be publicly vilified by the press and then hounded incessantly by a gullible public who consider you a hate crime criminal in need of mob justice. This continues
either until suicide seems like a sensible exit strategy, or until, like a cat with a fatally injured bird... they get bored. If you are really lucky they might get distracted quite early on. Maybe by someone sending them a video of a pander sneezing, and hopefully they will forget that you represent all that is wrong with the world and need stringing up. State funding continues to go to fake medical modalities like homeopathy and acupuncture because no one has any respect or understanding of the scientific method anymore.
‘We are sleep walking into a future that none among us but the mega rich will want to be a part of’ The misogynistic, bigoted, dictatorial, religious leadership regimes of various foreign countries (barley out of the dark ages in social terms) continually attempt to gain nuclear weapons. Presumably once obtained they will then exact a glorious vengeance on the corrupt western blasphemers. Performing a blessed, god endorsed, cleansing of our sinful earthly realm. While at the same time in our progressive, western, enlightened, land of free speech. Anyone
‘...perhaps we will end ourselves in some other, as yet unthought-of end of the world, human devised hell fire... ...Perhaps for the sake of the universe it would be best if we did?’
who puts an irreverent off hand comment on the Internet is either fired, locked up or sued into silence and bankruptcy by the powers that be. Our much-prised liberties are being removed one tiny step at a time and no one notices or cares. By any and all objective measures our world today is more polarised between the haves and the have-nots than at any other point in our history. We are sleep walking into a future that none among us but the mega rich will want to be a part of.
‘We can only hope that science can provide us the means of our salvation before we wipe ourselves off the face of the planet’
Every empire that has gone before us has eventually failed, and there is no reason why we should think ours is any different. The world around us is literally falling apart. It’s hard to disagree with the anti western religious fundamentalist on some points; we are a corrupt, immoral, decadent society. Raping the planet on a daily basis, seemingly with no thought or concern for the future. On the other hand we cannot and should not tolerate their misogynistic, ignorant, anti-thought, antiprogress, anti-science doctrines based on intolerance and superstition. We can only hope that science can provide us the means of our salvation before we wipe ourselves off the face of the planet. Probably done by way
of some cataclysmic nuclear firestorm, or by provoking Mother Nature’s wrath with our continued refusal to take basic ecological precautions. Or perhaps we will end ourselves in some other, as yet unthought-of end of the world, human devised hell fire. Perhaps for the sake of the universe it would be best if we did? With all that said and done it is hard to see how a group of high-minded graphic designers refusing to turn their collective skills to packaging ‘butt toners’ is going to change a damn thing? But perhaps I’m missing the point?
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Return to ‘First things first’ Anyway, returning to Ken’s manifesto; In the interests of fairness some concessions can be made for the period in which this declaration was written, there was mass social change in almost every field from music and fashion to politics and social care. There was the every accelerating pace of technological development, things could very easily been seen to have been spiralling out of control. The ever-growing (at the time) capitalist society was gaining a seemingly unstoppable momentum. Everything worthy and good was being torn down and replaced with transitory, throw away, mass-produced ephemera, which cluttered every shop, surface and trash can. No one cared, no one noticed, and since then things have only got worse. Ken was trying to draw attention to this fact and bring a certain nobility back to the design community. Unfortunately I think his effort was not particularly well put, vague, certainly not blunt enough, ultimately pointless, and even less meaningful today than it was in the 1960’s. I think Ken missed the point, and missed the past. But as I’ve previously pointed out: the past it gone. Good designers will always produce good design where they can. Look at the Designers Republic. Although now
extinct they were massively successful (there demise was not due to lack of respect or success) and made no grandiose public statements about who and what they would design for. In fact they did pretty much the opposite. (see my essay and presentation on Wipeout and tDR for further details) I find it somewhat baffling why the signatories to the revised 2000 First Things First manifesto felt the need to be honest. If I was inclined to make some sort of public statement lambasting the design community for its lack of self respect, plummeting artistic standards, dubious morals and priorities. Then I would go bigger, louder, clearer and much, much more aggressively opinionated than this timid wining commentary on the continuing status quo. In signing this document the signatories label themselves publicly as potential dissidents, run the risk of appearing conceited, living in ivory towers and elevating themselves above their stations and actual field of expertise. And all at the same time as damming the work produced, and choices made, by many of their contemporaries. Pretty much the whole industry in fact.
‘...feel free only to take the jobs advertising nice organic, recycled, hand-woven, renewable, child-safe, fairlytraded, vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free, dolphin-friendly, sensitive skin, PH balanced, papier-mâché incense burners, stitched by blind Nepalese hermaphrodite monks chanting 2000 year old prayers in a lost language to Gaia the earth mother...’ If you read what some of the people involved, and who signed, say about the manifesto they talk about “design not being a value free process” (Katherine McCoy) and they believe they’re making some sort of political point or statement. But when it comes down to it they fail to really outline what this point is. Maybe I’m being stupid but it all seems incredibly vague. They propose a “reversal of priorities”, a “mind shift away from marketing and toward the exploration and production of a new kind of meaning.” Hu? Excuse me? If you wanted to go and create some fine art no one is stopping you, be my guest, I like
Fine art? a nice bit of fine art as much as the next man. But it’s fine art, not advertising. Or why not do your own personal public awareness design brief; get someone to pay you for it if you can. Again, no one is stopping you. There is nothing stopping you from doing good, respectable advertising design work either, and if you can afford not to take a job on moral grounds, one say advertising diamonds, detergents, hair gel, or whatever product it is you have a personal issue with then all power to you. If you can afford to, and you’re so inclined, then feel free only to take the jobs advertising nice organic, recycled, hand-woven, renewable, child-safe, fairly-traded, vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free, dolphin-friendly, sensitive skin, PH balanced, papiermâché incense burners, stitched by blind Nepalese hermaphrodite monks chanting 2000 year old prayers in a lost language to Gaia the earth mother - not tested on animals. We all have our own personal morals and cut off point regarding who we would and would not do work for. But the signatories of this manifesto seem to think we should take or turn down jobs based on a judgement of its artistic value as well as its moral repugnance or otherwise. Or perhaps they mean that an artistic value judgement should also be considered a valid moral judgement? That design is art is life, and therefore important? Or maybe they mean that something when made public - that also has artistic value, be it good or bad - has a subsequent social impact on individual members of society who experience it, and in turn society at large as the ripples of cause and effect
travel through the various human social interactions. Therefore making publicly available media or products with any, even tangential, aspect of artistic value to them of social importance (Society is assumed inherently important and positive influence on society a morally positive force) which would therefore also make its existence and effect inextricably linked to a moral judgement? This would be because anything which impacts positively or negatively on society must, by this logic, have a moral aspect to its existence? It is very unclear what assumptions the signatories have made before writing the manifesto, and it would answer a lot of the queries that any reader of the manifesto must surly come away with if they would clearly state these at the beginning. To follow their logic we must be made aware of the truths on which the logic is predicated, and as we are dealing with an innately subjective issue these truths are therefore also subjective. And unknowable unless stated outright. Maybe they’re just unhappy with the semantics? They don’t like people thinking of advertising when they say design? That is just the way the usage of the word has progressed, evolution of language. Perhaps they should come up with a new word to cover what they mean by design? I can see a difference between what I think they are railing against and the ‘design’ they want, but these are in many ways completely different disciplines. They also helpfully point out that “consumerism is running uncontested” and go on “To some extent we are all helping draft a reductive and
immeasurably harmful code of public discourse”. The whole manifesto is a commentary on just one symptom of capitalism currently being played out in the design community. Perhaps this is unfortunate for the sake of top quality design work. But without doubt the design community does not exist in a vacuum and is very much a part of society at large. (See my essay on semiotics and advertising) It is shaped by, and for, the general public. It exists in a symbiotic relationship as has been thoroughly demonstrated through the study of semiotics. If it didn’t and wasn’t then it would become fine art. Fine art exists in a slightly different place to that of commercial design. More like a parasite, but not necessarily in a negative way, it takes from society what it needs for its own uses and gives back very little. It has a much smaller sphere influence on the world and is by and large a small minority interest. Some fine art makes the cross over to mass popularity, but I would argue that in doing so it can be considered to have lost its definition as fine art. If the signatories of this manifesto really want to address this particular symptom of the Capitalist society and they genuinely want to try to fix the problem as they see it with the design community. Then they need to treat the problem at its root cause, capitalism and the way we organise society. Either that or just become (maybe accept that they are) fine artists. There is very little point in my opinion trying to derail the twin juggernauts of capitalism and consumerism by means of marginally altering a few interested members of the design community’s definition of the word design. In closing I would respectfully suggest to the 2000 First things first signatories that; If you are really worked up enough to go to these lengths and produce a public manifesto then next time A: make sense, and B: go big or go home. Otherwise why bother? ////////////////////////////////
E | Jon@SilentDistraction.com W | www.SilentDistraction.com
Disclaimer: The above views are for entertainment purposes only and may or may not be the views of J.Starkey. They do not represent the views of Silent Distraction design or any of its affiliates, friends, relations, co-workers, acquaintances, pets or solicitors. Also I had had a very stressful few days when I sat down to write this... and I had been listening to quite a lot of left wing political podcasts... and I had a cracking headache... and it was a Monday. Page 13
E | Jon@SilentDistraction.com W | www.SilentDistraction.com
Published on Nov 26, 2013
First Things First is a manifesto and the brain child of Ken Garland. Endorsed and signed by a number of additional designers and artists it...