“First Things First” Again.

A little while ago, I posted my response to Ken Garland’s First Things First manifesto written in 1964, about how graphic designers need to be more conscious of projects they take on. Garland tried to push designers to use their powers for good, as opposed to evil; he defines “evil” as rampant consumerism.

My beef with Garland’s manifesto was:
1) It was based on speculation and not fact.
2) It was based in circular logic—designers needed to try and change society, yet society needed to change in order for designers to help it.

Thirty-six years later, design writer, Rick Poynor, was approached by Adbusters to write a contemporary version of Garland’s manifesto, aptly titled, First Things First 2000. Poynor’s new manifesto solves a few of the old one’s problems.

First, it replaces Garland’s dated list of trivialities with a more contemporary, varied, and thorough one featuring “dog biscuits, designer coffee, diamonds, detergents, hair gel, cigarettes, credit cards, sneakers, butt toners, light beer and heavy-duty recreational vehicles.” This first change is rather minor, but at least it lets the reader understand that the manifesto is talking about the here-and-now.

Second, and more importantly, First Things First 2000 makes a more concrete call-to-arms to designers while avoiding circular logic. Poynor makes the problems known: “unprecedented environmental, social and cultural crises demand[ing] our attention.” He then lists—in a nearly identical fashion to Garland—different outlets for design work through which the designer can attempt to answer these environmental, social, and cultural concerns. The big call to other designers is in the last paragraph of the manifesto, where Poynor states that designers should set world-conscious design at a higher priority than ad design in order to essentially make the world a better place. This is done in contrast to Garland, who states that society needs to change itself, while he asks designers merely to “share [their] experience and opinions and to make them available to colleagues [and] students.”

Poynor’s First Things First is more concise and to-the-point, and rejects the idea that society needs to change before designers can change it. Therefore, he makes an active call to his readers, which makes his article/argument infinitely stronger than Garland’s.

Personally, I believe that morally conscious design is a great thing that every designer should aspire to work for in an ideal world. However, nothing is ever ideal. Designers, for the most part, get jobs where they can. If you are well-known enough that you can pick your own projects, or companies/jobs/projects seek you out instead of the other way around, then yes, I think those few designers are obligated to aid moral causes with their abilities. In the same vein, celebrities and CEOs and people with money should be doing their part to give back to the community/world in a positive way.

-rgm

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