Thursday, April 12, 2012

First Thing's First Manifesto



One of my favorite publications has always been Adbusters. It is a global network of "culture jammers" and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society. In their most recent edition, they published something called the "First Thing's First Manifesto", which really spoke to me. They explain that "graphic designers are to our information age what engineers were to the age of reason. They set the mood of the mental environment. They stoke the desire that fuels the consumerist economy." They continue by posing the question, "Wielding such power, what moral responsibility do designers, visual communicators and artists bear?" Here is the Manifesto in its entirety:

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FIRST THINGS FIRST 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, detergent, 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.

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.

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 programs, films, charitable causes and other information design projects urgently require our expertise and help.

We propose a reversal of priorities in favor of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communication - a mindshift away from product marketing and toward the exploration and production of a new kind of meaning. The scope of debate is shrinking; it must expand. Consumerism is running uncontested; 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.

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I urge all graphic designers, visual communicators, and art directors of any kind  to print out and sign this personal commitment to the use of our talents for the greater good. We have the power in influence opinion and shift the consumers' gaze if we take responsibility for our creativity and focus it on worthwhile causes rather than simply selling more crap that people don't need. I for one am owning my power.

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