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OUGD501 - Study Task 5 - The First Things First Manifesto

First Things First manifesto (1964).


Height of consumerism.

Civil rights protest.

Anti-war demos.

Ken Garland - Designer, Activist.

Against design for trivial purposes.

For design for society.

Design with a purpose.

A reversal of priorities.

Manifesto (2000).

More urgent.

Different tone.

Context: Global consumer system.

Wider audience.

Focus on social effect.


A challenge to the consumer system.

Design activism.

First Things First Revisited - Rick Poyner.

K Garland - CND Campaigner.

Commercial design is political.

In supporting the status quo.

Style over substance.

Designers feel that politics is not their concern.

Michael Beirut (2007)

Poyner/CASN/Dixon Redraft.

Adbusters ‘Graphic Agitation’ issue.

Co-signaturies are graphic ‘cultural workwear’.

Designers are exploited class.

Consumer culture.

What do we do instead?

No clear good cause.

No clear cut choices.

1. The thirty-five year old 'First Things First' manifesto was re-written into a sharpened argument whilst leaving the spirit intact by Rick Poynor.

2. The people that signed this manifesto tended to be designers that did work for more culture-based institutions like museums. Was signing the manifesto a vow of not designing commercially?

3. Graphic designers have been oppressed by agencies in a sense of working them to consumerism.

4. People are responding to culture to fit a certain image. The designers enhance commercial design and make it more effective. People are tricked into believing something that they don’t want to argue.

5. Designers use elements of design to manipulate the public into feeling a certain way. Designers are superficial and crave approval.

Write a critical (triangular) discussion on the first things first manifesto. 

Based on a discussion of two works of design (ethical and non ethical).

(Triangulated means: You refer to at least three sources of information to come to a conclusion.)

A select number of authors have discussed how design is essentially used to sell us things we don’t want. Ken Garland, 1964, Rick Poyner, 1999, and Michael Bierut (2007) have all discussed the fact that graphic design has become a skill wasted on trivial purposes in marketing and advertisement, which contribute nothing to the prosperity of humankind. For example, Ken Garland speaks of how “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, after-shave lotion, before-shave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water, cigarettes, roll-ons, pull-ons and slip-ons”. This is further supported by the fact that Rick Poyner mentions in his article of ‘First Things First (Revisited), “The brand-meisters and marketing gurus understand this only too well. The product may be little different in real terms from its rivals. What seduces us is its image. This image reaches us first as a visual entity – shape, colour, picture, type”.

The following two images are represented here in contrast of each other but both with the common idea of giving something a chance.

The first image consists of a small child who is fully clothed pushing herself out of a pre-natal sack with her umbilical cord still in tact. The type beside it expresses this feeling of giving a chance to a child with a damaged past to continue with a better life. The representations within this image are metaphors of a child being re-born into a happier life and better future, this is backed up with the line used “Give a terrified child a new life”. Barnardo’s is the UK’s leading children’s charity aiming at transforming the lives of vulnerable children. This image is an advertisement for the charity which is a perfect example of graphic design being used towards a good cause rather than marketing values of a consumerist product.

The second image is a branded shampoo’s advert promoting how shiny the product will make your hair. In imagery it bases itself on a satellite photo of a woman lying down with her hair sprawled across the surface of what she is laid upon. Using the dark shiny hair as a background, the quotation states “let yourself shine” followed by “give pro-v expressions a try”. The whole combination of all of these elements within the advert is attempting to persuade the audience to experience the shampoo in a hope they will feel like their hair is shinier after they have used it and then continue to purchase the marketed product.

In Michael Bierut’s Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design, he mentions in his third footnote of the First Things First manifesto “The most obvious interpretation is that graphic designers do work that informs, and that advertising agencies do work that persuades. In the First Things First universe the former is good and the latter is bad. But some of the most effective work on behalf of social causes has appropriated nothing more and nothing less than these same “techniques and apparatuses”.” – This suggests that all in all, each use of design consist of the same amount of thinking, effort and objectives, just one of them is for a far better cause to the other. This is supported by the fact that Ken Garland questions the reason to design for consumerist advertisements when there is a much greater need for good design “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”.

The three of these authors all demonstrate a degree of awareness to the mass effect of consumerist marketing developed through design for the latter of ethic based reasons of design.

Different themes: to consider for essay:

Globalisation + international perspective.

Social change.




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