/ @ade3
October 29, 2015

If a manifesto is published on Medium and no one recommends it, does it make a sound?

I read a manifesto the other day that left me completely uninspired. It came from a company that seems pretty cool, so I was kind of disappointed. When somebody writes a manifesto I expect them to be trying to start a revolution, not regurgitate corporate platitudes.

Anybody can write a manifesto and there is nothing that says it has to inspire anybody. But if you are going to fill space with corporate jargon, what are you hoping to accomplish? Why would you share it with the world if you have nothing new to contribute?

This got me thinking about what I believe in. If I were to write it down and share it with the world would it inspire anybody? Gosh, that’s a pretty high bar that I am not sure I could reach.

Actually, years ago I worked on a manifesto so tonight I decided to look it up and see how well it aged. I wrote it back in 2004 when Be A Design Group was still thriving. Granted, I had pretty good source material, but still. Here’s the back story…

In 1964 a group of designers composed the First Things First manifesto. They were reacting against the ad-saturated environment that they believed damaged the integrity of their craft. You can read it at: First Things First 1964.

“[The talent within] the advertising industry is wasted on trivial purposes.”— 1964

First Things First Manifesto, 1964

In 2000 it was updated by some big names in the design community. These people wanted designers to use their skills for social causes because they didn’t think commercial work could change the world. You can read that version at First Things First 2000.

“There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills.” — 2000

In 2004, without the backing of any design celebrities, I suggested that investing our skills into the unglamorous projects we are paid to tackle every day was a virtuous way to change the world. I have reprinted (and slightly shortened and tweaked) it below. Would you have signed it then? Would you recommend it today?

An Alternative to First Things First

As creators we have been raised in a world in which advertising is often the most lucrative use of our talents. Within this climate, it is our intention to use our skills to improve our world rather than chase money-making, self- serving, ego-pumping vocations.

There is no pursuit more worthy of our problem-solving skills than the application of good design principles to things people interact with daily. Design is not for the elite, but for everyone. The most trivial of products (dog biscuits, coffee, diamonds, detergents, hair gel, cigarettes, credit cards, sneakers, beer and recreational vehicles) deserve quality design. This is not because it improves the life of the designer, but because design has the power to improve the life of every human being. Effort towards better design is never wasted.

We have reached a saturation point at which the high pitched scream of consumer selling is sheer noise. Rather than lessen our cause, this state of affairs gives importance to our work. We will not turn our back on our profession in order to search for a higher cause. Our daily work doesn’t need to address environmental, social or cultural crises to be worthy of our attention. The explosive growth of global culture deserves our immediate attention because it has the potential to have the greatest impact. We embrace this challenge.

We propose a renewed commitment to our profession that emphasizes the power of design to improve the life of all people. We are not challenging the institution of consumerism, but rather working within its structure to bring about good. We are not endorsing a mental environment saturated with commercial messages, but we are taking ownership of the effect our occupations have on our world, and striving to improve life through design.

Whether you are sympathetic with the trailblazers of 1964, the social causes of 2000, or my common man mantra of 2004, the most important thing is to have an opinion. Manifestos are a way to rally people around shared beliefs. That’s why today a manifesto can have more power than ever. Every Medium member has a vote. The good ideas spread powered by your recommendations. Stay creative.

Previous: The Horriffic Symphony

Next: 25 Questions You Didn’t Know You Needed “Art of the Living Dead” to Answer