A manifesto for change

First Things First 2000 is bold in language, but has a sense of rebellious words driven by guilt rather than good intent. Ken Garland’s 1964 manifesto, gentler in language, is inclusive, mentioning the general public equally with the undersigned. First Things First 2000 eschews this in favour of “Many of us”, and the tone becomes self important and demanding, implying the signatories had been tricked into working in ways they didn’t intend. I prefer the original manifesto’s generous offer of sharing experience and opinions, to an urgent demand for seemingly unachievable sudden change.

First Things First 2000 argues that causes, social consciousness, high culture and the arts are far more important than the items of everyday life. While I agree designers have been co-opted into a commercially driven reality, I would argue that using those problem solving skills in making every-day living better for all individuals is equally important to creating inspirational outcomes via social cause or art.

In dissecting the language of the manifesto, Beirut reveals a group of individuals who feel they’ve been fooled into unimportant work, seeking validation by trying to identify their aspirational ideals with well respected traditional art culture. He reminds that the search for a loftier purpose disregards the worth and “common decency” (Beirut 2007, p 60) of good, problem solving design for common items used by the public every day.


Bierut, M. (2007). Ten footnotes to a manifesto. In M. Bierut (2007), 79 short essays on design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Emigre 51. (1999). First things first manifesto 2000. Retrieved from http://www.emigre.com/Editorial.php?sect=1&id=14

Design is History. n.d.. The First Things First Manifesto (1964). Retrieved from http://www.designishistory.com/1960/first-things-first/

3 thoughts on “A manifesto for change

  1. I like your response Daz! I should have read the original manifesto for comparison, as you have done. To me, this new manifesto sounds like a bunch of elite designers who are in a comfortable enough position to criticise the movement towards commercial work. As they note themselves, commercial work pays the bills. So, if all designers are to engage in work for the betterment of society, what are they supposed to live on? Or are they just supposed to be proud of their poverty, because at least they haven’t sold their souls to the devil of consumerism??

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel there has to be a middle ground. I have friends who actively work in their spare time for charities and other non-profit organisations, both community based and humanitarian based. I don’t yet have a network here in Melbourne to participate in that, but I would, given the chance. The point is though, we work during the day on the stuff that pays the bills, and work towards betterment at other times. There are companies in the USA that specifically seek work for betterment, with less thought for profit – they let that take care of itself in the run of things, happy to live a moderate life and make a difference. That’s a situation I’d love to be in!

      Liked by 1 person

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