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Design Manifestos - A designer’s compass


“Manifesto; a document publicly declaring the position or program of its issuer. A manifesto advances a set of ideas, opinions, or views, but it can also lay out a plan of action. While it can address any topic, it most often concerns art, literature, or politics. Manifestos are generally written in the name of a group sharing a common perspective, ideology, or purpose rather than in the name of a single individual.”



Sometimes, a forgotten fact, (even if it should not be), design is functional art that interacts with its surroundings on a daily basis. The designer feeds off society, culture, trends, movements, politics, technology, both in the past and the present, and more. While absorbing all of these influences, the designer's role is to also try to affect the world around them. Using their skills and talent to convey important messages to the general public.


If you look at any political or social movement, you will see the designer's thumbprint, from the famous Uncle Sam’s “I want you for the US Army” to Shepard Fairy’s Obama elections poster. Everyone needed a graphical representation of their “concept.” 


It is, of course, easy to be cynical about design sometimes! As graphic design is an arrangement of letters, shapes, images, and colors, the designer doesn’t have an army to command and doesn’t sit at the government making decisions. With that being said, it is crucial to know that a good design is one that sums a complex idea into an unforgettable image that, in some cases, defines a generation. In a fast-paced world like ours, an artist that can make the 'complex' 'simple' is in high demand. 


Over the years, different scholars and designers have written design manifestos outlining their beliefs on how design can affect the world. 

One of the most well-known Manifestos was "First thing’s First" written by designer Ken Garland:


We, the undersigned, are graphic designers, photographers and students who have been brought up in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable means of using our talents. 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, aftershave lotion, beforeshave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water, cigarettes, roll-ons, pull-ons and slip-ons.

By far the greatest effort of those working in the advertising industry are wasted on these trivial purposes, which contribute little or nothing to our national prosperity.

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. There are signs for streets and buildings, books and periodicals, catalogues, instructional manuals, industrial photography, educational aids, films, television features, scientific and industrial publications and all the other media through which we promote our trade, our education, our culture and our greater awareness of the world.

We do not advocate the abolition of high pressure consumer advertising: this is not feasible. Nor do we want to take any of the fun out of life. But we are proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication. We hope that our society will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesmen and hidden persuaders, and that the prior call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes. With this in mind we propose to share our experience and opinions, and to make them available to colleagues, students and others who may be interested.

(This was followed many years later by Ken Garland at age 82

Another epic manifesto was written by industrial designer Dieter Rams titled “Ten Principles for Good Design,” considered a pioneering statement of the responsibility of 'eco-friendly' design.

1. Good design is innovative
The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology and can never be an end in itself.


2. Good design makes a product useful
A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.


3. Good design is aesthetic
The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.


4. Good design makes a product understandable
It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.


5. Good design is unobtrusive
Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.


6. Good design is honest
It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.


7. Good design is long-lasting
It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.


8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail
Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.


9. Good design is environmentally-friendly
Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.


10. Good design is as little design as possible
Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.


Back to purity, back to simplicity.


These design manifestos, packed with amazing words of wisdom and others, can be found on this website


If you are a starting designer looking for inspiration or a seasoned designer looking to reflect on your design work, take the time to scroll and read through them because your manifesto might be the next one to make waves. 

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