The First Things First Manifesto (Emigre, 1999) reads like a call to arms for designers, urging them to become more socially conscious of the projects they choose to pursue. The manifesto shames design professionals for allowing the world to see only the marketing and advertising facets of the profession and encourages designers to use their talents and communication prowess to promote bigger and deeper world issues.
Michael Beirut’s 2007 response to the manifesto condemns the authors for their opinions, and argues that commercial work is just as important as work which pushes world issues, and that the real world is not as simple as the manifesto makes it out to be. Beirut sees design as more than just creating demand for commercial goods, and credits consumers with more free will and intelligence than the manifesto gives them credit for.
While I agree with the sentiment of the manifesto – that everyone should try to make the world a better place – I think it’s a idealistic viewpoint. Not every designer would have the financial freedom to only take on work which has a social impact, and not every designer would have these opportunities presented to them. Projects which have an important message to tell the world are not likely to have the same budget for design, marketing and advertising that a large corporation releasing a brand new soft drink would.
I believe that designers should take every job as an opportunity to improve the community, the retail environment, the target market, and so on. Everyday consumers deserve to have positive experiences, whether they are seeking information on cancer treatments, choosing a health insurance provider, or purchasing groceries at their local store. Designers must ensure they are providing the public with intelligently designed outputs which also serve their clients well, and should continually strive to better (not just beautify) the world.
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.