Christmas Research – The First Things First Manifesto

Manifesto 1964

The ‘First Things First Manifesto’ is a document which was originally published in 1964 in Design, the Architects‘ Journal, the SIA Journal, Ark, Modern Publicity and The Guardian in April 1964.  It is a declaration of intent, with 22 signatories, all of whom are notable in the Graphic Communication industry and related fields.  I shall go into further detail regarding the signatories in another post.

The Manifesto appears to deplore what it sees as the degradation of the art of Graphic Communication.  It argues that its use in furthering mass consumerism by helping to beautify products for fickle consumers is trivial and commercial.

‘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.’

The main point the publication seeks to communicate is that the profession in question is capable of great things and is a power that should be used for worth while causes that are in the national interest, rather than be squandered. While the abolition of such work is impractical, it suggests that designers should re-evaluate their priorities and attempt to spread the message of the manifesto.


First Things First Manifesto (1964, updated 2000)

In the year 2000 the 1964 ‘First Things First Manifesto’ underwent an update published by some of the key players of the graphic design, artistic and visual arts community.  It was republished by Emigre, Eye and other important graphic design magazines and was similarly controversial.

In this new incarnation of the manifesto, more emphasis is given to the desire of the signatories to pursue social and cultural advancement through their practice, examples of the pressing issues of the day are given.  The idea being to utilize the power of visual imagery for persuasion, but for the betterment of society, through education and engagement.

Of course, between 1964 and 2000 the world has experienced exponential commercial growth and it is made clear that the original signatories message has only become more urgent.  It is clear that the growth of commercialism is a potent force and it’s tide will be a huge task to overcome.  I’m writing this in 2017 and little seems to have changed.


First Things First (Revisited) – Rick Poynor

In this article, Rick Poynor reaches further into the broad point of the First Things First Manifesto and examines its message and origins.  He explains how designers engage in manufacturing reality for consumers.  What excites a consumer is an ideal that the designer provides them and in many ways is non existent.  Through  shape, colour, picture, and type, people are enticed to desire something that is in many ways, barely differs from its rivals.  What is sold, is the ideal.

The article examines the time in which the original manifesto was written, in the 1960s austerity brought on by World War II was coming to an end and the populations of the wealthier European communities were seeing the lavishness of American capitalist wealth. People aspired to have new technologies and products and so designers saw a window of opportunity.  They saw the huge design budgets afforded designers for american companies and the designing possibilities (processes such as four colour printing were hugely expensive at the time) and sought to achieve similar success.  Meetings, debates and exhibitions were organized to promote design and from there manufacturers and designers helped one another achieve great wealth.

Ken Garland was a prestigious designer at the time and exemplified the First Things First Manifesto’s message. In 1962 he set up the Ken Garland Associates and at the head of this design group he used his abilities to campaign for nuclear disarmament.

Aldermaston to London Easter 62″

An example of Ken Garlands work in protest to the Nuclear Aggression between the west and the USSR at the time.

From the article, I understand that it was Garland who infact, wrote the manifesto and read it in 1963 in the Society of Industrial Artists at London‘s Institute of Contemporary Arts, where he found his willing signatories. The manifesto recieved more backing than initially expected when, through his wife, Tony Benn MP published it in his column of the Guardian Newpaper. From here Garland took it to television where it garnered further support and was subsequently republished in numerous publications. It’s content was inspiring to so many designers across the world.

There was some bush-back as people saw the manifesto as ‘naive’ and idealistic. The feeling among some being that graphic design was a job like any other and should not be placed on a pedestal, as well that the ideals of the manifesto were believed unattainable. From 1964 to present, our commercial world of high pressure selling has only grown. However many argue that a piece of design for a corporation, with the aim of furthering that corporation’s success, can be of excellent quality.











Author: David Rothwell

I am a Graphic Communication student at Cardiff Metropolitan School of Art and Design If you like any of my work, have feedback (good or bad) or would like to get in touch, please do

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