First Things First (1964 & 2000)


First Things Firsta manifesto

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 numer 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. signed: Edward Wright, Geoffrey White, William Slack, Caroline Rawlence, Ian McLaren, Sam Lambert, Ivor Kamlish, Gerald Jones, Bernard Higton, Brian Grimbly, John Garner, Ken Garland, Anthony Froshaug, Robin Fior, Germano Facetti, Ivan Dodd, Harriet Crowder, Anthony Clift, Gerry Cinamon, Robert Chapman, Ray Carpenter, Ken Briggs

First Things First Revisited

First Things First Manifesto 2000

Adbusters, the AIGA Journal, Blueprint, Emigre, Eye, Form, Itemsfall 999/spring 2000

foreword by Chris Dixon, art director, AdbustersBack in 1964, a small number of British graphic designers lent their names to a quietly radical document.

First Things First was a rebuke to their colleagues in the industry for having forgotten their old idealism and lost sight of the things that really mater. It had the force of a flash of truth, inspiring many ad and design people, and so, by way of remembrance, we published it again in Adbusters last year.

That fall, editor/publisher Kalle Lasn and I were visiting New York City for a branding conference and stopped in to meet the legendary designer Tibor Kalman. Tibor was ill with the cancer that would, less than eight months later, claim his life, yet his eyes were clear.

He thumbed through the issue of Adbusters we had brought for him. When he came across the the manifesto he paused and gazed out the window. Finally he turned back to us and said: “You know, we should do this again.”So we did. Joined by design critic Rick Poynor, we re-drafted the original manifesto, bringing the language up to date while trying to retain the original spirit. Ken Garland, the driving force behind the 1964 manifesto, visited the Adbusters office from London and gave his nod to the project.

With Poynor, as well as Rudy VanderLans of Emigre magazine, we began soliciting endorsements from some of the most prominent designers around the world. Finally, Max Bruinsma, then editor of Eye, suggested that the manifesto was bigger than a single magazine, and should be launched simultaneously in the design industries most influential publications. This fall, Adbusters, along with the six magazines mentioned above, will renew First Things First and, we hope, launch a new debate around the flash that refuses to fade.

First Things First Manifesto 2000

We, the undersigned, are graphic designers, art directors and visual communicators who have been raised in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable use of our talents. Many design teachers and mentors promote this belief; the market rewards it; a tide of books and publications reinforces it.

Encouraged in this direction, designers then apply their skill and imagination to sell dog biscuits, designer coffee, diamonds, detergents, hair gel, cigarettes, credit cards, sneakers, butt toners, light beer and heavy-duty recreational vehicles. Commercial work has always paid the bills, but many graphic designers have now let it become, in large measure, what graphic designers do. This, in turn, is how the world perceives design. The profession’s time and energy is used up manufacturing demand for things that are inessential at best.

Many of us have grown increasingly uncomfortable with this view of design. Designers who devote their efforts primarily to advertising, marketing and brand development are supporting, and implicitly endorsing, a mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very way citizen-consumers speak, think, feel, respond and interact. To some extent we are all helping draft a reductive and immeasurably harmful code of public discourse.

There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills. Unprecedented environmental, social and cultural crises demand our attention. Many cultural interventions, social marketing campaigns, books, magazines, exhibitions, educational tools, television programs, films, charitable causes and other information design projects urgently require our expertise and help.

We propose a reversal of priorities in favor of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communication—a mindshift away from product marketing and toward the exploration and production of a new kind of meaning. The scope of debate is shrinking; it must expand. Consumerism is running uncontested; it must be challenged by other perspectives expressed, in part, through the visual languages and resources of design.

In 1964, 22 visual communicators signed the original call for our skills to be put to worthwhile use. With the explosive growth of global commercial culture, their message has only grown more urgent.

Today, we renew their manifesto in expectation that no more decades will pass before it is taken to heart.

Jonathan Barnbrook

Nick Bell

Andrew Blauvelt

Hans Bockting

Irma Boom

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville

Max Bruinsma

Sian Cook

Linda van Deursen

Chris Dixon

William Drenttel

Gert Dumbar

Simon Esterson

Vince Frost

Ken Garland

Milton Glaser

Jessica Helfand

Steven Heller

Andrew Howard

Tibor Kalman

Jeffery Keedy

Zuzana Licko

Ellen Lupton

Katherine McCoy

Armand Mevis

J. Abbott Miller

Rick Poynor

Lucienne Roberts

Erik Spiekermann

Jan van Toorn

Teal Triggs

Rudy VanderLans

Bob Wilkinson

First Things First revised, reviewed

A Manifesto with Ten Footnotes, Michael Bierut

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