This is the 500 word essay I wrote for my critical studies presentation, I think it expresses my views on the First Things First manifesto quite well.
Michael Bierut 10 Footnotes to a Manifesto
Michael Bieruts essay 10 Footnotes to a Manifesto is a response to the First Things First Manifesto 2000, which was published by Kalle Lasn and Chris Dixon in Adbusters in 1999. First Things First 2000 itself was an updated version of Ken Garlands 1963 First Things First manifesto. The journalist Rick Poyner rewrote the statement updating the references and sharpening the argument but keeping the original sentiment largely intact: that graphic designers should reverse their priorities and instead of using their talents to generate demand and sell commercial consumer products should focus their attention on projects with a more worthy social cause.
Michael Bierut breaks down his critique of the manifesto into footnotes. In his second footnote he picks up on the overall make up of the 33 signatories to the manifesto. Most of them have made their reputation doing cultural work at the fringes of commercial graphic design, for clients like museums and publishers. Specialising in work for the cultural elite, they have resisted manipulating and selling to the average man. Therefore Bierut (2000) stingingly points out “A cynic, then, might dismiss the impact of the manifesto as no more than that of witnessing a group of eunuchs take a vow of chastity.”
First things first says that graphic designers shouldn’t waste their talents selling commercial junk however Bierut (2000) counters this by saying that “Good design is not simply an esoteric ideal but a tool that can be used to ennoble the activities of everyday life” In fact the history of graphic design is full of people who have transformed humble products into something beautiful and intelligent.
The First Things First Manifesto 2000 states that “too an extent we are all helping to draft a reductive and immeasurably harmful code of public discourse” by this Adbusters (1999) are referring to “a mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very way citizen consumers speak, think, feel, respond and interact.” Bierut (2000) counters by saying that “humans have always used the market place as a place for communication and culturalisation” he backs up his point of view with a quote from Susan Nigra Snyder and Steven Izenour (1999): “If your model is the cultural mish-mash of the everyday landscape then commerce is the very glue that holds it together” Micheal Bierut makes the point that if the best designers where to be removed from this landscape what would happen? And who would benefit?
Matt Soar (2002) calls Michael Bieruts response to the Manifesto “ stinging and facetious” I believe that the only reason it could be seen as stinging is because of the weaknesses and over simplification of the Manifesto. Monika Parrinda (2002) says that “(the manifesto) is ultimately reductionist in the way it sets up socially responsible work as something separate – something in opposition to the commercial sphere of graphic design”
According to Micheal Bierut the biggest promise of graphic design is about common decency and identify and treating the ultimate end user of our services, the public, with respect. Soar (2002) actually concurs with this viewpoint “at the very least designers should perhaps work to address their many audiences as citizens rather than consumers.”
8 years ago