In 1964, British designer Ken Garland published an unprecedented call to re-humanize design.
“We hope that our society will tire of the gimmick merchants, status salesmen and hidden persuaders, and that the prior call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes.”
But the soulless whirlwind of neoliberalism and capitalism raged on, and in 2000 Adbusters and a team of international designers drafted a new text to reflect the even bleaker times.
“We propose a reversal of priorities in favour 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.”
Over a half-century since Garland’s original First Things First Manifesto and the state of the world remains entrenched in vapid consumerist design. Society has forgotten design’s political and emancipatory history — how it liberated Russia’s working class in 1917, and altered the political paradigms of France in 1968.
Instead, we worship the effective design of brands like Nike and Apple, transfixed by a consumerist kaleidoscope determined to distract us with dystopian false-dreams. Our design powers funnel into crafting perfect products and manipulative advertisements, fueling a grotesque consumer culture when meanwhile most of the world’s population lacks basic education and global warming is 12 years away from its point of no return.
Now, Adbusters is galvanizing a new campaign, The First Things First Project, to inspire designers around the globe to rediscover the human heart and political possibilities of design. Are we really going to allow corporations to determine the course of cultural history? Or are we going to take matters into our own hands?
Adbusters jammed Vancouver’s premiere Art + Design school, filling their walls with posters—some old school design anarchy images, some classic libertarian slogans, some brand new subversions. All, in their own way, asked one question: who do you design for?
We live in a climate of design-saturation, wherein advertisements hide in the cracks of our iMessages and it’s impossible to distinguish between a brand and a lifestyle. By jamming design schools with the questions that corporate culture bypasses, The First Things First Project gets to the heart of the beast, forcing future designers to reconsider their values.
As practitioners of an implicitly manipulative medium, how will they apply their skills? To further divide us as consumerist, insecure individuals? Or to educate and empower us to care about community, the environment, and ourselves? Time is running out, but united as a global force we can alter the course of this thrashing capitalist machine.