In the dead of winter hints of new beginnings lie low behind distant trees.
December is a month of Big Final Words, set in Minor. January Words sound in Major, with trumpets. New Years Resolutions are for suckers. We hear rumbling from turkey-fed tummies. Or is it the deep growl of a discontent revolutionary? Hail. And: Blast. Here come the Manifestos!
Incremental adjustments sometimes won’t do anymore. Designers do bite back, you know.
So, come all ye rolling minstrels
And together we will try
To rouse the spirit of the earth
And move the rolling sky
– from: Fairport Convention, ‘Come All Ye‘
But before revolutionaries… eh, well… revolutionize, they sharpen their pencils and write manifestos.
A list of dos and dont’s
A manifesto is an indicator of change, be it personal change or social change.
A manifesto is an indicator of zeitgeist. If you want to know what the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of our era is like, if you want to know what bothers people, then look at recent manifestos. Right now they point into the direction of a desire for personal change, sustainability, finding solutions for bridging the gap between ‘me’, ‘us’ and the digital unknown.
In short, a manifesto can be either an analysis or a list of dos and don’ts.
Change is the common dominator here. A manifesto identifies where things are wrong, puts in proposals for change and sketches a perfect ideal resulting from it all.
A manifesto is a double–edged sword. It can articulate goals and desires in an honest and inspiring way. It can also be perceived as so much babble — pretense of the highest order — and must be ignored.
Make a statement and then act upon them that does change something — whatever it may be. The most memorable manifestos have altered the way we think and do. A manifesto should be a declaration of war against complacency. Shit! That almost sounds like a manifesto.
– from: Steven Heller, ‘Manifesto Wars‘
Uncertainty calls for change
A writer of a manifesto is an Utopist, proudly so. It’s not surprising that the first wave of these type of texts occured around the 1900’s, a time of social upheaval and class struggle. William Morris in his 1889 ‘The Arts and Crafts of To-day‘ is as socially engaged as you might expect in a manifesto, but he is very civil in his wording. Two decades later The Futurist Manifesto sets the stage for what’s to come: it’s energetic, even violent, puts faith in technology, and with a determination to throw over things as they are. A model for later manifestos.
A second wave of manifestos came around 2000. Our time is one of uncertainty as well, about social inequality once again, about sustainability, with doubts concerning the unleashed potential of science. This reflects in the tone and subject matter of more recent manifestos.
As far as graphic design manifestos are concerned, I see two variations. The first is about design as a self-contained discipline. The second is about design that is responsive to the world around it. Both are born from a desire to break down walls, in the belief that aesthetics can reflect possibilities of social change.
Design as a self-contained discipline
There are quite some manifestos propagating minimalism, anti-decoration, form & function. A new attitude for a new time, to enlighten the masses at the start of new promising century. When the word minimalism became fashionable during the ’60s, it was like a four-letter word, to describe an intellectual void, a lack of content and meaning.
But the semantics turn around to something positive: minimalism became a nom-de-guerre for a counter movement that is all about coping with consumerism and information overload, part philosophy, part aesthetics. It’s now a cure-all for capitalist over-indulgence.
Some core texts:
- Ornament and Crime, by Adolf Loos (1910)
- The Bauhaus Manifesto, by Walter Gropius (1919)
- Topography of Typography, by El Lissitzky (1923)
- The New Typography, by László Moholy-Nagy (1923)
- Ten Rules of Good Design, by Dieter Rams (1987)
- Subcompact Publishing Manifesto, towards A Minimal Model For Publishing & Design for the modern tablet, mobile and web, by Craig Mod (2012)
- Web Design Manifesto, by Jeffrey Zeldman (2012)
Design responsive to the world around it
Is there such a thing as maximalism? The second variation has no patience with the inwardness and autonomy of functionalism. Where had the street noises gone? Wanna get some change, make your hands dirty.
There you have the shouting lot: descendants of Marinetti, new wave, anti design. There you have the offspring of Bruce Sterling’s ‘Manifesto of January 3, 2000‘: sustainism, anti-selling, growing. And the sharing lot: open source, creative commons, free fonts. All with an emphasis on escaping the constraining grids of minimalism.
Some core texts:
- First Things First, by Ken Garland and co-designers (1964). In 2000 a new generation of designers wrote their version of this influential text. Cole Peters updated the manifesto in 2014. Ken Garland penned down his predictions for the future in 2012: Last things Last.
- The Social Role of the Graphic Designer, by Pierre Bernard (1991)
- An incomplete manifesto for growth, by Bruce Mau (2000)
- Draft Craft Manifesto: On Making and Consuming Things by Ulla Engenström (2005)
- 1000 Words: A Manifesto for Sustainability in Design by Allan Chochinov (2007)
- Sustainism?, by Droog Design (2011)
- The Free Software announcement, by Richard Stallman (1983). Later clarified in 1985’s GNU Manifesto
- Creative Commons license version 1.0 (2002)
- Free Font Manifesto, by Ellen Lupton (2006)
Activism over academics
- The Futurist Manifesto, by F.T. Marinetti (1909)
- Anti Design Manifesto, by Neville Brody (2010)
- Designers Against Monoculture by Noah Scalin (2001)
- Project H Design (Anti) Manifesto: A Call To Action For Humanitarian (Product) Design, by Emily Pilloton (2008)
Now write your own statement or be forever silent.
Some people confuse inspiration with lightning
Not me I know it comes from the lungs and air
You breathe it in you breathe it out it circulates
– by David Lehman, ‘January 1‘