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 revolutionary’s mandatory office accessory: the Living Dead Doll Sadie Pencil Sharpener.

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.

A manifesto is a guidance or precept for personal actions (like Stefan Sagmeister’s ‘Things I have learned in my life so far‘) or for common actions, like the Ten Commandments.

In short, a manifesto can be either an analysis or a list of dos and don’ts.

'Trying to look good limits my life', Stefan Sagmeister, 2013
‘Trying to look good limits my life’, Stefan Sagmeister, 2013

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.

F.T. Marinetti, page from the book 'Zang Tumb Tumb', 1914
F.T. Marinetti, page from the book ‘Zang Tumb Tumb’, 1914

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:

First wave

Second wave

 

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.

Free web fonts are common good now, not so 10 years ago. Google Fonts homepage.
Free web fonts are common good now, not so 10 years ago. Google Fonts homepage.

Some core texts:

Social responsability

Open Source

Activism over academics

Poster for Anti Design Festival 2010 by Neville Brody
Poster for Anti Design Festival 2010 by Neville Brody

 

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