Kalle Lasn, co-founder of Adbusters magazine and author of the books Culture Jam and Design Anarchy, allegedly began Adbusters upon an epiphany that something was extremely immoral with consumerism. He yearns for the days when, “designers were mightily engaged in the world,” and fears the last generation of designers was schooled primarily in how to use design to make money for themselves and their clients. “The old-school designers have forgotten that we are very powerful people, and we are the creators of this culture,” says Lasn in a 2007 interview with Step Inside Design’s Laurel Saville. This view is not an isolated concept, it is an idea shared by the greater design community as a whole. The lucrative environment he discusses is not new either; the dispute is relevant in the First Things First 1964 Manifesto in the first line of the opening paragraph:
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.
Lasn’s reaction to his displeasure is something he terms “culture jam,” which he describes as a deliberate act to destabilize mainstream society. Lasn expresses to the design community in his 2006 essay Design Anarchy, “We have lost our plot. Our story line. We have lost our soul.”
The current environment in the graphic design profession, particularly with young emerging designers, is in flux. There is an immense exploration in contemporary graphic design that blends historical styles and diverse movements collectively. Although aesthetically pleasing solutions, there is separation concerning historical positions, artistic rational, and more over, social accountability—often deficient an appreciation of context. Jan Van Toorn, in his essay Design and Reflexivity, expresses this in detail, he states, “Design has thus become imprisoned in a fiction that does not respond to factual reality beyond the representations of the culture industry and its communicative monopoly.” From his early youth, Jan van Toorn was involved in the aspects of printing and the commercial environment. As an educator— During the 80’s Toorn mainly engaged design through education as a lecturer and a department director in Europe—Toorn understood the complexity young designers were facing. He further clarifies this in inscribing, “It is time to apply our imaginative power once again to how we deal with communicative reality.”
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.
Another passage from the 1964 manifesto:
In common with an increasing number 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.
Toorn expresses this excerpt when he communicates, “The dominant culture forces all other cultures to define themselves in its symbolism, this being the instrument of knowledge and communication. This communicative dependency is particularly evident in the solutions that the dominant culture proposes for social, economic, and political problems of what is defined as the “periphery”—of those who do not (yet) belong.” To me this implies that we can alter the mindset of our future society to think different and to act different. There is opportunity to create social change, imply social responsibility, and to develop new thinkers.
The last paragraph from the 1964 manifesto reads:
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.
The 1964 manifesto expresses the idea well however Jan Van Toorn’s words express the notion in a more profound way. He explains, “In other words, the designer must take on an oppositional stance, implying a departure from the circle of common-sense cultural representation. This is an important notion, because the point is no longer to question whether the message is true, but whether it works as an argument—one that manifests itself more or less explicitly in the message, in relation to the conditions under which it was produced and under which it is disseminated.”
During 1999 Jonathan Barnbrook, a British graphic designer and typographer, revisited the First Things First 1964 Manifesto and published a revised version in the year 2000. A common theme of Barnbrook’s graphic design style is personal responses to political. Due to his major influence embedded in anger arriving from the unfairness in our society, Branbrook declares to use graphic design as a weapon for social change. Mindful of the influence carried by the message, he and thirty-two others pledged to apply their abilities to meaningful causes as well as social and cultural attentiveness.
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.
It is now more than a decade later and the manifestos from 1964 and 2000 are more relevant than ever before. Revitalization is needed once again as our global society struggles to understand corporate greed and the political motives. The words of Jan Van Toorn are as applicable as they were over a decade ago; “Design will have to get used to viewing substance, program, and style as ideological constructions, as expressions of restricted choices that only show a small sliver of reality in mediation.” This implies that as designer we need to be aware of our message and its context. Our communications to the global community relies on further immersing ourselves into meaning and message. Lasn, “We will change the way we interact with the mass media and the way in which meaning is produced in our society.” Another excerpt from the 2000 manifesto articulates the significance:
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 wishing my expressiveness of reimaging the manifesto reaches an understanding, I rely heavily on the First Things First manifestos from 1964 and 2000 as well as the written words of Lasn, Toorn, and Branbrook. Sharing their revelation is more authoritative than I could ever imagine interpreting. To complete the thinking I would like to finalize the dialogue with this message from Lasn, “Eventually, if you’re really as brilliant as you think, you’ll have a crack at pushing the boundaries of global culture with bold new forms and fresh ways of being.”