Hello again!

On my previous post, I’ve mentioned about the subject that I want to make research and write about. However, we have a 2000 words limit and a title like Socially Responsible Design contains so many issues and sub titles that cannot be fully covered in 2000 words. So I divided my subject into three specific titles. I’ll choose one and go for it. I’d really appreciate if you help me choosing it with your feedbacks. Under each three title, you can see some research about 500 words (I didn’t include the course key texts, to share alternative approaches and resources). The second one seems the most possible nominee for now, but I’m looking for your opinions. I know it’s a bit too long, you can just give them a swift look instead of reading the whole bulky paragraphs 🙂

1) First Things First Manifesto (1964 and 2000)

The First Things First manifesto was written and proclaimed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, on an evening in December 1963, and published in January 1964 by Ken Garland. Ken Garland studied in graphic design at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, in the 1950s. Then he became the Art Editor of Design magazine from 1956-62, before leaving for establishing his own graphic design studio called Ken Garland and Associates. Some of his well-known clients are Paramount Pictures, The Science Museum, and Cambridge University Press. He has written many articles to design periodicals and lectured widely in Europe, America and Asia. Garland says that the reverberations of the manifesto are still being perceived. His manifesto “First Things First” was a reaction against the rich and well endowed Britain of the 60s. The manifesto was making a critique of the field “design”, which had become lazy and uncritical. Ken Garland and some graphic designers (over 400 people) who backed the manifesto argued that design is not a neutral, value-free process. First Things First took action against the consumerist culture that was purely concerned about buying and selling goods. One of the promoters of the manifesto was Tonny Benn, a radical left-wing activist who published it entirely in the Guardian newspaper.

In 1999, The First Things First 2000 (an updated version of the earlier First Things First) was written and launched by Adbuster magazine. Adbusters Media Foundation is a non-profit, anti-consumerist organization founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz. The organization describes itself as “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age” The foundation publishes Adbusters, a reader-supported activist magazine, devoted to several social and political causes. Adbusters has also launched some international social marketing campaigns like “Buy Nothing Day” and “TV Turnoff Week”. Founder Kate Lasn explains the foundation’s goal. “Advertisers have taken over everything, and there is a belief that the $450bn-a-year advertising industry may have peaked. It’s time for the backlash, and that backlash is the clean mental environment.” (Verna 2006) There are some other social activist design publications like No Logo, Geez magazine and Stay Free! Magazine. First Things First 2000 manifesto was signed by 33 people from the international design community (many of them are famous graphic designers, like Jonathan Barnbrook, Milton Glaser and Steven Heller).  The manifesto was published and translated in many other magazines and books around the world. “The manifesto could not fail to make waves when it was republished precisely because it stands in stark contrast to the stock-in-trade of many design magazines.” (Baugnet 2003, 96) Its aim is the same as its earlier version; generating a discussion about the graphic design profession’s priorities. Interest in the manifesto was rekindled with this second edition. Some designers welcomed and backed this attempt while some rejected it. The partner of the New York office of Pentagram (a famous collaborative and interdisciplinary design studio that have offices in London, New York, San Francisco, Austin and Berlin) Michael Bierut is taking a negative public position on the manifesto. In his article, he criticizes the signatories of the manifesto because “they have specialized in [designing] extraordinarily beautiful things for the cultural elite, not the denizens of your local 7-Eleven.” (Soar et al. 2002) The 2000 version of First Things First is nearly the same as the earlier version

2) Graphic Design’s Social Content as a Form of Social Production Instead of Commodification

As visuality is an overpowering concept and a powerful medium for communication, it is quite possible to make use of design that attends to social needs rather than servicing only to the prescriptions of capitalist consumption. Anne Bush, a chairperson of the graphic design program at the University of Hawaii, handles the designer as master communicator, the problem solver. “Yet, communication is dialogic. It depends on exchange. Thus, a more accurate understanding of visual communication invokes not only the voices of designers, but the voices of designers in concert with the voices of the audience.” (Bush 2003, 26) This dialogical process that Bush suggests, handles visual communication as a social activity. “To teach social responsibility, then, is in part to foster an understanding of visual communication as exchange and to understand that such exchanges are never entirely predictable or neat.” (Bush 2003, 26) For her, the designer is not the sole determinant, but rather a participant through these dialogues.

Susan Szenasy is the chief editor of the New York City-based magazine Metropolis (it’s a magazine of architecture, culture and design). She describes design as a noble and necessary human activity. In her article, she mostly mentions about environmental and ecological issues. When it comes to ecology and animal rights, most of the fashion students are good examples for the design attitude of today. Susan Szenasy observes that they see themselves as slaves of seasonal trends and fickle consumers, they believe that there’s nothing any designer can do about ecological problems. To make living in the fashion industry, they think that they need to figure out how to make money and how to become stars. For Szenasy, a sixties idealist, it’s possible to turn that ugly world into something more beautiful. However, her ideas are evaluated by her students as a naive dream.

For graphic designers who are interested and active in social causes, there is always a disconnection between the graphic design work he/she is doing and the willingness to contribute to a larger community. But the deviation between the world of business and the world of community service makes it hard to turn the life and work into something more seamless. Milton Glaser anticipates this kind conundrum: “Designers per se are usually in a very weak position in regard to what they do; they don’t make the determinations, they don’t decide what is to be sold, they don’t decide on the strategy or the objectives very often. They are, to a large extent, at the end of a long process where these essential decisions have been made by others… Designers have to recognize that their role has become … a mediation between clients and an audience, where they act more like telephone lines than they do like initiators.” (Soar et al. 2002)

3) Design for Corporate (Do Designers Have to Consider Deeply About Their Clients?)

Brand is the most important piece of property in the globalization race. What does brand valuation do for a corporation? Corporations need brand assessments to encourage investors, preserve loans, and attract consumers. Through the concept of property, brands need to be carried on, and they desire growth. Graphic design is one of the most significant players in this globalization race. Corporate design is discussed in relation to client satisfaction and project briefs. But what if a graphic designer interrogates himself/herself and refuses to work with corporates, because of the personal ideological reasons? Michael Schmidt, an associate professor of graphic design at University of Memphis, claims that in the 1990s graphic design lost its thirst for ideological debate. “Globalization, on the other hand, is replete with ideological riptides… Debate is the key; more of us need to come to the table.” (Schmidt 2003, 119)

Nancy Bernard, director of collaboration for the Palo Alto branding firm comes up with a term called “reality branding”. She is not one of the idealist ones who is dedicated to change the world with their design skills. “Who ever said that graphic design could change the world, anyway? Have you seen the world lately? It’s huge!” (Bernard 2003, 87) She believes that the messages that graphic designers deliver aren’t all that powerful, whether they are commercial or informational. “People only care about them when they’re actively looking for an LCD monitor or the way to San Jose. The rest of the time they’re a kind of chattering background tappity-tap.” (Bernard 2003, 88) Graphic Design doesn’t have much to do in the context of social and cultural responsibility. Design itself can be visually satisfactory, conceptually incisive, or emotionally alive and it can of course give pleasure, so it’s better for the environment to make good designs than lousy and boring graphics, but that’s all. Nancy Bernard considers design at the bottom of the capitalist food chain. Audiences don’t know and care about who the designers are. The people who hire them are also thinking that what they do is unimportant and stupid. So isn’t there anything for designers to do if they want to involve in the social improvement? Reality branding is Bernard’s suggestion for designers who ‘care’. She describes this movement as a “do-what-you-can-with-what-you-have manifesto”. Aim of the reality branding is simply doing the work completely real. Designers have the right to choose not to lie. Reality branding is against the generic designs (turning the client into a commodity or anything), just giving the message on real value. “Make it honest. Make it relevant. Avoid hyperbole. Be respectful. Don’t be afraid to project a vivid personality. And don’t be afraid to let design inform the other disciplines in the brand system.” (Bernard 2003, 88) In reality branding, the main responsibility is to make sure the organization delivers on its promises. According to Nancy Bernard, a graphic designer has to commit himself/herself to seek the truth, illuminate it with suitable ethical standards and advocate it. Reality branding has to be honest and it should reflect the real value of the goods. “If the product is frivolous, don’t pretend that it’s serious; if the organizational culture is obsessed with technology, don’t pretend it’s about people; if someone else’s stuff is pretty much the same as yours, don’t pretend that it’s unique. Find something else about the organization that no one else can claim.” (Bernard 2003, 89) But don’t these ideas push back the design? Bernard also brings forward a solution to these kind of worries. “If design tests show that people don’t respond to a position, advocate a new position; if pre-research shows that people don’t actually like or need the product, advocate a product re-design; if the brand discovery interviews show that company has an attitude problem, get the word out, and challenge management to find out what’s eating their employees.” (Bernard 2003, 90) Briefly, Nancy Bernard comes up with something really reasonable and simple. Graphic design can at least create honest and more relevant communications.


Rahul Verna. “How Clean Is Your Mind?” The Guardian, January 9, 2006, Media section.

Julie Baugnet, Citizen Designer, ed. Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne (Allworth Communications, Inc., 2003),96.

Matthew Soar et al., “The First Things First Manifesto and the Politics of Culture

Anne Bush, Citizen Designer, ed. Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne (Allworth Communications, Inc., 2003),26.

Michael Schmidt, Citizen Designer, ed. Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne (Allworth Communications, Inc., 2003),119.

Nancy Bernard, Citizen Designer, ed. Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne (Allworth Communications, Inc., 2003),87.

Nancy Bernard, Citizen Designer, ed. Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne (Allworth Communications, Inc., 2003),88.

Nancy Bernard, Citizen Designer, ed. Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne (Allworth Communications, Inc., 2003),89.

Nancy Bernard, Citizen Designer, ed. Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne (Allworth Communications, Inc., 2003),90.