First things first published in 1963 by a graphic designer called Ken Garland. Was just a thought of his that he proclaimed one evening, it then turned into so much more than he bargained for because it rattled the design industry in Britain when it was going through a major brake through and caused questions to be ask by most in the industry. The idea was to call out designers who focus more on fast pace advertising rather than focusing on much more humanist design, designing for a course or simply making ones life better by improving their experience. This manifesto has even been revisited back in 2000 which again then created debate in design again but it has drawn in some young designers views into the debate, again the idea was to stimulate discussion in most areas of design in the practice and education systems; and state the fact that young designers should invest their time and efforts  in much more positive work than wasting time on uneventful projects.


First things First (1964)

Proclaimed and written at the institute of Contemporary Arts meeting in December 1963 by  graphic designer Ken Garland. Looking deeper into this I learnt that in fact in a interview he talks about he was actually bored of the actual conversation so he decided to invest his time in something he was interested so while in the meeting, off the top of his head he started writing on a piece of paper.

The meeting came towards an end, he then decided there to raise his hand and bring forth his small thought he had, walked to the front, went on stage and presented what he recently put down on the paper and it quickly gained the crowds approval later on that evening. The idea was extended and was even published and therefore known now as ‘first things first manifesto’. Quickly raising interest allowed the manifesto to then published in The Guardian which is a national daily newspaper also known until 1959 as The Manchester Guardian and continued to grow to the point Ken Garland made a TV appearance in a interview for the BBC to talk about his manifesto. The idea was to call out designers on the fact that they were wasting their time on fast pace advertising in Britain and that they should turn to more humanist design and focus their attention on more rewarding projects and question the future of graphic designers.

First things First Manifesto (2000)

In 2000 the manifesto was republished but this time the aim was to ‘stimulate discussion in all areas of visual communication – in education, in practice, in the organisations that represent design’s aspirations and aims – as well as outside design. The changing relationship of advertising, graphic design, commerce and culture poses some profound questions and dilemmas that have recently been overlooked. If anything, these developments are accepted as an unproblematic fait accomplished. In consequence, many young designers have little conception of the values, ideals and sense of responsibility that once shaped the growth and practice of design.’ So with this in mind Adbusters media foundation launched the idea in 1999 and with the approval of Ken Garland and was first published in issue Emirge 51 which featured the newly re-issued ‘first things first manifesto 2000’ with 33 signatories and accompanied by a essay about the history and theory of the manifesto by Rick Poynor (First things First Revisited). It then moved on to be published in Adbusters, Emirge, the AGIA Journal, Eye and Blueprint which is in Britain, even reached to the Netherlands and Germany including poster versions that was designed by Adbusters. The the new version did attract younger designers to have their say and come forth with their views, opinions and really debate how in their view graphic design was evolving and changing which then sparked more debate and rattled the graphic design community again.

 First things First Manifesto Revisited

Reading through I could understand some aspects that Rick was saying but what really caught my interest was the quote he put in by an artist called Johanna Drucke and she quoted “in whose interest and to what ends? Who gains by this construction of reality, by this representation of this condition as, natural?” I found this interesting and wanted to find the answer or a answer so I went out and researched to and this was the answer I gained from my research.

“This is the concern of the designer or visual communicator in at least two senses. First, like all of us, as a member of society, as a citizen (a word it would be good to revive), as a punchdrunk viewer on the receiving end of the barrage of commercial images. Second, as someone whose sphere of expertise is that of representation, of two-dimensional appearances, and the construction of reality‘s shifting visual surface, in- terface and expression. If thinking individ- uals have a responsibility to withstand the proliferating technologies of persuasion, then the designer, as a skilled professional manipula- tor of those technologies, carries a double responsibility. Even now, at this late hour, in a culture of rampant commodification, with all its blindspots, distortions, pressures, obsessions, and craziness, it‘s possible for visual communicators to discover alternative ways of operating in design.” – this was the views and reflection from Rick Poynor and in the end the answer.

Ken Garland

Garland was born in England in 1929 Southampton, he attended the Central School of Arts  and Crafts in London and graduated in 1954 and followed up working for a design magazine company as the editor in 1956 and continued doing so till 1962 which he left to follow his ambition on creating his own studio called Ken Garland & Associates. Through the 47 years of his studio he designed for clients such as the campaign for the nuclear disarmament, Which? magazine, race furniture, labour party, Paramount Pictures and Galt toys which he had a big influence designing for the brand and products. Since leaving his education Garland has been teaching at many universities such as the Central School London, the university of Reading, Royal college of Art and finally the University of Brighton, he also has invested his time to wright five books about design, published influential articles and his finest the ‘First things First’ manifesto which was published in 1964 and re-issued back in 2000.

I also went to his personal website which features some of his work which are really great examples of great practice. –

Reflection Questions

How I felt reading this and did I understand it?

At first I struggled to understand the 1964 version due to the age gap I think I could follow but not completely but on the other hand the 2000 version really built on it and allowed me to read and feel the real message that Ken Garland was trying to relay. I think its a powerful manifesto and its message is clear and allowed me to process how I would like to progress as a designer.

Do I agree with this?

Yes I do agree with Ken Garlands views but not fully. I think there is much more to the problem we face in todays design industry and how young designers start their careers in the industry there is so much competition, which you always must be on the top of the game otherwise you simply cant get your foot through the door, you have to make a name for your self and this is what pushes young graphic designers in to the slop of designing just for fast pace marketing.

Does the issue still exist today?

Yes it does still exist today it nearly has consumed the hole design industry. It is in every day life and the education system still promotes these beliefs in todays lectures. But I hope that design will start to go through a massive change soon and will start to adapt to a new way of design just for helping people and just simply try to communicate to them rather than demand them to do things like fast pace marketing is doing now, rather lay the information there for people who see it have the choice to follow or deny it.

How does it relate to me?

It relates to me as a graphic designer because it allows me to reflect on the industry I a moving into and also allows me to ask what I want to get out of my career. Do I want the small ambition of designing for dog biscuits or do I want to achieve more and go out challenge myself, my skills, do something meaningful and actually create something that can communicate to some one, have a influence that way. I could aim to effect not just the industry I am moving into but to have a strong influence on peoples life because we as young designers are yet to realise that we are actually powerful figures in everyday life even though we are not in the spotlight we are still there having an effect on the working world around us and thats why its important then to design for people and not fast pace industry.


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