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Response to First Things First - A Manifesto

September 10, 2017

I was recently asked to write a response to a short manifesto written by graphic designer Ken Garland and a group of his peers in 1963. It stresses the importance of not being just another mindless pusher of pointless products. Garland states that, as masters of visual communication, we have an obligation to advocate for greater causes than simply earn our paycheck. We should also be considerate of the type of clients that we take on, questioning their motives and the ethical position of their business. The following is my short response. It's written in a pretty informal format and may contain type-o's, but I wanted to put it here anyway to archive.

 

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As a young graphic designer only still just beginning to make headway in the career of his passion, it’s hard to have a substantial opinion on a subject almost unquestionably for the design elite. In my current adolescent state in the field, I am hesitant to make, as Beirut has, statements that might come across facetious. However, the climate which both the First Things First Manifesto and it’s 2000 revision were written must first be addressed. I feel like even the most recent edit is out of touch when taking into consideration the proliferation of the internet and design tools. The level of globalization that is happening at this very second is a fraction of what it will be by the same time next year. I don’t want to simply dismiss the entirety of the paper and it’s moral conundrum, but they failed to predict a setting in which the lowest echelon of designer isn’t the one deciding between the most conscientious or lucrative freelance job, it’s anyone that puts a background image to their Facebook posts.

 

What globalization has done is create a world in which only advertising entities exist. The consumers that were previously only valued for their eyeballs, are now more valuable for their mouths and the feedback that open channels of communication have provided. Now that search engine optimizations and targeted ads exist, only receptive audiences are being targeted. While some might argue we’re less tolerant because we’re not being faced with as much adversity, I think that it has instead heightened the standards with which we both scrutinize the information that is placed in front of us, and the information that we choose to present.

 

Any legitimate brand strategist knows that the most valuable form of advertising isn’t a multi-million dollar ad running the first commercial break of the Super Bowl, it’s the conversation happening on the couch between an ecstatic new BMW owner and their neighbor. What I’m trying to say is we’re all well aware that we’re constantly being solicited. Should we be considered with the ethical merit of our work? Absolutely. However, in our fast-paced soap-box driven society, the First Things First Manifesto is a message that is trying to tackle a subject that is now too big for its britches.

 

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TLDR; The internet has caused such an obviously unprecedented shift in the way that we all interact and communicate now. In the past, maybe Garland and associates' sentiment made a lot of sense to complacent advertisers and professional creatives. However, in a world where everyone is both a consumer and contributor of content, the responsibility that they talk about has shifted to encompass basically anybody that has access to the internet.

 

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