“First Things First”- Ken Garland

Click here to read Ken Garland’s “First Things First” Manifesto

Ken Garland is a well-known British Graphic Designer, but also an interesting author and games designer.  He first found his feet as a Graphic Designer after graduation and was hired by a Design Magazine which helped him build a reputation within the field.  In 1962 Garland established his own studio “Ken Garland & Associates” therefore becoming his own boss. At this stage he had become well known, and a great success through his designs and writing, however it wasn’t until 1963 that he wrote “First things First manifesto”, which was later released in 1964.  As a Graphic Design student, the name “Ken Garland” wasn’t unfamiliar to me; however I have only recently shown any interest to him.  This is due to our manifesto project.

The First things First manifesto was written at a time when British economy was booming. Garland claims for a “society that will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesman and hidden persuaders”.  The general message of the manifesto is that mainstream advertising have saturated the design industry, becoming lazy and uncritical.  It was that design should be meaningful, “there are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills”, and so you should choose them wisely.  Yes, corporate and commercial design may pay good money, but the First things First manifesto explores whether or not that is what truly makes design, design.

In the year 2000, the First things First manifesto was revisited, creating a new version.  The manifesto showed little change to the original, no twist, or spin; it was simply rewritten, in a more modern style I suppose. However, I was interested solely from the original manifesto, I much prefer the way Garland portrays his message and the way in which he writes it.

A lot of manifestos, such as Claes Oldenburg’s “I am for an art” are written in a style similar to poetry; however First things First is very much so more a statement. In the first paragraph, it begins with the pronoun “we”.  This suggests that it is from the view of multiple people, designers, which all think the same. Immediately by doing this, it ensures the reader that what is to be said comes from more than one person; therefore it is likely to be true? With designers especially I find it hard for more than 5 to agree on something; design is so broad and can be shown in multiple ways. The paragraph moves onto some examples of how designers are wasting their skills and imagination, selling items such as: ‘cat food, stomach powders, detergent, hair restorer, striped toothpaste, aftershave lotion, beforeshave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water, cigarettes, roll-ons, pull-ons and slip-ons.’.  Although the manifesto asks for change, it doesn’t mean to get remove commercial advertisement from society all together, it would not be feasible.

I find this manifesto to be very interesting, it is strongly opinionated, and therefore there are surely people who disagree with Garland’s “statement”. Part of me disagrees, and agrees.  Although I feel that design isn’t necessarily about the consumer aspect, creating design for commercial purposes, I personally wouldn’t dismiss the opportunity. Perhaps this makes me hypocritical. But time and creativity absolutely go into creating this type of design, and far too many people see it as “paying the bills”.

I think there is a more worthwhile aspect to design, which Garland mentioned; “signs for streets and buildings, books and periodicals, catalogues, instructional manuals, industrial photography, educational aids, films, television features, scientific and industrial publications and all the other media through which we promote our trade, our education, our culture and our greater awareness of the world.’ This is what I am more interested in and truly what I think design is all about. Realistically I would not refuse a commercial design opportunity; this is because it helps gain experience, grow imagination and better skills so I can then design what is important to me.

The First things first manifesto in my opinion is about social and economic issues from a designer’s perspective. Personally, I don’t have many social and economic issues; therefore my manifesto shouldn’t be as broad. I like how the manifesto reads as though there aren’t any other views apart from the writers; such certainty, I find this to be rather effective as it grabs your attention and allows you to believe so. These are the key areas in which I will use this manifesto as inspiration for my own.