First Things First Manifesto


The First Things First Manifesto was written in 1963 and published in 1964 by Ken Garland and received 22 signatories. Its influence quickly gathered attention from newspapers, the BBC and was published in numerous magazines, with copies even being requested as far as Australia and the United States. It made a large impact in the design community, so much so that it was revisited and republished in 2000.

Upon reading the document my understanding was that it brought to attention the urgency to reflect upon the route that graphic design is taking. We are immersed in a consumerist world and design seems to only serve the purpose of selling and advertising. It questions our views on design and what its purpose is. He does not say that we should abandon advertising or designing as persuasion, but to not solely think of that as the main pursuit within our careers. As designers we have the ability to effectively communicate to audiences around the world and with that can make beneficial changes within communities. In an interview for Eye magazine when asked about his manifesto he stated: ‘It’s not anti-advertising. And it isn’t primarily about our ethical attitude. It’s not that I discount ethics, but I was talking about what seemed to me to be a political and economic point, about the way we spend money. That was my concern.’ 

Although he states that ethics were not his main concern, I personally gain the sense of a strong moral obligation as a designer to do work that can really make a difference and an impact on the world. I feel it boils down to the question of do you simply do work that pays the bills and nothing more or look beyond that and not let consumerism take over. It is a powerful piece of writing that has understandably stirred conversation and differences within the creative community.

About the author… Ken Garland is a graphic designer and a key figure in the development of graphic design from the mid-twentieth century. I reviewed his artwork in order to gain a sense of what Ken Garland was about. I found his work to be eye catching and bold. It seems to combine the Swiss’ disciplined style of design along with the American’s freer style of design which I think has a well balanced feel to it. He manages to combine discipline with playfulness effortlessly with strong attributions towards colour, contrast, layout, type and hierarchy.


Both the 1964 and 2000 manifesto’s were then reviewed by Rick Poynor, a writer, critic, lecturer and curator who was the founder of Eye magazine and co-founder of the Design Observer. He specialises in design, photography and visual culture.

I feel that even Poynor was taken aback by the manifesto; ‘First Things First struck a nerve is clear.’ He points out that newly emerging designers only seem to focus on how cool and ad looks rather that what it is communicating to the audience. This being a key problem. He enforces that the manifesto speaks of the growing issue of consumerism and how we are submerged within it with design struggling to break free.

It is a piece of writing that certainly provokes thought as to the type of designer one wishes to be or become and what is it that’s at the heart of what we do. For me it has really made me think of the various areas within graphic design and has made me question the sort of designer I wish to become. What legacy do I want to leave behind? I want to make a difference in the world, but in this day and age, how do you make your voice heard above all the noise?






Author: marislathamgraphics

I am a student at Cardiff Metropolitan University studying BA Hons Graphic Communication.

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