The First Things First manifesto was written 29 November 1963 and published in 1964 by Ken Garland. It was backed by over 400 graphic designers and artists and also received the backing of Tony Benn, radical left-wing MP and activist, who published it in its entirety in the Guardian newspaper.
Reacting against a rich and affluent Britain of the 1960s, it tried to re-radicalise a design industry which the signatories felt had become lazy and uncritical. Drawing on ideas shared by Critical Theory, the Frankfurt School and the counter-culture of the time it explicitly re-affirmed the belief that Design is not a neutral, value-free process.
It rallied against the consumerist culture that was purely concerned with buying and selling things and tried to highlight a Humanist dimension to graphic design theory. It was later updated and republished with a new group of signatories as the First Things First 2000 manifesto.
I would say its clear Garland wanted graphic design to be more than materialistic, he appealed to designers to design for society, a purpose and a function.
However he states 'we do not advocate the abolition of high pressure consumer advertising: this is not feasible.' Which means he realises the limits of the idea of being completely anti-consumer, as people will always want to buy, he himself at this time designed work for a toy company, but I think that is the choice of whether the company/product/outcome are actually harmful or detrimental to society, like designing food packaging for children when you know it is of no nutritional value, that to me is a bad choice , a toy company is perhaps a lesser evil.
I agree with Ken Garland in this statement I do think that completely abolishing consumer advertising is not feasible, and graphic designers still need to earn a wage to live, but again as I have stated I think there are certain choices you can make in the right direction.
This manifesto seemed to of had an effect on designers and resonated with some of them as in 2000, a re-draft of the first things first manifesto was devised, not by Ken Garland but by Rick Poynor. (though Ken Garland did sign it)
First Things First 2000
'We, the undersigned, are graphic designers, art directors and visual communicators who have been raised in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable use of our talents. Many design teachers and mentors promote this belief; the market rewards it; a tide of books and publications reinforces it.
- The product mentioned in this manifesto have a more serious, unethical problem behind them for instance, sneakers, a lot of sneaker companies use factories in third world countries and employ children as their workers.
- The rising cost of the products suggest that consumer culture is growing more and more, for instance diamonds are now in the list of items.
- the word 'visual communicators' is now used to describe a wider variety of people in the creative industry, meaning it is not just designers that can make a change.
- Poynor also suggests that 'commercial messages are changing the very way citizen-consumers speak, think, feel and interact.' meaning that society is being simplified, a certain 'dumbing down'.