“We propose a reversal of priorities in favour of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communication—a mindshift away from product marketing and toward the exploration and production of a new kind of meaning. The scope of debate is shrinking; it must expand. Consumerism is running uncontested; it must be challenged by other perspectives expressed, in part, through the visual languages and resources of design.”
– First Things First 2000: A Design Manifesto
Over a decade and a half since the 2000 re-issuing of the First Things First manifesto, engulfed in the sound and fury epitomised by an American presidency mobilized through bigotry, racism, misogny, etc., not to mention deepening environmental crisis, endless war, racialised state violence, and exponentially increasing inequity, it seems like a good time to re-evaluate how the discipline of graphic design has responded to the manifesto. What has changed? What has stayed the same?
FTF had strong popular appeal back then, and the debates it inspired filled the design press influencing many young designers’ practices and spawning a plethora of initiatives addressing and rethinking graphic design’s social role (It's hard to imagine AIGA’s current Design for Good Initiative without that groundwork being laid). Naomi Klein's No Logo sat on almost every graphic designer's bookshelves (whether they read it or not), alongside issues of Adbusters magazine and the latest copy of Emigre. More recently, the manifesto was once again renewed in 2014 with a clearer focus on the implications of digital technology. Initiated by Cole Peters, it collected over 1,600 signatories, but without design celebrity endorsement, and within a vastly different cultural climate, resulted in little discussion or visible action beyond good intentions.