The faith in unbounded consumption during the economic miracle of the 1960s seemed unshakeable. But in 1964, Ken Garland and a group of 22 prominent London-based graphic designers wrote the ground-breaking manifesto “First things first”. Advertising dog food, laundry detergent and credit cards with efficient design wasn’t enough. Social responsibility had to be at the heart of their work. New thinking had to supplant the uniformity of financially rewarding advertising jobs.
There was a brief stir in the design scene, but not much happened. Critical energy was drawn off by lucrative day-to-day business. Rising sales figures caused by perfect target group acquisition and the stylizing of brands as the new guiding idols of our consumer society seem to justify this development.
The apogee has been passed, “The Crisis” provides us with something we hardly would have considered possible: A breather in which we can once again ask if these contracts really are the only tasks for graphic designers. Superstars such as Stefan Sagmeister have been asking, “What does the world really need?” for quite some time. Sagmeister invented a road show with inflatable information graphics that contrast defense spending in the USA with educational spending. This action bus has been touring the country for years to generate a different form of awareness and call for investment in a more sensible future.
Many of us feel a deep sense of unease and initiate our own projects seeking to extricate ourselves from the seductive embrace of marketing and advertising. One of the great challenges of our global world is to minimize communication barriers and maximize understanding. We consider it our duty to point out sensitive social, political and ecological relationships and visualize them with greater clarity. We work on the intersection in which facts and structures are converted into understandable messages. The choice of what can be seen and experienced is a conscious decision we are involved in. “First Things First” is the title of the 1964 manifesto. Today we have to do one in another, since one of these socially relevant tasks can lie within every contract.
Erwin K. Bauer