If you want to write a manifesto, It might be a good idea to first answer the question, “What is a manifesto?”
The standard definition is “…a declaration of policy and aims.”(feel free to ask Google). However, in the world of art and design, manifestos do not have a set structure, or a list of contents, or a set format. (Do you remember Marcel Duchamp and his ready-made Fountain sculpture? It does not pass as a declaration of policy or aims, but it surely is a manifesto.) Therefore, it should not surprise you to see manifestos swiftly jotted down on a napkin in a local café – OR (on the other end of the spectrum) – an elaborate publication filled with brilliant typography, neat graphic design elements and blocks of pure text.
“But how does one come up with their own? Is there a possibility that one’s message has been already covered by others before them?”
I believe that manifestos stem from the value system of the individual. The environmental factors (where we were born, the generation we were born into, where we live now, the people we know and the people we have met…) shape our value systems, which means that 100 years ago my values would have been completely different to the values I hold now. Similarly, if Duchamp was born in the Gen-Z his message would have been different. However, that does not rule out the possibility that opinions on certain issues (sustainability, inclusivity, communication, etc.) have not changed, which implies that similarities between manifestos are likely.
Now, back to the main point, which is to determine your own manifesto. Whether it resembles a message from the past or not, articulating and committing to a statement regarding one’s own work is an important step in one’s life (as a designer, as an artist, as an entrepreneur, or as a plain old human being).
So that is why I am here asking myself, “What do you believe in?”
(Oh my! - That is a broad question! But I am guessing that you are not interested in my views on the existence or non-existence of some higher power, or Santa Claus for that matter.)
Soo... here we go.
…but I do not believe in objective truth.
…in right and wrong,
…but I know that someone’s right is someone else’s wrong.
…in black and white,
…but in my eye’s life is in shades of grey.
…in my own insignificance,
…but that just allows me to run my mouth and do as I please.
…that the more you consume (watch, listen, read), the less you you are. Despite everything we think we know. We are just repeaters, not a single original thought.
…but everything I said could be wrong,
These lines are the starting point which will (hopefully) help me define the manifesto, because as you might have noticed, those statements have very little to do with objectives, aims or purposes – they are just intentionally composed words. (I cannot promise you that this slew of words will result in a comprehensive piece, but miracles do happen.)
One of the most important factors for me is dialogue. I do not want to persuade people; I want to have a conversation as I am pretty sure I do not hold all the answers. I believe that the key to solving our issues and to life in general is in all of us. (Hurray for collaboration!) So, If I could do only one thing then I would want to make people think.
With that in mind, I took the liberty to re-phrase the slogans of some well-known brands just to see what it would feel like if the advertising was less prescriptive.
Just do it. –> What is stopping you?
Impossible is Nothing –> What is Impossible?
Think Different –> Why does everyone have all the same stuff then?
(*I am sorry, I could not help myself.)
Figure 1. What is stopping you? (2020) / Figure 2. What is impossible? (2020)
A few thoughts on marketing...
How the system works:
Offering -> Guidance -> Persuasion -> Prescription
“We have these great things just for you!“
“Here is how you can use these great things to achieve other great things!”
“Try these great things (free) for a month!”
“All candidates must have an excellent working knowledge of these great things!”
01 “Do no harm.”
02 “Make people think.”
Alrighty then, why don’t we go through some manifestos (and a few 'not-a-manifestos') that sparked my interest to get things moving?
The first two examples are ‘not-a-manifestos’ (essentially just posters) but that should not concern you. We are only interested in the message, how it is delivered and what emotions we get from this form/medium.
Figure 3. We're all part of the solution (2020) / Figure 4. Delete my socials now (2020)
What makes these designs stand out is the nostalgic almost sentimental vibe which radiates from the aged black and white look - reminiscent of old newspapers. The message feels more legitimate, more real.
Another thing that is worth noting is the actual wording and meaning of these posters. The first poster can fill you up with hope while making you feel the immense weight of the world at the same time. “We are all part of the solution.” – gets instantly flipped in my mind to – “We are all part of the problem (the cause).”
Meanwhile the second print illustrates the contrast between the massive load of digital interactions we get in a day with the lack of real world experiences, which is quite a common (im)balance, especially in 2020.
03 “More than just screens.”
Okay, time to move over to a ‘real-deal-manifesto’.
Figure 5. A Short Manifesto (1964)
Stanley Brouwn looks ahead (4000 A.D.) as he describes the fusion of art and science. What follows is quite a bold statement, that people would have lost their sense of past (and perhaps even present), as they are too preoccupied by thinking about the future, which leaves them rediscovering things, already known to men – over and over again. Brouwn also mentions that we will no longer feel the need to communicate. Some would say that we can see that happening already, but do you really think that there will be a time when we do not have anything to talk about?
Maybe… but I believe that we would still feel the need to talk – to stay sane at the very least. Whether this need to socialize gets satisfied with AI keeping us company or us talking gibberish amongst ourselves, that I do not know.
We get introduced to the concept of living in a world of only colour, light, space, time, sound, and movement and the erasure of music, art, and theatre. My understanding of this segment is based on fragmentation, human involvement, and the introduction of new technology. Let me explain – music, art and theatre were activities performed by people and enjoyed by an audience (essentially, we invented these terms just like everything else). When we take these activities and break them up into their elementary units, they become sound, light, space, colour, time, and movement – they can no longer be what we understand them to represent when they are used in sync.
Why would we break them up, you might say? Because in order to teach technology (AI) about anything, we have to dissect the information and extract the basic building blocks (elaborate codes made up of 1's and 0's). What makes theatre, music and art is the marriage of the afore mentioned elementary units (and arguably the involvement of people), which create the unique experience. However, once we strip it down, take the human element away and replace it with technology it no longer means the same thing. There have been quite a few discussions on this topic which usually include questions such as,
“How do you define art?”
“Can art be mass produced?”
“Are readymade, mass produced objects pieces of art?”
“What is the definition of an artist?”
“Can AI be an artist?”
I believe that all ‘tech-related things’ are sort of an artform in their own right. We have to acknowledge all those inventions coming from the tech industry which greatly contributed to the art scene. Technology has changed how we create, share and experience art – and perhaps for the better? However, this shift was achieved by advancing (or inventing) the toolkit – not by automatization. What happens when AI (with a large dose of Machine Learning) enrols in Art class? Would AI just generate an average output from the input it was provided? A Kitsch?
Rationally, there is something that AI cannot provide (at least as far as I know) which is the unique lived-in experience of an artist, which will always leave a mark on the final piece. The outcome is not just the object of interest, it is also the backstory - how and when it came to be, and most importantly why.
Anyhow, I would say that Brouwn’s thinking was way ahead of his time. He managed to skilfully construct his manifesto in a very concise manner – taking the reader straight to the point (that is if the reader is open to such a journey).
Inspired by the ’Short Manifesto’ I started thinking about how we make sense of everything around us – and I had to write down some notes. (Somehow it all turned into a poem... is that I sign that I have been listening to too much alternative folk music? Guess we’ll never know...)
Figure 6-8. Manifesto Concepts. (2020)
How we understand the world depends on what we are exposed to and how we can describe it (to ourselves and to others). In the end, language shapes everything. (Hence why good design is a language not a style – Massimo Vignelli.)
From the very start of our journey towards ‘knowing' and ‘understanding’, we are taught about our surroundings through the use of dichotomous pairs (cat and dog, sun and moon, hot and cold, good and bad). This duality conveniently corresponds to emotions and how we learn when to and how to express love or hate, happiness or sadness, when to remain calm or burst with anger. If we rely just on this essential vocabulary, it feels as if there are no in-betweens – it can be either this or that.
We do not have enough words for everything that lies in the middle (it would not be possible or realistic). Therefore, it is no surprise that we struggle to recognize the things which we cannot name or describe.
“Is it real?”
“...It might be even more actual than we think.”
Over the course of our lifetime, we are continuously taught a range of concepts that become scripts for our everyday life. (how we should dress, what we should buy, what we should say and how we should interact – The ‘shoulding’ effect is real.) This ‘should’ creates a safer environment for everyone as it helps us navigate the world around us - it makes us more predictable and acceptable human beings.
“So, what happens if you try asking different people the same open-ended question?”
There will be similarities in the responses because some of our experiences and concepts overlap – maybe we have read the same book, or had a cat, or saw the same commercial. Our ideas, thoughts and opinions are not our own – they are gained from elsewhere and we can either adopt them, take a piece, or completely disagree, which creates our own unique puzzle piece.
Let’s just say that in this information saturated age, this realization is more important than ever, as we run the risk of blindly adopting or siding with ideas that we do not understand, while disregarding voices of others. Saying ‘I do not know’ is more connected with the reality of our experience, as we simply do not ever ‘know’.
04 “Unlearn what you know.”
05 “Find unique puzzle pieces.”
Isn’t it wonderful? If there was a single entity (and let’s hope that there is no such thing) which prescribed what we think and say, we would be enraged. Most would see it as a violation of human rights, but on some level this process is at play and it is what makes us human – it is how we learn.
It's not wrong nor is it right, it just is.
Figure 9. Some things that have to change (2020) / Figure 10. Keep on lying (2020)
However, I must stress that communication (the process of sharing concepts, ideas, or thoughts) is not the result of ‘parroting’ or ‘copy and pasting’ the messages of others. Look at The Silent Post (a children’s game also known as Chinese whispers or Telephone) which brilliantly illustrates how the meaning of a single message gets transformed the second it rolls of the tongue of the originator. (Thanks to this process we do not have to worry about getting bored listening to the same thing over and over again.)
There is one more thing, which resides in the back of my mind. It is the fact that everyday people are probably not aware of this. They go about their life from one workday to another, month by month as years go by – completely unaware and blissful. All they worry about is the weekend, holidays and when they can finally retire. Their days are filled with a steady stream of news, from gossips to weather forecasts, supported by a healthy diet of entertainment - provided by us, creatives. Design (and it does not matter if it has enjoyment or reducing waste as its main objective) is essential to the form of life we have established - drawing on the words of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Pierre Ducasé.
“Machines would not exist without us, but our existence would no longer be possible without them.” - Pierre Ducassé
“The meaning of our private lives is built with these household objects.”
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
“The high arts help create order in the thoughts and feelings a given society has about itself.” The artist and designer are able, “to condense, in a given moment of historical time, the expressive striving of a great number of people.”
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
For centuries Art and Design were used to reflect the current feelings and events within society, but they both can also instil emotions and beliefs.
(Hello, propaganda! Just a friendly reminder not to take design lightly - ever.)
06 “It was, It is, will it?”
07 “Do you really need it?”
However, as I have already mentioned, there are not many people who would find this a worthwhile thing to ponder. Not everyone recognizes the impact design has – at least not in my circles. In fact, most of my relatives do not understand what I do.
“Are you still at school?”
“So, do you just draw things and stuff?”
“Is this your Art project?”
“What does it do?”
“It is so pretty!”
“Won’t you just grow up and get a job?”
As much as I would love to get a job someday in the future, I quite enjoy having the freedom to research and think about the issues that others overlook (or maybe I just want to be like Peter Pan and never grow up?). Ultimately, I just do not want to get boxed into a role with repetitive tasks and zero impact (being another cog in the machine is definitely not my aspiration in life).
Designers are Problem solvers
Makers of meaning
Originators of giving
Facilitators of change
08 “I disagree.”
Anyway, I went on a bit of a ramble… Now, back to manifestos! I would like to mention the First Things First manifesto, although I do not agree with the first version of this document, I feel strongly aligned with its latest 2020 rendition. FYI - It is a living document open to change but for the time being the main objectives are:
What We Must Do
· We must challenge and examine the histories, processes, and ethics of design and develop new creative skills, resources, collaborations, and languages of design.
· We must support community-based efforts of justice, healing, co-existence, and mutual respect.
· We must understand that we are not outside of nature; we are a part of a complex system and our actions must reflect that knowledge.
· We must reverse our profession’s priorities in favour of more inclusive, empathetic, and engaged forms of action — a mind-shift that goes beyond sustainability — towards regeneration, exploration, and co-creation of a non-exploitative, non-appropriative set of social-environmental relations.
· We must commit to reconnecting design, manufacturing, distribution, and use of the things we design to the Earth — and all of its inhabitants.
· We must direct our skills for the betterment of humanity towards a more ecological civilization. We believe all of these principles should be integrated into multidisciplinary design pedagogy. We do not advocate the reduction of design to a singular focus: this is not feasible. Nor do we want to take any of the fun out of life. But we are proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of more useful, generative, and equitable forms of design. (O’Brien, et al., 2020)
The points made in this manifesto can be broken down to Renew, Support, Symbiose, Regenerate, Connect, Improve, Collaborate & Educate.
09 “Once more, with feeling!”
Figure 11. Data & Design Manifesto (2020)
Yet another entry from the depths of social media.
“Who says that Instagram is just for food pics, business ads and beautiful people?”
If you track down the right kind of people, then you can get a daily (or even hourly - I am not judging) dose of noteworthy design gems - like this one ‘Data (&) Design Manifesto, A 10-points list ‘.
Composing a manifesto or making a statement about your beliefs should not begin and end with you. It is a good working practise to look past your own agenda, go a little further than the most well-known examples from the past and look around yourself. Observe and analyse what your peers are putting out into the world. (Do not forget to check your ego at the front door – we do not need it over here!)
And I can only agree with the message from the author of this post and appreciate her insights.
“In a world that grows as fast as the amount of information, data, images, tweets and news that are published every second, we designers have to be able to represent and give back to the world all this information, to re–think and re–formulate everything established and to analyze and judge from a critical point of view (not in a bad sense) in order to produce changes. This manifesto is a 10–points list that reflects my personal objectives.” (Álvaro, P., 2020)
I hope you have noticed some of the random notes which are spread throughout this text. So, just to clear things up this is how my manifesto was born –> through writing, thinking, and doing.
“That’s it folks! The manifesto is finished…”
Essentially, I immersed myself into writing (about anything and everything but mostly nothing), exposed myself to related (and unrelated) material, and observed what I ended up producing - at the end I could (somewhat easily) extract what is important to me from the text.
"Was I done by that point?" "Nope!" Just like any other project the manifesto had to go through a final phase of refinement once I started working on the actual design (it still has some room to grow) but here it is!
I'M LOVING THIS
Hahahahaha love this.
An exhibition as it's supposed to be.
I will find it!!!
Trip to Prague to check this out.
So interesting, I felt following these words could find "who you are? what are you looking for? " The philosophical book by digrams.
Magda setting high standards yet again.
Very cultivated piece of work worthy of physical a publication. It would be great to see the 'Icons' you've made for each one of the points made into sculptures - imagine the exhibition space a how people would interact with such objects.
List of illustrations
Figure 1. Boudova, M.(2020a) What is stopping you?.[Digital Artwork] In possession of: the author.
Figure 2. Boudova, M. (2020b) What is impossible?.[Digital Artwork] In possession of: the author.
Figure 3. Pino, C. (2020a) We’re all part of the solution. [Instagram photo] At: https://www.instagram.com/p/CIofoH8hzdh/ (Accessed 26/12/2020).
Figure 4. Pino, C. (2020b) Delete my socials now. [Instagram photo] At: https://www.instagram.com/p/CGBBLsohF9E/ (Accessed 25/12/2020).
Figure 5. Brouwn, S. (1964) Stanley Brouwn: A Short Manifesto. [Screenshot] At: https://designmanifestos.org/stanley-brouwn-a-short-manifesto/ (Accessed 18/12/2020).
Figure 6-8. Boudova, M. (2020c) Manifesto Concepts. [Cross-media] In possession of: the author.
Figure 9. Schultz, R. (2020a) Some things that have to change. [Instagram photo] At: https://www.instagram.com/p/CHWmtmLBGFv/ (Accessed 20/12/2020).
Figure 10. Schultz, R. (2020b) Keep on lying. [Instagram photo] At: https://www.instagram.com/p/CEdMHhsBgNu/ (Accessed 19/12/2020).
Figure 11. Álvaro, P. (2020) Data & Design Manifesto. [Instagram photo] At: https://www.instagram.com/p/CHV83AfB3xb/ (Accessed 24/12/2020).
Figure 12-23. Boudova, M. (2020d) So you think you know? A Manifesto. [Digital Publication] In possession of: the author.
Álvaro, P. (2020) Data & Design Manifesto. [Instagram photo] At: https://www.instagram.com/p/CHV83AfB3xb/ (Accessed 24/12/2020).
Boogaard, O. (2014) In search of Stanley Brouwn. At: https://www.frieze.com/article/search-stanley-brouwn (Accessed 06/01/2021).
Brouwn, S. (2020) Stanley Brouwn: A Short Manifesto. At: https://designmanifestos.org/stanley-brouwn-a-short-manifesto/ (Accessed 18/12/2020).
Margolin, V. (ed ). (1995) The Idea of Design. MIT Press. At: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=F1SO2nXxhl8C
O’Brien, et al. (2020) First Things First 2020. At: https://www.firstthingsfirst2020.org/ (Accessed 25/12/2020).