The designer Ken Garland published his first things first Manifesto in London in 1964 and with it he challenged a generation of visual communicators to rethink their role as designers and to do something more useful with their creative talents than simply create commercial advertising for cat food, stomach powder and aftershave lotion.
In 2000 this declaration was updated and published by Adbusters – the commercial products were more contemporary, but the message was the same – there are pursuits more worthy of designer’s problem-solving skills than just commercial design. While many designers embraced the call to arms, others saw the manifesto as unrealistic idealism – how can you save the world and pay the bills?
Between Ken Garland’s original manifesto and 2000 a lot had changed, new products, new media and new ways of advertising all adding to a general increase in the sheer volume of consumerism taking place. A decade or so later and the landscape has changed again, environmental concerns that were once peripheral to scientific communities and the green movement are now mainstream – we’re now all aware of CO2 emissions, global warming and climate change.
Design has only played a very small part in this whole journey, but it’s been a very important one – creating adverts, branding and packaging that are seductive, enticing and comforting – design has made the whole experience feel okay. Now that we are starting to realise the environmental costs of some of our choices then it’s fitting that designers are picking up the spirit of the First Things First manifesto and applying their skills to tackling some of these issues. Emily Hinshelwood is a writer and graphic designer who’s used the OCA’s Graphic Design 1 module to support her in promoting environmental responsibility:
I have always been critical of advertising – ever since I read an article in a marketing handbook on ‘how to persuade young mothers to take up smoking’. And yet I can’t get away from the fact that my objective in learning Graphic Design is effectively the same thing! I want to promote environmental responsibility and in particular I want to persuade people to cut their carbon emissions.
I work for a small energy charity called Awel Aman Tawe which was established 13 years ago to address issues of climate change. Primarily it does this through developing renewable energy projects, – solar, biomass, wind etc – and through energy efficiency programmes. Over the years of the project, it has been interesting to see how people’s perceptions of climate change have altered. Thirteen years ago, most of us knew very little of the science of it. It was hardly in the news, and rarely talked about. Now, however, we are all very aware of climate change. We know it’s happening – and happening a lot faster than we would like – and yet, it is still a taboo subject. In most social situations, if you bring up climate change, people’s eyes glaze over, and they’d really rather you shut up. I find this an interesting response, considering the enormous changes we are about to experience in the next couple of decades: the enormous loss of species, the mass migration as land becomes uninhabitable, the consequent conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. What is it that’s stopping us from talking about it?
We decided to run a programme of arts activities on the theme of climate change – poetry, animation, film, printmaking, theatre – and we had a fierce interest in the project. The poetry competition received entries from as far afield as Philippines and USA. People have responded so strongly, that I believe it’s the sheer depth of feeling that makes it hard to talk about it. It’s also made me see the vital role of artists and writers in helping us all to make the transitions required and to come to terms with our changing landscape and society.
Through the graphics design module with the OCA, I have tailored most of my assignments towards creating posters, leaflets, marketing materials for the arts and climate change project. The module is helping me to understand how people view publicity; it’s helped me to identify and highlight key messages. As a writer, I am used to playing with words, and editing out as much waffle as I can. It is a huge eye-opener for me to see that the same applies to visual communication.
One of the arts projects – Postcards from the Future – invited people to send in a postcard depicting their vision of the future; either imaginary, real or hoped for. I used the ‘folding exercise’ in assignment two to design the flyer for the project which contained the postcard and all the information that people needed. We had a great response with ideas from the apocalyptic ‘The End’ to messages about planting seeds, to comic takes on the future like this one from Huw Aaron.
I still find myself in awe of designers, and artists who can speak without words, and really grab us emotionally. This is what I strive for as I know that for an issue like climate change (and probably for young mothers who crave a cigarette), we are hooked by the emotional draw rather than the verbal argument.
To view the postcards submitted to the Postcards From The Future project go to: http://awelamantawe.wordpress.com/