From the onset of our research for “Manifesto.” which started two years ago, the same question has been asked to us over and over —Why bother with design manifestos? Good point.
In the first decades of the 20th century there was an art manifesto explosion. If you were an artist and thought you had a revolutionary idea, you had no choice but to express it as a manifesto. The consequence of this trend was the birth of some of the most important contemporary art movements, along with a growing apathy towards the manifesto form. Overuse led to under use in the following decades. Surprisingly, since the end of the century, the manifesto form has been making a comeback, especially in the field of design. Why? Is it that designers have been feeling an urgent need to react to something? And does this have something to do with the turn of the new century? Or with the exponential reach that the Internet gives to anybody who has something to say?
Writing a manifesto is to some degree an act of narcissism. It implies the fact that one is so convinced of his or her own ideas that somebody else will want to follow them as rules of life. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While self–centred personalities can be arrogant, unreasonable, and blind to other people’s opinions, they can also be considered extremely brave, stimulating, and contagiously passionate about what they do. You need a big character to point out what has been missing, or, even better, to point out what was under everyone’s nose when nobody knew how to articulate it. All the design manifestos we’ve bumped into in the last two years have been written by someone bold enough to believe that someone would follow his or her maxims. Some sound void and fluffy. Others vibrate with wisdom and passion. The latter are those we have selected for “Manifesto.”.
The exhibition gathers the professional beliefs—either serious or irreverent, unpublished or appositely prepared—of some of the smartest and most respected professionals of today’s design world. The quality of the content—and not the form—was the principle that guided our research, and only a few of the 21 manifestos contained in the exhibition are successions of bullet–point intentions. We prefer to think that even a postcard, a page, a book, or a seven–word–sentence can be a manifesto. The content of each manifesto differs quite drastically from the other. Some speak of grids and typography, others of coffee breaks and car drives, others of being shy or mad. They are all, in our opinion, fervent declarations of love towards design.
Having come so far in reading, you might still be searching for an answer to the original question—Why bother with design manifestos?
As people who deal with this discipline every day—be it in a professional or public manner—we see design being too often reduced to the mere function of making something look ‘nice’. Unfortunately, such a focus on the end result just doesn’t work. Not even in design. That’s why we decided to hold back the final result for once and move the attention on what is usually kept out from exhibition spaces: the work process. Because it’s along the winding, potholed road that a designer embarks upon every time he gets a new job that lays the real meaning of every project. By collecting and displaying these 21 manifestos, we want to suggest that only by focusing on his or her own work process can a designer fulfill his or her role in society: that of building—or revealing—a meaning for what surrounds us. Making sense, if you prefer.
Tankboys and Cosimo Bizzarri