“Current Day Manifesto: Toward a Critical Ambiguity in Graphic Design” – Edited by Cameron Ralston (University of Canterbury, New Zealand)

Installation image of Current Day Manifesto: Toward a Critical Ambiguity in Graphic Design, 2013, Cameron Ralston

Installation image of Current Day Manifesto: Toward a Critical Ambiguity in Graphic Design, 2013, Cameron Ralston

I curated the following text as part of an ongoing investigation on how writing exists for, about and through graphic design at the University of Canterbury. It is with this piece I feel I came closest to a designed writing, myself acting as an editor recontextualising the voices towards a new outcome.

The nature of the manifesto is towards accessibility and although its primary existence has been in the poster format (pictured and readable through the pdf link supplied), adaptation for readership is a necessary part of a continued existence. Included with the pdf is the key text I wrote as a method of understanding the text and ideas important to me pertaining to New Zealand graphic design. This separate text exists in the poster format adding a graphic language and alternate reading to the text as you can see upon viewing.

I encourage redistribution, rereading, reinterpreting and reprinting of this text, as an open writing for a wider, more involved, discussion.

Installation image of Current Day Manifesto: Toward a Critical Ambiguity in Graphic Design, 2013, Cameron Ralston

Installation image of Current Day Manifesto: Toward a Critical Ambiguity in Graphic Design, 2013, Cameron Ralston

Key for reading Manifesto

“The days of manifestos are over. In politics, no one much believes in any sharp polarity of left and right. The difficulties of action are immense. Keeping the boat afloat and away from the rocks seems all we can do. Any manifesto-talk has merely tried to turn this sense of difficulty and confusion into a principle.”1 “We cannot be bound beyond what we are able to perform, by reason that effect and performance are not at all in our power, and that, indeed, we are masters of nothing but the will, in which, by necessity, all the rules and whole duty of mankind are founded and established.”2 “Can a design manifesto still be written from the ideological void? Now that the principal tools of design—the computer and its software—have been homogenized among practitioners and democratized among people, professional distinction is an unlikely perspective for a future design manifesto to gain support. User-generated content accounts not for an amateurish supplement to a stable, professional core, but for a fundamental transformation of the workforce and the value it creates.”3

“The true investment is in the investment in design itself, as a discipline that conducts research and generates knowledge—knowledge that makes it possible to seriously participate in discussions that are not about design. Let this be knowledge that no one has asked for, in which the designer is without the handhold of an assignment, a framework of conditions, his deference, without anyone to pat him on the shoulder or upbraid him. Let the designer take on the debate with the institutions, the brand names or the political parties, without it all being about getting the job or having the job fail. Let designers do some serious reading and writing of their own. Let designers offer the surplus value, the uselessness and the authorship of their profession to the world, to politics, to society.”4 “Research may be graphic design’s way of shaping new discourse and a community that accepts its standing as a discipline that manoeuvres within other disciplines, but has the capacity to exist alone. That gains from inward investigation and outreaching collaborations.”5 “This requires both theoretical and project based research as well as active sourcing of knowledge and experiences from abroad. And it requires relevant structures and models, which can cater for the necessary flow of knowledge from the source of the research to design students and practitioners and to others, for whom this knowledge is of vital importance and value.”6 “We need our roots.”7

“It should be no surprise that, along with the lack of history and theory, criticism is totally missing. The main function of criticism is not that of providing flattering or denigrating reviews but that of providing creative interpretations of the work, period or theory being analyzed. Out of those creative interpretations a new light is cast on the objects, and new nuances and reflections are brought to our notice.”8 “Because, as I have always understood the term, to be critical involves not taking things for granted, being skeptical, questioning what’s there, exposing limitations, taking issue, advancing a contrary view, puncturing myths.”9 “Towards an observable level of critical sophistication, where “critical” refers to engaged discussion as part of a historical and theoretical continuum rather than the regular ego-feeding value-judgments of the group or individual crit.”10 “There is a body of knowledge about design, its principles, history and theories. There is a parallel body of knowledge about research. For both of them, however, the knowledge of greatest significance is the knowledge of how to do it. To some extent this can be taught, but fundamentally it is learnt—individuals gain experience in how to design or research through designing and researching. Their learning is ongoing and their knowing is embodied in their doing. Through this doing they advance and extend their knowing of their field and perhaps the total knowledge of the field itself.”11

“Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context.”12 “It is clear that design is not just political, but primarily geopolitical; the new shapes and forms may arise haphazardly and by chance, but they register (in a quite formidable way) the geopolitical forces of the globalizing world.”13 “Experiences are the process and destination of originality. And designers’ practices or experiences can prove the validity of originality.”14

“If I cry out:

Ideal, ideal, ideal

Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge

Boomboom, boomboom, boomboom

I have given a pretty faithful version of progress, law, morality and all other fine qualities that various highly intelligent men have discussed in so many books, only to conclude that everyone dance to his own boomboom, and that the writer is entitled to his boomboom.”15 “No longer are graphic designers treating history and their subject in a linear fashion: the incorporation of perspectives on popular culture opens up the possibility of looking at the individual, the everyday and the ‘cultural object as the primary source of meaning ’.”16

“Trees fall, the grass goes yellow with autumn.

I climb the towers and towers

to watch out the barbarous land:

Desolate castle, the sky, the wide desert.

There is no wall left to this village.”17

“The value of design experiments should not of course be measured only by what succeeds, since failures are often steps towards new discoveries. Experimentations is the engine of progress, its fuel a mixture of instinct, intelligence or discipline is in the mix.”18  “If the depths of our minds harbour strange forces capable of increasing those on the surface, or of successfully contending with them, then it is all in our interest to canalize them, to canalize them first in order to submit them later, if necessary, to the control of the reason.”19  “Form itself is indexical.”20 “Traditional? Modern? Post-modern? Forget those worries, and go back a step. Think what it is that you want to do. Think for yourself! Disregard preconceptions, models, influences. Consider what you know and what you have to hand. Then you can plot a course that makes sense for you and for everyone else involved in the enterprise, not least the user or reader. The scandal of this proposition is that it emphasizes thought, intellect, and rationality. Personal intuition, as well as cultural tradition, can certainly play important parts: but in dialogue with the awkward questions put by reason. Design is so often taken as being about ‘expression’—of the designer and the designer’s personality. Forget that, and think. Think with extreme attention and passion. Reason that is split off from feeling is a distortion of reason. And reason is an active thing. It connects with the world: reason is critical.”21

“Graphic design only exists when other subjects exist first. It isn’t an a priori discipline, but a ghost; both a grey area and a meeting point—a contradiction in terms—or a node made visible only by plotting it through the lines of connections.”22 “This slightly ambiguous position, a distinctly in-between discipline that is both everywhere and nowhere, is to our benefit, allowing graphic design to talk without boundaries to a wider audience, while also enabling us to infiltrate and use the systems of other disciplines when desired and relevant.”23 “It eludes definition just as it eludes itself; a prey to unfathomable anamorphosis, it rubs itself out and rewrites itself; it allows itself to be read, only to slip away.”24 “Rather than the negative connotation of ambiguity as a form of vagueness, I have a positive interpretation of ambiguity, intended as a plurality of meanings, or the ability of conferring to an object or a design, the possibility of being read in different ways—each one complementary to the other to enrich the subject and give more depth.”25

“You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water. Only

There is shadow under this red rock,

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”26

“The mystique has finally gone out of ordinary design and print.”27 “And maybe graphic design today seems as though it’s lost all cohesion—a nebulous endeavour in a sea of influence, complicity, corporate agendas, and personal cries for creative expression above a din of branded communications.”28 “Consumerism is running uncontested; it must be challenged by other perspectives expressed, in part, through the visual languages and resources of design.”29 “I offer a modest solution: Find the cracks in the wall. There are a very few lunatic entrepreneurs who will understand that culture and design are not about fatter wallets, but about creating a future.”30  “The only way out of this representative illusion is through presentative culture. The immorality of advertising and the morality of anti-advertising are two sides of the same coin. What we need is a form of graphic design that is neither immoral nor moral, but amoral; that is productive, not reproductive; that is constructive, not parasitic.”31 “That is to say, a more autonomous existence based on self-management, mutual aid, solidarity and direct participation and control over one’s affairs. As the potential producer, educator, and visual face of social change, graphic design could weld its creative future with more pressing concerns than market shares and profit margins.”32

“Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows

Like harmony in music; there is a dark

Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles

Discordant elements, makes them cling together

In one society.”33

1.         “Study. A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.”34

2.         “Forget about good. Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.”35

3.         “We tolerate failure. Failure is part of the process.”36

4.         “Believe complex ideas can produce simple things.”37

5.         “In the course of joint discussion there is a free exchange of suggestions and in this way the individual’s point of view is broadened.”38

6.         “A joint search for the best answer to a problem will throw up more potential solutions and there is more likelihood of generally valid standpoints being discovered then when the individual must tackle the job unaided.”39

7.         “We collaborate. Collaboration does not mean consensus.”40

8.         “Doubt is better than certainty.”41

9.         “It is intelligence electrified by the flood of Naivety.”42

10.       “Yet one cannot give that which has not been created. Creation comes before distribution—or there will be nothing to distribute. The need of the creator comes before the need of any possible beneficiary.”43

“If you detect a common attitude running through these proposals, and feel sympathetic towards it, you will no doubt add your own items to the list. What I must say in conclusion, though, is this. These tasks operate in the short and middle-term. They might play some part in preventing the disintegration of our society which will surely take place if it hardens into its present unhappy mold. In the long term there must be vast, probably painful changes.”44


Works Cited

1 Robin Kinross, ‘More Light! For a typography that knows what it’s doing’, 1993

2 Michel de Montaigne, The Essays of Montaigne, Complete, Chapter VII, 1877

3 Metahaven, White Night Before a Manifesto, 2008

4 Daniel van der Velden, ‘Research and Destroy: Graphic Design as Investigation’, 2006

5 Cameron Ralston, Essay, 2013

6 Pernille Grønbech & Steinar Valade (Ed.), The Role of Design in the 21st Century, Danish Designers’ Manifesto: A Vision for the Future of Danish Design, 3rd Edition, 2010, p.9

7 Massimo Vignelli, ‘Call for Criticism’, 1983

8 Ibid.

9 Rick Poynor, ‘The Time for Being against’, 2004

10 Stuart Bailey, ‘Towards a Critical Faculty’, 2006–7

11 Peter Downton, Design Research, 2003, p.9

12 Bruce Mau, ‘Incomplete Manifesto for Growth’, 1998

13 Metahaven, White Night Before a Manifesto, 2008

14 Cai Shi Wei Eric, ‘Idea Innocent Originality Reasonable’, 2008

15 Tristan Tzara, ‘Dada Manifesto 1918’, 1918

16 Teal Triggs, ‘Designing Graphic Design History’, 2009

17 Ezra Pound, Lament of the Frontier Guard, 1915

18 Steven Heller, ‘Cult of the Ugly’, 1993

19 André Breton, ‘First Surrealist Manifesto’, 1924

20 Michael Rock, ‘Fuck Content’, 2005

21 Robin Kinross, ‘More Light! For a typography that knows what it’s doing’, 1993

22 Stuart Bailey, ‘Dear X’, 2004

23 James Goggin, ‘Practice from Everyday Life: Defining Graphic Design’s Expansive Scope by Its Quotidian Activites’, 2009

24 William S. Burroughs,Brion Gysin, The Third Mind, New York, The Viking Press, 1978, p.23

25 Massimo Vignelli,Vignelli Canon, p.20

26 T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland, 1922

27 Bob Gill, ‘Otherwise Forget It’, 2012

28 Michael Schmidt, Emigre, no.67, 2004, p.11

29 Adbusters, ‘First Things First Manifesto 2000’, 1999

30 Tibor Kalman, ‘Fuck Committees’, 1998

31 Experimental Jetset, ‘Disrepresentation Now!’, 2010

32 Jared Davidson, ‘This is not a Manifesto: Towards an anarcho-design practice’, 2009

33 William Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1805

34 Bruce Mau, ‘Incomplete Manifesto for Growth’, 1998

35 Ibid.

36 Edenspiekermann, ‘The Edenspiekermann Manifesto’, 2010

37 Daniel Eatock, ‘Mini-Manifesto’, 2012

38 Josef Müller Brockmann, The Graphic Artist and his Design Problems, Switzerland, Arthur Nigilli Ltd., 1961, p.135

39 Ibid.

40 Edenspiekermann, ‘The Edenspiekermann Manifesto’, 2010

41 Milton Glaser, ‘Ten Things I Have Learned’, 2001

42 Wyndham Lewis, Blast 1, London, 1914, p.38

43 Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, Philadelphia, Blackiston, 1943, p.739

44 Ken Garland, ‘Here Are Some Things We Must Do’, 1967

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s