For the past couple of years, I have given many of my upper-level design students a “Personal Manifesto” project. Students are asked to consider how they position themselves inside of design, and then try to define their own beliefs with a group of ten statements, phrases, or words. This project stems from the idea that design is not a profession of universal rights and wrongs, but a profession of deeply personal interpretations of external contexts. A designer translates things into other things, and that translation is unique depending on the person doing the translation. Rather than running from this personal take on design, we should embrace and expand on it. All design is personal, regardless of client or audience involvement.
The manifesto project is an attempt to make students literally define their personal opinions. This is why one of my favorite days of teaching is the day we all debate each others’ manifesto statements. Class is spent on a lengthy, engaged conversation about what we do—invariably with extreme disagreements. Topics like ethics, professionalism, dealing with clients, the design process, discovery, and many other things come up. Each of these is approached from many sides and varying viewpoints—some the direct opposite of each other.
Manifestos are intended as decrees of policy by and for a group—and in art and design, there are lots of them, including my own A Design Education Manifesto. What I have come to realize is that we can write manifestos, we can publish manifestos, we can even try to adhere to manifestos as a group, but manifestos are personal. Deeply personal, and in fact, singular to the individual. It turns out that I did not write A Design Education Manifesto for other people—I wrote it for me. If others find it helpful or illuminating, that’s great, but ultimately it is for me, not anybody else.
A manifesto is only truly valuable to its author. I appreciate the intention behind the First Things First 2014 manifesto, in all of its incarnations—but I will not sign it. I don’t need to. I have my own manifesto, and it is a combination of all these things, and more. It is not online, it is not in a book. It is not for you, or for “us” as a community. It is for me, and no, you may not read it. You can see it in my work, you can see it in how I teach, and how I act—and how what I make, teach and do changes and fluctuates over time.
The reason why I like giving the “Personal Manifesto” project is specifically because there is no correct way to do it, there is no universal statement to publicly sign—each student has to create their own expression of design, and sign it for themselves in private. The debate and evolution of design comes as each designer puts their own beliefs into practice. We must decide for ourselves.