Chapter 1: Looking backwards to go forwards.

This chapter will give a brief summary of a number of relevant design figures and instances that have been integral to the development of responsible, ethical, critical and sustainable design throughout the 20th and early 21st century.

Einstein once said “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” (Berman. 2009. p.105) so identifying causes of the problems, and ensuring they are not repeated is as essential as developing solutions; as is evident within the idea that “the pursuit of progress itself is actively creating impacts that themselves then undermine the potential for further and future progress.” (lowcarbontravel. 2011)

Since the industrial revolution and the introduction of mass production, there has been a continual rise in consumerism, causing the design profession to expand, but as the requirement for production increased it lead to the design and production stages becoming furthered removed from each other. The focus was on aesthetics, profit and recognition; little regard was given to the impact graphic design had on the earth. Now, for example, “the paper and print industry is the 4th largest industry in the UK” (Clark. n.d.)

Buckminster-Fuller was a scientist, inventor, writer and environmental activist who lived by the mantra to ‘do more with less’. He worked to create sustainable, mass-produced items across a number of the design disciplines and, as a result, was often described as a utopian, however he noticed how the human world was exploiting the earth for its natural resources and focused on producing technology-led, sustainable solutions with a view to working in harmony with nature, aimed at creating a better future for humankind, as cited in Sherin (2008, p.16) “Humanity could acquire technology for the purpose of total success and enduring peace for humanity.”

Victor Papanek challenged designers to integrate environmental and social considerations within their work and defined the role of the designer to be that of a “fully thinking problem solver.” (Sherin. 2008. p.18) Papanek once commented on the misinterpretation of the Gaia Theory, which suggests that the earth has the ability to self- regulate, or keep balance, stating “this theory does not assume that there will be a place for our species on a planet that has changed itself as a result of human assaults on its biodiversity and balance.” (Papanek. 1995. p.10)

In 1964, Ken Garland published the controversial ‘First Things First’ manifesto, which asked as to the purpose of visual communication and challenged it to reconsider the priorities of the profession. Garland believed that there were more important messages to communicate than those focusing on advertising to influence the consumer and the manifesto proposed “a reversal of priorities in favor of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication.” (Garland. 1999a. p.155)

In 2000, the First Things First manifesto was revised by Rick Poynor, and criticised the graphic design profession for continuing to allow it to be misunderstood as advertising. With the development of medical knowledge, technology and the dramatic growth of globalisation, the manifesto recognised the important role that graphic design must play in the development of the world; “unprecedented environmental, social and cultural crises demand our attention.” (Eye Magazine, 2000)

Poynor concluded, “we renew their manifesto in expectation that no more decades will pass before it is taken to heart.” (Eye Magazine, 2000) Unfortunately, a decade has already passed but the question remains: has this manifesto been any more successful that it’s predecessor in bringing designers to action?

Next: Who is practicing sustainable graphic design?