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The ABCs of Writing Your Design Manifesto

Jack Ratterree
April 2019

A — Authority
So you’ve decided to write a design manifesto. Got some ideas you want to spread about how the Design World is broken and how to fix it? A manifesto is the name of the game. But, with great power comes great responsibility and boy does a manifesto have power. The artifact you will be writing is one founded on principle which demands undying loyalty from you and your followers until the end of its era. One misstep from the path you propose to lead can and will expose your guidance as a fraud and your doctrine unworthy. With your credibility on the line, I implore you to tread lightly.

B — Bullshit
Now that you’ve decided to commit your life and legacy to the promotion of this document, the first step in writing your manifesto is to sniff out the bullshit. What frustrates you about Design? What’s hiding just below everyone’s nose, inexpressible yet aching to be noticed? Once you’ve found that special something:

C — Call it out
It’s your responsibility, nay, your Duty to Design, to expose this bullshit to the world. “The ‘Online Etymology Dictionary’ traces the word ‘manifest’ back to 1374, as ‘clearly revealed’, coming from manifestus – ‘caught in the act, plainly apprehensible, clear, evident’ – and manifestare – ‘to show plainly’.” How could people go on living without this knowledge? With your help, the Design World will be left in awe, quivering and begging for guidance which you will graciously accept. But what exactly is the wrench for you to throw into the cogs? I’ve got a secret key to help you figure it out:

D — De-
All the best manifestos out there insist on actions beginning with “de-.” Deconstruction, destruction, dematerialisation, demystification. The bones of a manifesto are built on removal, separation, negation, descent, and reversal which only a “de-” word can provide.

E — Expectations
Confidence is key when writing a manifesto, so be sure to raise your expectations for the impact it will have.

F — Flavor
It is essential to use strong language in an effort to rouse your audience. Hot tip: use the “we” followed by an active verb to manufacture necessity. “We must,” “we stand against,” and “we fight” are all good examples. This is also a good time to add some poetic flavor to your writing. Using unconventional analogies and coining new jargon will open up your argument to fresh interpretation. At the end of the day, a manifesto without contradiction, confusion, and cover-ups is hardly a manifesto worth reading.

G — Guts
Staking your flag into the the mount of Design discourse takes guts. Assure your audience of your claims and what will happen if they are ignored.

H — Hate
Defining the enemy is not as easy as it sounds but is vital to your argument. A good starting point is always to blame:

I — Industry
The root of all evil is money and the tyranny of ad men, CEOs, and manufacturing oligarchs must come to an end. The power should always lie in the hands of the public and it’s your job to shut out the middleman between you and them: industry. Design is next in line for farm-to-table movement. That being said:

J — Jamming
Culture jamming is your ultimate goal-- problems that can be fixed with a little elbow grease and a can of social WD-40. It is important that you focus on the symptoms of the problem you seek to address and not its root causes. A simple alteration of priorities within a problematic system is an easy fix rather than altering the whole system itself. After all, when a machine continues to fail, you change the batteries not pull the plug.

K — Kingpin
Find your audience. Who are you trying to stir with your commanding voice? Locate a group of people who will follow you blindly and not question you.

L — Lists
This one is simple! All the best manifestos feature lists in some way. You can list off objects of objection: dog biscuits, designer coffee, diamonds, and detergents. Or you can format your whole manifesto as a list for easy reading. Put Buzzfeed to shame.

M — Mass-Communication
While you may hate industry for their mass manipulation, they certainly are good at it. Use this to your advantage when spreading your word… just so long as you’re manipulating the masses for their cultural benefit and not for corrupt commercialism.

N — No Sleep
9 out of 10 Manifesto wordsmiths for decades have stood by this one trick: sleepless nights. It’s recommended by Rule 18 of Bruce Mau’s An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth and is proudly declared in the first lines of Manifesto del Futurismo: (notice the “de-” in the title; see Letter “D”) “We have been up all night, my friends and I…”

O — Offprint
Make sure to target the Design Elite when spreading your word. Circulate your manifesto in publications like Emigre, Eye, and AdBusters. The readers of these publications hold the power which will eventually trickle down to everyone else.

P — Persuade
Design is meant to inform and not persuade. Persuasion is the mode of the oppressor you wish to topple. Use it sparingly and behind closed doors. Once your manifesto has propagated, lock that door and swallow the key. Any further use of this dissemination technique should be explicitly banned.

Q — Questions
Jelly Helm’s manifesto Saving Advertising suggests beginning with raising questions and starting discussions, “Talk about these things at work. Have a conversation with your boss. Talk with your friends. Start a discussion group.” The best way to spur revolution is through the power of words. If a society falls and no one is around to hear it, did it really fall?

R — Reissue
Looking for a good source of Design ideology? Look no further then the manifestos that have brought you to where you are now. Certainly there are a few tweaks you can add to modernize it.

S — Shock
Gone are the days of humble, accessible Design. The Design of the new age you’re after is only reserved for the intellectually elite who are in on it. Design is now measured in shock value instead of usefulness.

T — Tense
Decide what tense you want to write your manifesto in. Use past tense to alienate “how it was” from “how it should be.” Use present tense to unveil the evils that currently plague Design. It concocts a sense of immediacy. Use future tense to project yourself past the bullshit you’ve indicated and inspire the masses.

U — We, the undersigned
Now is the time to active your base. It is crucial that the Designers you choose to sign your manifesto will not betray its message (see letter “A”). An easy hack to ensure this is to select signatories that don’t have any foreseeable opportunity to be disloyal to you. If you’re devowing advertisement Design for example, be sure commit only “critics, curators, and academics” who’ve never ventured into the realm of ads.

V — Value
Find the value in publishing your manifesto. What do you want people to take away from reading it?

W — Wit
Say it with some attitude. Again, don’t forget that a manifesto is time for poetic flair (see letter “F”). Look back at your writing and tone it down a notch. Replace active words like “enraged” or “butchery” in the sentence “many of us grow enraged with this butchery of design” with “increasingly uncomfortable” and “view,” for example.

X — Examine for mistakes
Go back through it. You wouldn’t want to print a typo!

Y — You publish
The internet has democratized Design so that anyone can publish a manifesto that someone will read. Scream louder and they’ll have no choice but to pay attention to you.

Z — Zzz
Congratulations! You can now sleep. Rest well and dream of what’s to come. ︎


Bierut, M. (2012). Seventy-nine short essays on design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Davidson, J. (n.d.). This is not a manifesto - towards an anarcho-design practice. Retrieved from Garage Collective

Helm, J. (2000). Saving Advertising. Emigre,53.

Rock, M. (2019, January 07). Save Yourself. 2x4

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