In every professional field there are definitive texts, for example in Medicine, Gray’s Anatomy comes to mind. I’ve tracked down the definitive texts that have shaped graphic design over the last 100 years to bring you the ultimate crash course in the steps that have shaped design’s evolution. From the Holy Bible of minimalism in Ornament and Crime by Adolf Loos, to a focus on designing for tablet’s and mobile phones, we hope you enjoy browsing 12 remarkable design manifestoes.
Click on the images to be taken directly to the manifesto texts!
1. Ornament and Crime by Adolf Loos (1910)
This is arguably the founding definitive text of design, written so far ahead of it’s time it took until the 1950s and ’60s to see a lot of these ideas become conceptualized. If you only read one text off this list, make it this one.
2. The Bauhaus Manifesto by Walter Gropius (1919)
The Bauhaus Manifesto is layered in design politics and in-fighting of the time, as there were splits in fidelity to the Bauhaus movement occurring frequently. Check out our past post on the Bauhaus Movement.
3. Topography of Typography by El Lissitzky (1923)
Russian artist and designer El Lissitzky was a busy man, working under Kazimir Malevich he created propaganda for the USSR and was integral to the Bauhaus controversies being declared “un-German”. He was also incredibly talented, and his writing on Typography as a kind of architectural form is a must read for the Typo-nut in you.
4. First Things First by Ken Garland and co-designers (1964)
Ken Garland’s succinct manifesto is filled with brevity and lofty wit. Created with his co-designers (and co-signers of the manifesto), this is guaranteed to inspire you when your client-liaison isn’t going so well.
5. Ten Principles for Good Design by Dieter Rams (1987)
This beautifully designed manifesto is sure to delight. It’s to the point, clean, and literally practices what it preaches. It’s so sparse and minimalist, it can also be read as a kind of new-wave spiritual guide on how to live your life, which is you know, handy.
6. The Riot Grrrl Manifesto by Kathleen Hanna (1991)
Riot Grrrl feminists created this manifesto in the early nineties, and it reads as a brilliant product of its time. It was necessary for it to be written then, and still necessary to be read today. It’s fun, sassy, and most of all inspiring (to everyone, feminist or not), to get out of your comfort zone and create great work.
7. Incomplete Manifesto for Growth by Bruce Mau (2000)
If you’ve ever been stuck in a creative rut, this is the manifesto for you. It lists practical and metaphorical ways we can grow, perpetually as artists. A lot of Mau’s ideas are taken from John Cage and the Black Mountain School artists’ ideas about creativity, and he intertwines these ideas flawlessly.
Read it, you reap what you sew!
8. Designers Against Monoculture by Noah Scalin (2001)
This was written in response to a perceived “monoculture”, or uniformity in visual culture found in the post-Y2K, post-heroin-chic-craze of the intense 1990s design aesthetic. It’s interesting to find a manifesto that identifies the way design shifted in the early 21st Century and is proactive about changing the status quo.
9. Draft Craft Manifesto: On Making and Consuming Things by Ulla Engenström (2005)
For anyone who has made anything ever, by hand (so everyone), this is an insightful and bold manifesto dissecting craft culture. Put your hot glue gun down and immerse yourself in Ulla Engenström’s brilliant ideas.
10. 1000 Words: A Manifesto for Sustainability in Design by Allan Chochinov (2007)
This elegant and sophisticated manifesto on sustainable art and design for the future is essential reading. In just 1000 words, we’re transformed into a place of recontextualizing and re-grafting our design goals to meet the need for environmentally aware design in every work we create.
11. Towards A Minimal Model For Publishing & Design for the modern tablet, mobile and web (2012)
This rare nugget of gold has been written specifically for the future of publishing and design. It acknowledges that how we receive most of our information has changed to screen-based interfaces, and argues that good design needs to adapt (minimally) to this new, permanent shift.