Mathew Sanders /

Crafting my manifesto

What are your beliefs and values as a designer? You certainly have opinions already —as evidenced in your taste of what you grade as good design and bad design— but they probably aren’t well formed and something you decide more on a case-by-case situation.

In a world full of imitation, It’s important to explore and refine your own personal style. It’s healthy for the greater design community to see a diversity of opinions, and I believe that as a designer you will feel a greater sense of pride and accomplishment when you grow a clear design identity.

A manifesto does this by declaring your motives, intentions, principles and aesthetics that you install into your work. The act of writing a manifesto you will hopefully uncover ideas that are deeply important to you but have never been clearly articulated. Doing so will give you clarity to your work, and at the same time you’re priming yourself to act on these ideas.

How to create your manifesto? Some tips…

  • Read manifestos from other people.
  • Don’t think of it as a static document. You don’t have to get it right the first time. Feel free to edit, update, and remove bits whenever you want. You’re thoughts will evolve and change over time so your manifesto should adapt as necessary.
  • Load your thesaurus and mull over those synonyms. They all hold a subtle difference in meaning. Try them on and see which fits best for your purpose.
  • Don’t get hung up on the format. Paragraph, list, letter, dialog, diagram it doesn’t really matter. Do whatever feels best to capture your ideas.
  • Publish it. I think the most important audience of your manifesto is yourself, but making it public is another way of reinforcing your beliefs and identity.

Here is my manifesto-in-progress for what I aspire to be as a designer, in the sprit of iterations, expect it to change without warning.

Version 2 / January 2016

There must be something about the start of the year that makes me reflective, because three years later I’ve come back to reflect on my manifesto.

At it’s essence, I don’t feel that my motivations have changed, but how I think about them have matured.

I believe that technology should be used to advance human intelligence, creativity rather than act as their replacements.
Tasks that are tedious, repetitious, require a high level of precession, or need to be performed at incredible speed are all perfect examples where machines should be used to replace human activity.
However when we create systems that lower the barrier of entry we often promote immediacy over thoughtfulness. While this can help satisfy our urges of instant gratification, in the long term it acts towards creating a culture of impatience and accepting a lower quality of what we make.

I believe that as designers we’re should be aware of potential long-term effects of the systems we create, to respect people, and prevent harm.
Many designers focus on the interface, rather than the system that they are building they underestimate the potential impact they can have on people’s lives.
From awkward enterprise systems that slowly cause physical injury from unnecessary repetition, to social systems that profit under the appearance of strengthening friendship, but ultimately demean relationships, we can accidentally create systems that harm if we are not aware of the impact we cause.

I believe that technology, especially the web, has the potential to reduce the gap of equality in humanity, and genuinely make the world a better place.
When digital technology takes an open and cooperative stance, it creates opportunities for people to share knowledge, ideas, and cultures on a global scale that has never before been sustainable.

Balance of short term reward and long term effects
A generation is being raised with expectations that they must adapt to the limitations of technology, from something as small-scale as filling in a CAPCHA before sending a form, to something as systemic as needed to show proof of insurance before seeing a Doctor.

I have a bias towards action, preferring to potentially fail then learn, than be held back by the search of perfection.
Many design processes that are seen as best practice evolved in an industry where second iterations were expensive to the point of being prohibitive.
As the tools we use to create things have matured, our development cycles have rapidly shortened, and the way we work needs to constantly evolve to take advantage of these new tools.

I believe that familiar design that works, is better than a clever solution that is unused.
An ingenious solution might not always be pragmatic, maintainable, or as easily understood as a more ordinary approach.
It’s important to design solutions that take into account conventions, and patterns in use outside of your own system, since no system exists in a vacuum.

I recognize that my first iteration is likely my worst iteration.
Good work can occur as a stroke of genius, but great work takes hard work, trail & error, mistakes and dead ends.
A rule of thumb I’m experimenting with is if I’m halfway through a project, and my current iteration in passing looks like my first iteration I might have missed an opportunity for a much more interesting direction.

Version 1 / February 2013

  1. Always benefit people above and before machines.
  2. Make content the interface (avoid chrome whenever possible).
  3. Respect people (don't treat them like cogs in a machine).
  4. Don't allow a speculative future prevent a good idea today.
  5. Don't be too clever.
  6. Help people live happy lives.
  7. People are smart. Help them further extend their intelligence.
  8. Do not hold people hostage to a system with their data.
  9. Creating is more powerful than responding.