13 Oct Why designers need a manifesto
Is it just me? Or do you feel like this moment, right now, is the most complex, fraught, pivotal, dangerous, and important moment that has ever been? Change is upon us. The future is (mercifully) unwritten, but increasingly unknown. Never mind the answers; we don’t even have the questions that will arise. It’s an awkward situation at best, and terrifying at worst. It feels like history is hurtling toward us like the dinosaur-killing asteroid, and we’re still trying to get to work on time.
To thrive in the tumultuous present and make some headway toward the future you’re looking for, you’ll have to get comfortable with managing a flood of choices, holding fast against the continuous threat of attention-drain, and doing daily battle with embedded and entrenched systems.
You need a manifesto, to recruit yourself into exercising your power as a creator and change maker. To filter the signal from the noise. To know—not just what you can do, but also what you should do, what you must do, and how to do it.
What makes the tuning fork of your soul tremble with recognition? What resonates? What rings true? Seize it. Save it. Test it. Work it. When you are right, celebrate your victory. When you are wrong, change your assumptions.
You can write it in tiny print on a laminated card and keep it in your wallet. You can wheat-paste it onto public buildings. You can tattoo it on your body. You can print it on T-shirts. You can write it as prose, poem, or song. You can borrow the words or breathe out your own. But have one. Start one. Right now.
A personal manifesto can take many forms, but we’re not talking about the errant musings of crackpot extremists here. You need some solid advice, inspiration, and support, preferably on the pithy side. There is a reason that most manifestos are short. Concise, powerful statements create a clear image in the mind’s eye. They function as mental shortcuts to your goals, your values, and your ethics. They maintain access to these concepts that are more complicated and nuanced and allow you to conceptualize your choices, change your mindset, and reinforce the behaviors you want to have. Ultimately, they make it easier to act.
This is not about cat poster affirmations; it is about what is really happening in your work and life. We all need the opportunity to grow authentically, to develop a practice of self-awareness and improvement, to become aware of our weaknesses and biases, to cultivate our strengths and intuition. Your manifesto is a self-teaching feedback loop: a decision, a memory trigger, to put you in the right stance for the work at hand, or a mantra of encouragement for moments when ambiguity or uncertainty has made you insecure.
There is real power in a manifesto. What you say to yourself and to others has an impact on the world. You can harness that power and turn it inward to influence and recruit your best self. To keep yourself both motivated and mindful throughout this work, you’ll want to cultivate two important mindsets that help form the boundaries of this work: agency and humility.
Step in with Grace
Agency is the power to effect change, make decisions, implement ideas, and achieve goals. It is the ability to act, unhindered by physical or structural blocks. Agency is also the feeling of the ability to act, that internal permission to pursue and achieve. It carries the meaning of both “can” and “may.” You need agency—both the feeling of it in order to act and the fact of it in order to make change.
Right now, agency is unevenly distributed—some people have much more access to power than others. But in some important ways, it is more available than ever. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a designer, we are all punching above our weight as creators with just the smartphones in our pockets. While there are significant structural blocks to power for many people that prevent them from exercising their intentions directly, we also have more capacity and access than ever to lift each other up and give each other permission to act and make the change we need.
We all need to feel the power and joy of acting in the face of challenge and opportunity. But we also need humility and restraint to ensure that we guard against hubris and harm. Many of the creative tools that we use now are technologies based on sophisticated research, new manipulations of human behavior that allow unproven ideas to be scaled so fast and far that they affect hundreds of millions of people in real ways before we even know what they are (pre-checked boxes for monthly donations on one-time digital forms, anyone?). Creative work is more viral than ever—and that capacity is amoral. It can work for good. But you, as an individual, have to be the one to bring the sense of moral judgment to bear. This requires humility.
Humility feeds awareness and leads to a posture of learning, seeking to grow in skill and do better in the future by understanding and reflecting on past and present work. You can’t ask for more than that. Humility acknowledges that we don’t know everything about what we have invented, and that intentions are not the same as outcomes.
Humility does not mean inaction. We can and should be working on even the most difficult problems and sensitive topics, and a strong set of ethics and values can help guide you in those endeavors, as well as in situations that are less risky and delicate. By spending time to understand your motivations, biases, and reservations, you will be better equipped to make the best decisions you can at any given moment; to get in there and get to work with gusto—and a manifesto.
Craft Your Way to a Manifesto
You don’t have to become a radical philosopher or avant-garde artist to produce a great manifesto. You can make a manifesto that works for you and helps you make solid choices when it counts, using just a few simple tools and processes.
Make your first manifesto by borrowing the wisdom of others. All you need to do is open your eyes and ears and tune in to your very fine sense of independent judgment. Lean into your intuition. Play, practice, and prototype your way to clarity and conviction.
To build your manifesto takes a deliberate process of actively examining your values and beliefs. Once you’ve done this inner work, move outward, mindfully collecting the raw material for your manifesto in the inspiring words of others. There are countless pieces of wisdom, statements of purpose, manifestos, mantras, and memes available to you from designers, artists, writers, scientists, philosophers, religious leaders, social activists, and more.
Next, synthesize and filter this material through your own experience and for your own understanding to make it true for yourself. And finally, curate this collected wisdom into an expression of your own, a living document that you can trust and test and change. Over time, this work will teach you how to identify and merge your knowledge, feelings, and beliefs into an assured sense of self-awareness. Defining your manifesto will give you a clear understanding and crisp articulation of the goals you’re moving toward, the values that drive you, and the ethics that govern the boundaries of your work.
Crafting a manifesto is a simple exercise, and it works. There’s no single perfect way to do it. Instead, there are many. Your manifesto can be about your aspirations and intentions; it can be about your convictions and your goals; it can be about your behaviors, your identity, or your impact in the world. It is a practice of self-awareness—part of a set of key skills that everyone can benefit from, whether you call yourself a designer or not.
The above excerpt is reprinted with permission from You Need a Manifesto: How to Craft Your Convictions and Put Them to Work by Charlotte Burgess-Auburn and Stanford d.school, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It has been condensed by Fast Company editors.
Charlotte Burgess Auburn is a designer, artist, and educator. With a background in production for fine arts and theater and experience at the MIT Media Laboratory, she has been the Director of Community at the Stanford d.school since 2005, where she also teaches classes on the role of self-awareness in creativity and design.
Source: Fast Company