In Latin, manifesto
refers to an action “given with the hand (manus
),” an encapsulation of belief intended to be public and passed from person to person. You might be familiar with political manifestos like The Communist Manifesto
or religious manifestos known as creeds (credo means “I believe” in Latin). These are methods for the expression of personal beliefs, but also powerful tools for public recruitment to collective causes and political movements. In Europe, after the invention of movable type and the adoption of printing presses, many more people gained access to reading and writing as methods of learning and expression. The broadcast and development of new ideas, discoveries, and beliefs accelerated the development of individual rights and liberties through successive movements for social change. Manifestos were both a proclamation of new ideas and an invitation to participate as a part of those movements. People have continued to produce ideas and exchange them as manifestos as far and as fast as each new broadcast medium can take them.
Over time, with the addition of radio and television and the explosion of the internet, the landscape of publicly accessible ideas has become more and more crowded and anonymous, leaving many people feeling confused, jaded, and unmoored in a flood of manifesto-like content. Indeed, while the making of manifestos as a mechanism for selfexpression has flourished, it has also been co-opted in destructive ways—into the service of corporate interests as advertising and marketing mumbo-jumbo. Far worse, manifestos have been used at times by repressive regimes as the hammer of propaganda or as a litmus test of legitimacy and a means of exclusion.
The time is right to redefine the manifesto as personal for the present moment. Manifestos have been a tool for recruiting people to collective causes—political, religious, artistic. But in this age, where it seems like everyone is being recruited by everyone else every moment of the day, you need a way to recruit yourself to your own cause, a method for collecting and considering your own power to create and to make positive change in a world that sorely needs it.
Creative work—the work of bringing ideas into the world, whatever kind they are—is hugely powerful. It is a particular kind of power: the power to generate, to make something where before there wasn’t anything. The power to improve, to build on the work of others, and reach closer to an ideal. The power to influence, to engage people in new beliefs, activities, and behaviors. And the power to change it all. That is the impact of design.
Nearly every object and system you interact with every day has been designed. But that doesn’t mean each has been designed well or even with good intentions. Designed work tinkers with our lives through our cultures, our tools, and our environments, but also our attention, our emotions, and our capacity to think and to communicate. Well-intended and poorly designed solutions can produce outcomes just as horrible as those of intentionally malicious ones. I am certain that Facebook did not intend to design a product that would weaken American democracy, but many side effects of the “social network” are seriously antisocial. Emerging technologies are just that—emergent—which means we often can’t understand the full implications of what we are making. Making things better may have always been a part of creative work, but justice is a larger theme of this age. We are much more aware of how hard it is to design products and systems that produce fair outcomes for people across the globe and for the planet itself—and how easy it is to fail to account for the potential impact of our great new ideas.
The goals of equity and sustainability can produce more than enough work for all of us. But how can you find the right spot for your individual kind of creative work within a larger context of positive change, in a culture and environment that is constantly changing? To begin, you’ll need to be able to envision goals worth pursuing and to cultivate some faith in your ability to achieve them without creating endless collateral damage. The world is as wide open as it ever was. To feel less unmoored, you need to create strong anchors to your values, develop ethical navigation tools, and describe honest destinations.
A modern manifesto is a statement of purpose and a script for action that will allow you, as a citizen of the creative world, to recruit yourself to your own cause, navigate bravely, and share your unique position with others.
What kind of personal guidance system do you need? You, in particular. What shorthand statement would stand in for your long thoughts or strong feelings? What sort of encouragement and advice would help you find your way? Perhaps you need a way to keep your voice steady in loud spaces or a way to test your mettle and keep you honest. You might require tactics to recognize and avoid empty promises, exclusion, and division. Your manifesto is less a map to the future than a compass for the present. And everyone’s present is a different place. Whatever kind of guidance it is that you need, you should recognize it first and foremost as a living document that is built by, for, and about you.
Your personal manifesto can be one of liberation and selfidentification, giving voice to individual ideas and beliefs while still participating in a collective culture. It should be applicable to you and your work in the moment, but capable of being questioned and revised before it becomes trite or dogmatic for you or for others. As you’ll see later, when you create a manifesto with others, it’s even more important to be mindful that it doesn’t become so rigid that it serves as a test of acceptance—or so fluid that it is a useless exercise in lip service.
And while your personal manifesto doesn’t have to be public to everyone, it does have to be public to you. You need to be able to work with it in the open, outside of your own head. A personal manifesto will help you identify your values, synthesize your learning, and articulate your best behaviors by externalizing ideas and feelings that are inside of you. By pulling your beliefs out of an interior, theoretical head space and placing them in the real world, you can see what you really think, critique your current behavior, and modify your goals. Most importantly, you can use your manifesto to make clear decisions and take action with intention.
Copyright © 2022 by Charlotte Burgess-Auburn and Stanford d.school. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.