A Manifesto Toward Innovation

Interest and Curiosity for the Future.


Pushing culture forward by understanding and innovating the means of production.

Design is not the visual organization of independent facts or truths that ground our experience. It is operative with elements of our existence that cannot be put aside in thinking about the world—practices, inherited traditions, relationships—and pointing to them. Design is the space between—the relationship of language (visual and written)—the author, and the consumer. The essence of language is “saying as pointing” Heidegger describes man as “that being who has his being. By pointing to what is, and that particular beings manifest themselves as such by this pointing.”[1]
This cannot be captured by signification (words, images) alone. Design, then, becomes the labor of engaging with language in different/new ways—challenging ways learned, pioneering ways unlearned—to both exploit and celebrate its inadequacies in ways that push culture forward.

“Persons are not simply in front of one another; they are along with each other around something. A neighbor is an accomplice [...] All the concrete relations between human beings in the world get their character of reality from a third term. They are a communion.” Levinas writes [2].
This idea parallels Heidegger’s; that there is no pure being independent of another, there is only being-in-the-world.

To that end, design cannot be self-propelled. Just as the mother alone cannot will a child to form in her womb, the artist cannot truly engage in design by herself. There must be another individual, a community, with which she shares creative communion. Only in community are the conditions for community satisfied. The end is dialogue between the creative community and those communities represented by the creators. On an institutional basis, brand is the intercommunal mediator.

Too often, brand is seen as the product of an economic equation. Such an approach may yield the appearance of brand—proofs, logos, mottos, etc. We’ve seen these pretenders: “white tombs, which from the outside appear lovely, but from within are full of the bones of the dead.”[3]
Brand is a direct point of access to the marrow of the designer—her morality and vision. At every touchpoint it offers a relationship between the receiver/consumer and the designer/artist.

Brand has the potential to influence/direct/move the existence of the receiver/consumer by the degree to which they engage it. Brand is power, and thus must be responsibly and ethically wielded. The designer/artist does not commune with those who prey on cultural or consumer weakness. The designer seeks communion with those who share a reverence for the challenge of inciting positive cultural movement, engaging them in every step of creation: conceptual deconstruction or reconstruction, design, and the means of production.

Control of the means of production is a historically neglected, yet essential characteristic of brand. The designer’s unique discretion, guided by a communal creative vision, cannot be limited to the conceptual creation of the product, but must carry through its physical creation. When production is merely outsourced, the designer relinquishes control, thus outsourcing the precious relationship between herself and the consumer/receiver. Handoffs of contracted deliverables reduces the brand to a collection of manipulatable assets—an effectual shirking of responsibility.

There are better and worse versions of this. You can contract a faceless Eastern-European graphic designer that has posted a profile on any number of hired-gun, gig-economy websites and receive a polished vector logo by end-of-business today. Some larger, more well-known agencies will deliver a dynamically-coded style guide that resides on a server and can be accessed with a link. The best of the bunch are less guides than systems that grow with a brand, are in and of themselves not at the mercy of another, uninitiated executor to deliver consistent graphic applications[4].

  • 1. Martin Hiedgger. Sein und Zeit. Here the English word “being” here is a gerund, an non-inflected verbal noun, as in “My being here is a mistake.
  • 2. Immanuel Levinas. Otherwise than Being.
  • 3. Jesus to the Pharisees, scribes, and hypocrites. Referring to the common Jewish practice of “whit- ing” or “covering with lime” sepluchures, according to the Syriac, Arabic, and Persic versions render- ings. The Jews would mark their graves with white lime, that they might be known to passing priests, Nazarites, and travellers.
  • 4. “Ronald McDonald Ollie Dos & Don’ts: What Mascots Can Teach Us About Branding “ by Other Means for Walker Art Center https://walkerart.org/magazine/for-the-rest-of-your-life

Brand is power, and thus must be responsibly and ethically wielded.

Brand has the potential to influence/direct/move the existence of the receiver/consumer by the degree to which they engage it.

  • 5. Reinfurt, David. A *New* Program for Graphic Design. Inventory Press, 2019.
  • 6. ibid.
  • 7. David Rudnick in his lecture “Crisis of Graphic Practices: Challenges of the Next Decades” at Strelka Institure. Moscow, Russia. 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ejp4AvetSA

When one is given access to the means of production, she immediately becomes a collaborator understanding the limitations and, more commonly, the undiscovered possibility inherent in a given process. New York based chef and restaurateur, Dan Barber, understood just how little a chef could control if he could only choose from a selection of growers and farmers and produce suppliers.

If the role of the chef in his sphere is to provide food experiences that change the way we think about food, or at least our relationship to it, why would he be satisfied with the given selection? He chose the arduous path of moving against the given systems of production and working with growers to breed vegetables for taste. With Cornell University, New York State’s land-grant school, he developed a red-pepper paste feed for chickens that would produce deep-red yolks with unprecedented flavor[5].

Seeking to understand and, in some cases, hijacking the production process bridges the gap between the heretofore siloed industries of design and production. It begins to do the work that design has always claimed to do: communicate.

MIT Press’s storied creative director and designer, Muriel Cooper, spent much of her time in the Visual language workshop interested in similar questions of communication. At one point she described her practice as interested in “design and communications for print that integrated the reproduction tools as part of the thinking process and reduced the gap between process and product.”[6]

Closing the feedback loop between manufacturing and vision, marrying the two rather than putting them in competition, enables a product than is informed by process, and a process informed by its product.

Who, then, is the audience when design becomes a hall of mirrors-letterhead mockups that will never see a printer, or a series of photoshopped billboards never to know wheatpaste? The true audience, the real-end user is betrayed. We call for design that makes no apologies in creating for the true consumer. Design, if it has any hope to be the site of innovation, cannot keep pandering to those that cut the checks. The responsibility is the designer’s to question the motives behind creation.

Gone are the days of creation for creation’s sake. The material constraints of our world demand that we justify what we print, sew, or build. In this sense, design is not political, but rather ethically oriented to the world. Ignorance to the means of production is, in practice, a shirking of that responsibility.

In his watershed lecture at Strelka, David Rudnick points out: “Ultimately, if design sees itself as a service whose goal is to address the problems of the client, then design is ignoring what it really is. Design is an environment for its audience. We need to reject the notion […] that the people we work for are our clients. The people we work with should be our clients. The people we work for are our audience. Neglect that, and you start to build dystopias, because you start to create systems of manipulation, systems of control, ways which your service makes it easier for someone to lie for them—to change their appearance—so that they can take on the most commercially profitable position. But you lose the hard work, the tough work which modernism rightly claims credit for, which is the idea that design is a practice with serious stakes that involves responsibilities and involves offering real meaningful change to its audience.”[7]

The designer must be free from boundaries, patterns, and consistencies in order to be free to think, feel and create in new ways.

Good design is both aware of, and courageously consumed in, fulfilling in tandem with the client that obligation inherent in relationship with the true end-consumer.

We call for products and experiences that cause us pause—question their own necessity and positioning. We call for objects both physical and digital that exist as a form of sense-making in a changing world. We call for brands that possess the self-awareness to sense the impossibility of their marketing promises and business models[8]
We call for design and designers that evolve. The designer “must become comfortable in flowing from one role to another […] must be free from boundaries, patterns and consistencies in order to be free to think, feel and create in new ways.”[10]
As we begin a new decade, design must be comfortable in that space of “professional uncertainty”[11]
. We need more, not less opportunities to consider our “place in the family of things.”[12]
MF9.studio partners with brands and creatives to develop and carry out projects that push culture forward. As a multidisciplinary creative practice, we are committed to understanding and innovating the means of production.

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01933—Fulfillment, Manufacturing, Design, Strategy. e2017
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