A Design for Life

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"A Design for Life"
Single by Manic Street Preachers
from the album Everything Must Go
  • "Mr Carbohydrate"
  • "Dead Passive"
  • "Dead Trees and Traffic Islands"
  • "Bright Eyes" (live)
Released15 April 1996 (1996-04-15)[1]
Manic Street Preachers singles chronology
"She Is Suffering"
"A Design for Life"
"Everything Must Go"
Official video
"A Design for Life" on YouTube

"A Design for Life" is a single by Welsh band Manic Street Preachers from their fourth studio album, Everything Must Go (1996). Released on 15 April 1996, the song peaked and debuted at number two on the UK Singles Chart.


The title was inspired by the debut Joy Division EP, An Ideal for Living. The opening line of the song, 'Libraries gave us power', was inspired by the legend "Knowledge is Power" engraved in stone above the top floor central window of the library in Pillgwenlly, Newport, 15 miles from the band's home town of Blackwood.[7] The next line, 'then work came and made us free', refers to the German slogan Arbeit macht frei that featured above the gates of Nazi concentration camps and which had been used previously by the band in their song "The Intense Humming of Evil" on the album The Holy Bible.[8]

The song explores themes of class conflict and working class identity and solidarity, inspired by the band's strong socialist convictions. Speaking in 2017, Nicky Wire explained that he "was sick to death with the patronisation of the working class. We’re not just Jeremy Kyle – we did build libraries. My dad was a miner".[9] Its video exemplifies this theme further. Various slogans promoting compliance and domesticity clash with scenes of fox hunting, Royal Ascot, a polo match and the Last Night of the Proms representing what the band saw as class privilege.

The song was the first to be written and released by the band following the disappearance of figurehead Richey Edwards the previous year. Interviewed in 2014 by NME for their "Song Stories" video series, singer and guitarist James Dean Bradfield recalled that the lyric had been a fusion of two sets of lyrics – "Design for Life" and "Pure Motive" – sent to him from Wales by bassist Nicky Wire, while he was living in Shepherd's Bush. The music was written "in about ten minutes" and Bradfield felt a sense of euphoria with the result. The song was credited with having "rescued the band" from the despair felt after the disappearance of Edwards, with Wire describing the song as "a bolt of light from a severely dark place".[10] The band approached Mike Hedges to be involved in producing the song after hearing McAlmont & Butler's string-laden single "Yes", which Hedges had worked on.[9]


The single reached number two on the UK Singles Chart on 27 April 1996 and was the first in a run of five consecutive releases to be top-10 hits. It spent a total of 14 weeks on the chart,[11] with seven weeks in the UK top 40, being the best performing single by the band, along with "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough". It has achieved platinum status in the UK (600,000 copies).[12] With "A Design for Life" the band also began a run of 11 years where all their singles charted within the top 20 in the UK until 2007, when "Indian Summer" from Send Away the Tigers broke the run by peaking at number 22.[13] The song peaked at number 48 in New Zealand and at number 50 in Australia. In both countries, it only charted for one week.[14][15] In Ireland, it charted in the top 20, reaching number 17.[16]

The CD single also included the songs "Mr Carbohydrate", "Dead Passive" and "Dead Trees and Traffic Islands", while the cassette included a live version of "Bright Eyes".[8] As part of Record Store Day 2016, 2000 copies were released on 12" vinyl in a copper sleeve.[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

British magazine Music Week rated the song five out of five, picking it as Single of the Week. They wrote, "The Manics' return is a lush but stirring epic and their most commercial single to date. Mike Hedge's production has brought a more radio-friendly sound to the band and this looks like being their biggest hit yet."[17]


The song is referred to in the song "Slide Show" (alongside Beck's "Devils Haircut" and Oasis' "Wonderwall") on Travis' 1999 album, The Man Who: "'Cause there is no design for life, There's no devil's haircut in my mind, There is not a wonderwall to climb or step around".[18]

In May 2007 NME magazine placed "A Design for Life" at number 30 in its list of "50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever". In October 2011 NME placed it at number 75 on its list of "150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years".[19]

On 18 June 2009 the band were invited to officially open the new £15m Cardiff Central Library, unveiling a plaque inscribed with the words to the opening line of the song. At the event, Wire spoke about how his experience with libraries had partly inspired the song.[18] The Cardiff Arms Park Male Voice Choir performed a version of the song, in front of the band, which Nicky Wire described as "spine tingling".[20]

Wire later said in an interview with The Guardian that the occasion had been a great honour for the band: "For us, it seemed like a chance to give something back to Wales. Seeing one of our lyrics – "Libraries gave us power", from A Design for Life – inscribed on the opening plaque was in its own way as affecting as playing the Millennium Stadium."[21]

In August 2016, American music publication Spin Magazine ranked "A Design for Life" at number 31 of the "96 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1996.[2]

Music video[edit]

The video was directed by Pedro Romhanyi. It is particularly closely connected to the song’s theme and depicts the band playing on an indoor stage in an apparently cold industrial location. Vintage advertising slogans, extolling capitalist ideals, are shown on screen or projected onto the walls and are reflected in archive footage mainly from the 1950s.[18]

Track listings[edit]

All music was composed by James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore; all lyrics were written by Nicky Wire except where noted.



Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[12] Platinum 600,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ "New Releases: Singles" (PDF). Music Week. 13 April 1996. p. 27. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  2. ^ a b "The 96 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1996". Spin. p. 4. Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  3. ^ Bradley, Öegan (2 October 2015). "Before One Direction: A Look Back on Britpop". VH1. Archived from the original on 20 August 2022. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  4. ^ White, Steven (12 December 2015). "The 12 Best Britpop B-Sides". Sabotage Times. Archived from the original on 4 October 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  5. ^ McMillan, Greame (24 April 2014). "12 Tunes You Need to Know to Sound Like a Britpop Expert". Wired. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  6. ^ Perry, Andrew (17 September 2010). "Manic Street Preachers: Postcards From a Young Man, CD review". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 18 September 2010. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
  7. ^ "Manics' 'humble' library opening". BBC. 18 June 2009. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  8. ^ a b Power, Martin (17 October 2010). Manic Street Preachers. Omnibus Press.
  9. ^ a b Wilding, Philip (12 December 2017). "The Manic Street Preachers: Their best songs in their own words". Louder. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  10. ^ "How Writing 'A Design For Life' Saved Manic Street Preachers – Interview". Retrieved 26 April 2015 – via YouTube.
  11. ^ a b "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  12. ^ a b "British single certifications – Manic Street Preachers – A Design for Life". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  13. ^ Diver, Mike (29 September 2010). "BBC – BBC Music Blog: Album Reviews Q&A: Manic Street Preachers".
  14. ^ a b "Manic Street Preachers – A Design for Life". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  15. ^ a b "Manic Street Preachers – A Design for Life". ARIA Top 50 Singles. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  16. ^ a b "The Irish Charts – Search Results – A Design for Life". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  17. ^ "Reviews" (PDF). Music Week. 13 April 1996. p. 9. Retrieved 15 August 2021.
  18. ^ a b c "[A76] 'A Design For Life'". Manic Street Preachers: A Critical Discography.
  19. ^ 150 Best Tracks Of The Past 15 Years | NME.COM
  20. ^ "Manics' 'humble' library opening". BBC News. 18 June 2009. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  21. ^ "Music Blog:'If you tolerate this ...': Nicky Wire on library closures". The Guardian. 7 February 2011. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  22. ^ A Design for Life (UK CD1 & Australian CD single liner notes). Manic Street Preachers. Epic Records. 1996. 663070 2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  23. ^ A Design for Life (Australian cassette single sleeve). Manic Street Preachers. Epic Records. 1996. 663070 8.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  24. ^ A Design for Life (UK CD2 liner notes). Manic Street Preachers. Epic Records. 1996. 663070 5.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  25. ^ A Design for Life (UK cassette single sleeve). Manic Street Preachers. Epic Records. 1996. 663070 4.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  26. ^ A Design for Life (UK, European & US 12-inch single vinyl disc). Manic Street Preachers. Columbia Records, Sony Music. 2016. 88875188501.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  27. ^ "Eurochart Hot 100 Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 13, no. 18. 4 May 1996. p. 26. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  28. ^ "Íslenski Listinn Topp 40 (17.8. – 23.8. '96)". Dagblaðið Vísir (in Icelandic). 17 August 1996. p. 42. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  29. ^ "Manic Street Preachers – A Design for Life" (in Dutch). MegaCharts. Retrieved 22 July 2021.
  30. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  31. ^ "Top 100 Singles 1996". Music Week. 18 January 1997. p. 25.

External links[edit]