PLATFORM

NELSON George How To Kill People : A Problem Of Design (1960)

“Today we are going to explore a problem in design… killing occupies so much of our attention.” These words open architect and industrial designer George Nelson’s 20-minute lecture on the evolution of weaponry. Made as a one-off short film for the humanities-focused Camera 3 program, which aired on CBS from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, Nelson’s history of the relationship between design and violence was made all the more devastating for its calm and measured delivery. Against the backdrop of the Cold War arms race and the postwar fetishization of conspicuous consumption, Nelson traced a chronology of violent objects from prehistory to his present. The program begins with a description of the handheld prehistoric rock weapon and the need for physical proximity between attacker and victim; Nelson ends by addressing rocket launchers and post-Hiroshima fears of the atom bomb and nuclear attack, observing succinctly the very great distance these weapons effect between those who operate them and those who suffer their consequences. Nelson (1908–86) had a wide-ranging and prolific career that encompassed architecture and design criticism, curatorial work, and teaching as much as it did architectural, product, graphic, and industrial design. “How to Kill People” was billed as the chapter Nelson did not include in his 1957 publication Problems of Design. In light of today’s drone-operated missile attacks and distant, mediated warfare, it’s the topic that remains most profoundly prescient and should continue to concern designers—and us all—in the present.

Link to full text by Alice Rawsthorn