Tag Archives: design

Where Gun Design Meets Crib Design

Aaron Coston Crib

John Browning Crib designed by Aaron Coston, images and information via Guns and Tactics

The above crib pays homage to the prodigious gun designer John Moses Browning (who created among other classics, the M1911 pistol that was standard-issue for the army for nearly 75 years and–interesting trivia–is the state gun of Utah). The front railing of the crib was designed to emulate the stocks of two 1895 Winchester lever-action rifles, the crib poles are made of steel rifle barrels, the headboard features Browning’s “buckmark” insignia and cut-outs of the Auto 5 shotgun. There are additional, subtler gun details that you can read about at Guns and Tactics but rest assured that  a great deal of thought, planning, and design ingenuity went into this piece.

The crib was created by gun-lover Aaron Coston when he learned that his wife was expecting their first child. He built it specifically to highlight the aesthetic and formal aspects of Browning’s designs:

…so many youth these days are indoctrinated with the idea that guns are bad. Guns are evil, and they’re only used to hurt people. I wanted my child to offer the contrasting truth as he grew up, that guns are beautiful, they aren’t evil, and the best time to start was right away.

Aaron Coston 3

This crib points out an interesting aspect of our built environment and the way that we use objects to train our minds. Coston thinks that placing his child in the environment of the Browning Crib-–because it is a well-crafted, beautiful object—will encourage the child to appreciate the beauty of guns. So the crib is a teaching tool, a device that lets this dad tell a particular narrative about the place of firearms in society and culture. But it is also a way for Coston to affirm his own relationship with firearms and it probably serves as a reminder to him and his wife that guns are very much a part of their lives and the life they want to give their child.

I’m been writing a fair number of posts lately on guns and children and war toys. I think I’m so fascinated by this because objects created for children can reveal underlying social ideas about what makes a good life and a good human being. What are the objects that will train future citizens to be awesome? How should they think about those objects? As this crib demonstrates, there is a (not insignificant) portion of the US population that sees firearms as meaningful tools for citizenry.

Aaron Coston Crib 2

John Browning Crib designed by Aaron Coston, images and information via Guns and Tactics

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How to Kill People: George Nelson on Designer Weapons

How To Kill People ImageNelson, George. “How to Kill People: A Problem of Design.” Industrial Design. 8, no.1 (January 1961), pgs 45-53

In 1960, industrial designer George Nelson spoke out against society’s passive acceptance of violence and the designer’s role in creating weapons. He created a television episode for Camera Three titled A Problem of Design: How to Kill People. It is is one of the relatively few instances that a designer has publicly discussed weapons as designed objects.

When I first learned of the show, no copy was known to exist. However, the magazine Industrial Design published a transcript of the episode in its January issue of 1961. I have the great luck to be acquainted with Ralph Caplan who was editor of the magazine at that time. So one spring morning, I biked down to the Upper West Side apartment that he shares with his wife Judith. I left with their hardbound volume of Industrial Design issues from 1961 and also the impression that the television spot hadn’t been well received. Ralph didn’t consider the show to have been very good, I think.

But reading the transcript, many of Nelson’s points resonated with me. After giving a historical overview of weapons design (from rock to axe to spear to bow and arrow, etc) he brings out a revolver and describes it thus:

 “Again we can see the close relationship between handsome form and superior functioning. The cylinder shows exactly what it is. The hammer, an interesting decorative accent, also explains its function without words. The shape is more sophisticated. There is even a smooth indentation in the handle to increase the user’s comfort. There are also carry-overs of traditional elements: the trigger is not new, (we saw it on the crossbow), the gun sight is not new (we can find it on primitive blow pipes). A great step forward, but esthetically we paid the price.

Never again will we have the glorious craftsmanship of the armorer. The exquisite detailing, the preoccupation with nature, the pride of ownership. The elegance of form and intricate decoration.

Firearms introduced a new tempo into design for killing.”

It is a little strange for Nelson to say that the invention of firearms killed the “exquisite detailing” of weaponry because any visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art will show that we had centuries of beautifully handcrafted and detailed guns. I think that Nelson’s point of aesthetic demarcation was the advent of mass produced firearms – the point when the technology for killing and the technology for manufacturing these tools for killing created a new class of weapons. This is the point when firearms became mass consumer products.

And the whole point of Nelson’s show is to critique society’s passive acceptance of war and violence and the role that designers play in making killing easy. He says:

“…to function successfully, to produce works of art, designers must have society’s approval of what they are doing. Design for killing is interesting because war occupies so much of our attention, and receives our unquestioning support. The great advantage of the designer in this area is that nobody cares what anything costs. This attitude has been prevalent from the siege of Troy to the bombing of Hiroshima. And it’s this kind of attitude towards money that has always attracted creative people. This is the reason, probably, that the design of beautiful and efficient weapons has progressed continuously, without serious interruption.”

One wonders what Nelson might have to say on the subject of drones—one of the more recent innovations in killing technology. I’m sure, also, that one could identify a sort of “drone aesthetic” to many of these new tools.

“Modern design has a sleek deadliness unmatched in all recorded history.”

Nelson, George. “How to Kill People: A Problem of Design.” Industrial Design. 8, no.1 (January 1961), pgs 45-53

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