Book Review: Design and Violence

The cognitive scientist, Steven Pinker argues in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, that the world has overall become a less violent place. Design and Violence challenges Pinker's assertion, arguing that violence has not reduced but simply mutated and that designers, intentionally or unintentionally, have helped this to happen.

Design and Violence - Museum Bookstore

In 2013, MoMA undertook an ambitious curatorial experiment and launched an online project together with a series of live public debates exploring the relationship between violence and the fabric of everyday life. Each week for a year and a half, the curators, Antonelli and Hunt selected one item that embodied violence and asked a prominent thinker from outside the design world to write a short essay about it. 

The range of contributors and the objects that they contemplate is varied. Science fiction author, William Gibson, writes about unofficial embroidered patches from the secret world of classified military intelligence; former Ugandan child soldier, China Keitetsi, contemplates the AK-47; while political scientist, Anne-Marie Slaughter, considers a vial containing a scent designer’s attempt to produce the smell of violence - a scent made from sweat from cage fighters.

The scent of violence distilled from cage fighters' sweat - Design and Violence

Slaughter writes:

‘The thought of a smell wrung from the sweat-soaked t-shirts of cage fighters creates a ripple of distaste and even fear at the imminent prospect of inhaling, a sensory reaction before the sense in question is even engaged.

The vial is incongruously clear and white and sterile-seeming; I imagined a blood-red glass rose, with twisted petals and a black heart. The smell seems to hit me even before I uncap it — old socks? No, it is far, far stronger — too strong to hold to my nose for more than a second or two. It is rank, but rank like musk, and held at a distance it summons images of stags or musk oxen or elk fighting—horns locking, hoofs pawing, the raw pushing of strength against strength. The violence of sex'

In addition to these thought-provoking essays, the editors have included comments made by the public in response to these essays. 

Euthansia Coaster - Design and Violence

For example, in response to an essay criticising the Euthansia Coaster - the theoretical design for a roller coaster that is designed to humanely kill its passengers after offering a range of experiences - one reader responds:

Your post extends from a singular premise — that death is necessarily a tragedy. As somebody who is in pain every day, I do not believe this is the case. Sometimes life is the tragedy. When one’s only experience is overwhelming pain, it is a tragedy to be prevented release.

Explore the complex relationship between design and violence in more detail.