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Why Your "Design Morals" Are Bullshit

I recently read a piece by Mike Monteiro of Dear Design Students called In Praise of the AK-47.

Q: I had a professor in school who went on and on about how well the AK-47 was designed. He stressed that as designers we should be able to appreciate an object’s design on a purely aesthetic level. Do you agree?

A: Fuck no. Fuck him. Fuck the AK-47. Fuck all guns and the people who design them, but especially fuck Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of the AK-47.

But let’s look at the argument being made. The AK-47 is often cited as a well-designed object. And this case is usually made by pointing out that the AK-47 is easy to use, maintain, take-apart, modify, and manufacture. It’s a model of simplicity. And the original design, introduced in 1948, is still in use, even as the AK family has continued evolving.

He goes on to say...

You are responsible for what you put into the world. And you are responsible for how what you’ve designed affects the world. Mikhail Kalashnikov is responsible for as many deaths as the people who pulled those triggers.

Mikhail Kalashnikov is responsible for as many deaths as the people who pulled those triggers.

This is bullshit, and I 100% disagree. Mikhail Kalashnikov is not responsible for the deaths of everyone killed by an AK. Designers are free from other people's morals. This isn't to say designers are moral-less human beings, but you do not get to decide if someone's designs are moral or immoral.

And that attempting to separate an object from its function in order to appreciate it for purely aesthetic reasons, or to be impressed by its minimal elegance, is a coward’s way of justifying the death they’ve designed into the world, and the money with which they’re lining their pockets.

We separate aesthetics and function all the time! Classic cars get less miles to the gallon, are harder to drive, and are environmentally unfriendly compared to a Hybrid but no one looks at a Prius and thinks how beautifully designed it is when compared to a 1969 Ford Mustang.

Without sounding too pro-gun, because I do believe the United States needs to take a long hard look at how easy it is to get a gun, the fact is no gun has ever chosen a target. No gun has ever made the decision to kill someone. A gun is a tool, you can take a gun to a shooting range or to a battlefield. It does not care because it cannot care, tools help accomplish a task but a tool cannot will itself into existence without the help of a human being. We are the immoral ones, not the designs we create.

The AK-47 is so simple even a child can use it!

Let's not single out Kalashnikov because the AK-47 is a "dirty gun". The Colt Peacemaker, by all definitions the classic cowboy gun, is a borderline sex symbol in the United States but you never hear anyone say Samuel Colt is responsible for all those deaths. This is because anytime you see a war torn country, or a child soldier, they are carrying an AK-47. This isn't due to how easy it is to use, or how accurate they are (not very), but due to the simple fact that they have been in constant production since 1949 and are abundantly available, if it was an American made Smith & Wesson would they get the same bad wrap as the Kalashnikov? Probably not.

Now don't think I'm some gun nut or some moral-less bastard who believes we should design more efficient ways to kill one another, I just don't believe that designers should be held responsible for how their designs are used.

Is Albert Einstein responsible for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki due to the Einstein-Szilard letter urging President Roosevelt to start a nuclear weapons program?