Violence in Design


When you come across the term design the major explanation that comes to mind is it being a tool we use to create and manipulate objects. These objects are commonly something that is of good intentions however what if they could be designed or constrained to be dangerous. For this dialect inquiry I’m going to be referring to the work by Paola Antonelli who is the curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I wanted to make this a focus on the design element of Violence after I came across her work on the violence in everyday objects.

Antonelli described violence as being a manifestation of power with a main concept that any design has the capability of being violent even when it wasn’t necessarily designed for that purpose. She also explained the concept of violence being created in order to make seemingly innocent objects. In particular I would like to discuss how these everyday objects that are constantly around us can contain the possibility and connotations of violence in a higher form that any violent film or game could.


The first piece I’m going to be showing is called “The Scent of Violence” and it was curated by scent designer Sissel Tolaas and photographed by Nick Knight. These two artists teamed up to explore the idea of violence as a fragrance and how it can emotionally landscape these notions of violence. They started off by collecting sweat samples from cage fights then analysing the chemicals in able to present a portrayal of the aggressive violent behaviour you find in the match itself.


The concept for this design was the violence being created for the object with the theme focussing around the form of creative destruction. The distinctive events that featured to create the feelings in particular from the cage fight allowed a realistic note to the design itself. Now an actual event that has occurred to create an everyday product just like a normal perfume surly has to give off a different feeling and or effect to the recipient. One reporter in particular named Anne-Marie Slaughter explained this idea perfectly by stating that “Distilling something to an essence—not the essence but an essence—we also create building blocks for something new. We reduce complexity to simplicity to build a different complexity. If that is the violence of creative destruction, it feels far gentler than grappling for a death-grip in a cage” (Slaughter, Antonelli, Jackson, Antonelli, & Saiz, 2013) This is where I find the danger in creation from violence we see the innocence and as Anne-Marie explained we simplify and see a gentler version rather than the brutal cruel process. If we just think of a normal perfume, the designers use destructive forms of creating the scent by destroying flowers, sourcing oil etc. and until now I bet you never thought of such a beautiful product in such a destructive way. This was the concept Antonelli explained, with an object that can be ordinary to have a darker side.


The last piece I’m going to show you is called “Slash” and is the violence of the box cutter. The single edged razor blade with the protective handle is known commonly as a utility knife and has been around since the early 1920s. The knife we know as a box opening helper was derived from the design of killing knives and razor blades. As you would’ve already known these knives are still in production and are just an everyday object for a household or workplace. John Hockenberry author of the discussion on “slash” quoted” A box cutter is the perfect tool for our time, for thinking out of the box. We create boxes that require a blade to liberate ourselves and the other things we place in them.” (Hockenberry, Antonelli, Jackson, Antonelli, & Saiz, 2013)

If we go back to the definition of violence described as being a manifestation of power Hockenberry perfectly entitled the liberating power within ourselves to use this ordinary potentially violent utility knife. This idea of having invisible objects in our lives that have the possibility to be violent can be quite a hard thing to understand. This is due to seeing the use of something in its designed form it becomes invisible as being anything else but its originality. As I stated earlier I believe that these invisible objects can contain the most violence within and around them. Does this mean that if there is this wide range of violence around us every single day we are exposed to it in more ways than we originally thought? I certainly know that I have started to see all of the other invisible objects around me that aren’t just black or white anymore but live the grey area.

There has been a dramatic increase over the last couple of years with violent crimes and acts associated with using an everyday object as a weapon. One example of using the box cutter knife was a violence intended group took it to their advantage to hold up a plane using this object. This day the knife wasn’t used to open difficult boxes but as a murder weapon and from then on this knife slashed its way out of the common places into hiding. As a result of this there has been a change to the types of packaging used and what objects are needed to open them. This is an example where a change has needed to be made for an object that wasn’t used for its designed purpose.

In 2012 there was a massive increase in the amount of uncommon weapons used with 778 used in one year alone according to uniform crime reports (“Expanded Homicide Data Table 8”, 2016). These objects being so uncommon and not being seen as dangerous weren’t even reordered due to their odd nature. This is another example of how these are invisible objects in our everyday life that contain such a high capability of violence.

If we were to analyse anything in this room there could potentially be many items that have this same exact potential violence. We are constantly being surrounded by violence in these innocent forms and we still blame other outlets such as movies or games because they contain a stylized version of the violence in force. The real violence is in the objects around us giving us the scent, feeling and thoughts of violence without actually being violent itself.



Slaughter, A., Antonelli, P., Jackson, R., Antonelli, P., & Saiz, A. (2013). Violence (Sissel Tolaas and Nick Knight). Design and Violence. Retrieved 20 April 2016, from

Hockenberry, J., Antonelli, P., Jackson, R., Antonelli, P., & Saiz, A. (2013). The Box Cutter (slash) Utility Knife. Design and Violence. Retrieved 20 April 2016, from

Antonelli, P., Jackson, R., Antonelli, P., & Saiz, A. (2013). About. Design and Violence. Retrieved 20 April 2016, from

AK-47s and flexicuffs: design and violence. (2015). Radio National. Retrieved 20 April 2016, from

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