The Ak-47: design and influence

As designers, we observe a variety of different products and objects to analyze their impact and influence. But there are many objects that remain overlooked or underrecognized within this field of study. One of these, is the Ak-47 assault rifle. Although I am not necessarily condoning the violence that it can produce, there are some interesting achievements of the object itself and it has had a tremendous social and politcal impact.

The Ak-47 outperforms most other assault rifles in that it is compact, easy to clean, can function under extreme and dirty conditions, and is relatively less expensive than other assault rifles. It has had a tremendous social impact as being a choice weapon that has formed or destroyed governements and nations. It is even featured on multiple nations’ flags. And the sillhouette alone can be a symbol both of freedom or of terrible oppression. Additionally, this object has an interesting and unique combination of wood and metal, curves and straight lines that are both considered repulsive by some and beautiful by others.

Perhaps certain characteristics of the Ak-47 can be studied in more depth within design and be applied to other new objects because of the weapon’s incredible influences and impact.

The AK is the topic of a new book by CJ Chivers, entitled The Gun. I heard an interview with the author on NPR a few weeks ago, and it was fascinating listening to him trace the manufacturing origins of a particular rifle through the years, wars, and countries.


Of all the durable, repairable, ubiquitous objects in the world, bicycles, volkswagen beetles, water pumps, I can safely spare praise for the efficiency an object that has caused so much misery, mutilation and death.

Of all the durable, repairable, ubiquitous objects in the world, bicycles, volkswagen beetles, water pumps, I can safely give praise for the efficiency of an object that has secured freedom for so many.

I own one, a far east version, bought for $50 from a neighboring farm, well used.

“it was a good day, I didn’t have to use my AK”

a pure piece of form follows function period. That it excels in some area is a testament to engineering and not design.


From the Taschen book “1000 extra/ordinary objects” book ISBN 3-8228-6021-2

+100. Excellent argument, sir.

How so?

I have mixed feelings about separating the two. Form may follow function, but when that form becomes iconic of the function, it embeds itself in our cultural history and becomes relevant to design. Take that recent thread on skeumorphic design for example. Many of those forms remain evocative and have been preserved long after their function became obsolete.

I’d even take this a step further by saying that Engineering IS Design. The idea that Engineering can be separate from design is an antiquated methodology.

Meh, they stole something well engineered and found a way to mass produce it with inferior quality, well done comrades!

Something with an average field life of 20+ years is inferior quality?

yupper 100% on the money, however “design” sadly is often not engineering (unobtaimum, fairy dust, voodoo spells etc used). Pure design with out a nod or understanding of engineer or physics has a place to inspire, but too often its just done out of sloth.

It was engineered for the “market” and task. It had to be easy and cheap to build, absolutely reliable, serviceable for a illiterate to maintain and just accurate enough not to hit your own troops.

Interesting topic, and some good discussion. Not a huge fan of guns in general, and will never own one, but I can definitely empathize with design61’s point of view.

As someone who grew up in one of those “crazy” countries whose coat of arms prominently features the AK 47, I definitely can not look at it as solely a symbol of destruction. In the same way that I’m sure a lot of Americans look at the P51 Mustang or Kentucky Long Rifle with some sense of National Pride or nostalgic respect, and not simply as agents of death and destruction.

To compare an AK-47 to the PFM-1 land mine is a flimsy/misleading argument, in my opinion, because the PFM-1 functions independently of any human agency once it is released in the world; whereas the AK-47 only functions under the direction of a human user. The PFM-1 haunts nations long after its creator’s conflicts have subsided and it continues to take lives indiscriminately. The PFM-1 is a nasty, insidious product, the sort of thing that should land it’s users/creators in The Hague.

My view on guns tends of follow the old adage “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. In the case of the PFM-1, IT kills people.

I don’t see this as purely an engineered product (if there is such a thing), Kalashnikov’s descriptions of his “creation ethos” indicate, to me at least, that he wasn’t merely concerned with improved engineering metrics, but also about creating something that would lead to an improved user experience … a lot of his quotes are very Dieter Rams-esque to me.

“Anything that is complex is not useful and anything that is useful is simple. This has been my whole life’s motto.”

“Before attempting to create something new, it is vital to have a good appreciation of everything that already exists in this field.”

No, just inferior to the weapon it copied in terms of combat effectiveness.

Agreed, and in short a very irresponsible design.

I read this article a few years back and it did have an impact on how I view mass production/product development.

Great design for sure, fullfils all it`s goals from cheap manufacturing to reliability and performance.
The fact that the product is often misused is in no way the fault of its own. It requires a voluntary human action to fire a gun.

If there was no ak47, some other rifle would have replaced it in all those warzones.

Yes, we all understand the gun lobbyist view that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. This is an angle that can/will ignite the discussion into the realm of religion…there is no good path to take because we can all say something to incite a reaction.

Rather than use the words “Good Design”…how about “Effective”? Because “good” carries with it the connotation of Good vs. Evil. Whether or not those guns were NEEDED, doesn’t make it GOOD. I have no doubt that anyone can dispute the effectiveness of this device.