February 4, 2015 | 4 Comments

Shooting Range Target (Various designers)

From the curators: Shooting targets are incredibly varied and yet instantly recognizable forms. From the colorful bullseye target to the photorealistic human figure in hostile stance, the signal is to take aim, whether we are holding a weapon or not. The ISSF (International Shooting Sport Federation) has clear design guidelines for competitive sports targets which, when not electronic, must consist of a black aiming area and a non-reflective white surround, and be printed on paper that can register shot holes without “excessive tearing or distortion.” The abstracted, monochrome human shooting target above is similar in design specification to those of the ISSF, and yet its anthropomorphic shape denotes the major difference–it is one of many designed to train law enforcement officers to shoot human marks. Contemporary target design has become increasingly varied, and now includes “scenario targets” that invite the shooter to respond to variables like hostages or multiple attackers. In January 2015, one Florida police department faced public censure for using mug shots of criminals for shooting range sniper practice. In all cases, graphic design serves the purpose of making the mark clearly legible, and indicating the lethal precision of the bullet path.

The entry point to my essay on design and violence, as it relates to the shooting range target, turned out to be an astonishing article in the Style section of the New York Times on Sunday, January 18, 2015, in which a young man named Thomas S. Gilbert, Jr., entered his parents’ apartment and shot his father in the head after asking his mother to run out and get him a sandwich and a soda. Later in the article, we discover that the subject had always been troubled, and spent long hours at shooting ranges, honing his skill with a pistol. He was probably shooting at a target not unlike the one presented here.

The most obvious question that arose as I read this story is: would I, as a designer, want to have anything to do with designing the target? Of course, here we’re in the realm of unintended consequences, but nevertheless, I would hate to feel complicit to any degree in this extraordinary story. The question of a designer’s responsibility to a largely unknown public has been with us for a very long time, and I’ve always felt that the injunction “first, do no harm” was a logical starting place for those in our profession.

In this case, harm turns out to be helping someone shoot more efficiently without understanding the context or consequences. My instinct is to avoid the assignment, or at least suggest to the client that every target should include the words “All Lives are Sacred.” The likelihood of this scenario occurring—both the commission and my hypothetical response to it—is extremely small, but the question of whether our own values are at stake when providing a professional service will not go away.

I’m struck by the design of the target and how well composed it appears, almost within the modernist tradition. It reminds me very much of the work of Hans Arp, especially this work. Transforming a person into an abstraction makes the subject not-human, so that the idea of shooting someone becomes more acceptable. This totally abstracted Hechler & Koch training target exudes a playful and almost childlike atmosphere. What fun.


Can there be an ethics to designing for violence?

  1. February 5, 2015, 1:54 am

    Herb Friedman

    Retired military

    When you are simply shooting to hit a bulls-eye (or to be more precise, the “X” within the bulls-eye). The plain target is a better choice since often the measurements and markings on the target will help you to correct your aim. However, when shooting for enjoyment, the human target adds a certain dash. You can aim for the eyes, the brain, or in the case of some angry women, the testicles. I should also point out that parody targets have always been good for propaganda and morale. The FBI trained on an image of John Dillinger. During WWII many targets showed Hitler, Mussolini or Hirohito. In more recent times you could buy a target depicting Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. So you can shoot, have some laughs and play at a bit of patriotism if you like. I should also point out to non-shooters that target shooting is a very difficult art and little to do with masculinity. It is very difficult and the really good shooters practice hours each day on just how to place a pistol in their hand, how to breath and how to pull a trigger. Putting tiny hole in a the “X” on a piece of paper 50 feet away is much more difficult than you might believe. It is quite cerebral. It actually has nothing to do with killing. It has to do with perfection.

  2. March 20, 2015, 7:39 pm

    Mitchell Squire

    artist and educator

    Though the most standard abstract human silhouette targets used in law enforcement training, as shown above, allows no numerical ‘points’ for a shot to the head, as the head is outside of the “center mass” region—which is the most important location of the body that houses vital organs and through which many nerves pass, and thus the most likely area into which to score the highest cumulative points, or concomitantly into which to fire a deadly force shot—when a compressed stack of paper targets retrieved from law enforcement training facilities is turned face down (or reverse) to show the afterimage or registered effect of several rounds of shooting in a single glance, one has to question upon seeing the head region so decimated whether the range master’s directive, “Two shots to the body, center mass… follow it with one to the head. The use of a firearm is deadly force, folks and your shots need to stop the threat,” instills a psychological conditioning that tilts more toward violence (to kill) than it does enforcement of the law to serve, even if “deadly” force has in the moment of crisis been deemed necessary. For “deadly” does in fact mean able or capable of causing death, not necessarily guaranteeing it, as would a shot to the forehead. Force intending to kill would, by that measure, best be called “fatal.” In design, the unintended consequences of the user do most likely trump the intentions of the designer.

  3. July 22, 2015, 11:35 am

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  4. September 10, 2016, 9:00 pm


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