`Good design need not always mean sophistication,’ says Dr Eric Kentley, assistant curatorial director at the Design Museum. He cites the AK47 Kalashnikov assault rifle, which has been in production since 1947 and is the most widespread weapon in the world.
Its designer, a former tank commander called Mikhail Kalashnikov, felt there was a need for a simple, robust weapon that could withstand the rough, muddy conditions of war.
Kentley says: `The design is deliberately crude, offering maximum simplicity with a rugged structure that has stood the test of time.’ He adds: `Kalashnikov’s genius lay in recombining known design elements in a reliable and durable package and the inclusion of a number of human touches. For example, the safety/fire lever can be operated by a soldier wearing heavy arctic mittens.’
By contrast, US rifle designers focused on developing a sophisticated weapon with fine tolerances – which tended to seize up with even small fragments of dirt in Vietnam. The robust AK47, meanwhile, proved a winner for the Vietcong.