Nuclear War

Design Friday. Cold War Era Nuclear Fallout Calculators.

When you think about graphic design, the last thing you probably think about is total nuclear destruction, or chemical weapons, but back during the analog days of the cold war the two were oddly connected. The images below are analog calculators from the late 1940’s through the 1970’s. They come from a period of time when the world was locked in a cold war, with the possibility of it turning nuclear hot. These calculators were used by the military to quickly determine in the field things like blast potential, damage potential, fall out rates, chemical weapons effects. They are chilling, oddly fascinating, and in some ways striking examples of visual design.

Each of these calculators follows a basic design formula. They had to be easy to read, and use in extreme conditions. For the most part they follow that rule. Type faces are sans serif, color pallets are bright or minimal, legibility is good even though they had to cram so much data into each one, the layout while predetermined by the math, is visually appealing, and if you look at these objects removed from their original context, they are visually interesting. From a production standpoint we have to bear in mind that the original design for these objects was completely done by hand using ink pens, french curves, ruby-lith, and possibly type pasted up by hand. Pretty impressive when you think about the intricate curves, and type that is set on an arc.

If you want to know more about these devices, why and how they were used, click through to Calculating for some fairly interesting reading.

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Clouds Over Cuba, A Multi-Platform Documentary.

This morning while watching the news there were a number of items on the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and Pentagon. Over the last 12 years the United Staes has been in a state of war that was spawned from the events that took place that day. I am not going to go on about the war, or the current crisis in Syria. I’m not going to make any political comments, or reflections. I am going to say that 50 years ago this October, all of what we have might have been blown away. 50 years ago next month marks the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and if you don’t realize just how close we came to all out nuclear war with Russia you need to take a look at the “Clouds over Cuba” website.


Produced by the JFK Presidential Library, Clouds over Cuba is a multi-platform immersive interactive documentary that shows how the Cuban missile crisis played out over 13 days. There are 15 in depth chapters that feature more than 200 recordings, videos, images, and interviews. Each item can be synced with iCal on your iPhone and iPad so you can play back the events in realtime. The entire crisis plays out to a final chapter that shows what would have happened if nuclear war had prevailed. The video below is a synopsis of the event, website, and multi-platform experience that was built using HTML5, Java Script, and Webhooks to complete the experience. This really is a great piece of interactive work that exposes the history to a whole new generation of individuals that don’t realize just how close we came to losing it all.