The design of armor through history
When we talk about design we often imagine a beautiful urban landscape with light offices and people with passion in their eyes touching sensor devices and smiling and discussing something and so on.
This time we will go in a different direction. I will refer to the part of the design industry which isn’t so popular but it doesn’t make it less exciting. Welcome to the world of armor design.
The initial idea was to write about medieval knights and the way how their “clumsy” suit of armor works. I will definitely talk more on this topic in future articles.
One of the reasons why this article finally appeared — is personal bias towards old times. In my childhood, the look of ancient warriors was always connected with something epic.
I bought plastic soldiers and reconstruct unknown battles, watched different films like “Dragonheart” which was good fantasy movie with talking dragon played by Sean Connery. I would read different novels about knights and browsed for hours German encyclopedias dedicated to armor and weapons and played video games created by Bioware, Bethesda, Firefly and other talented teams. As you see more than enough reasons to look closer at the development of armor.
When I started preparations I realized how different was from reality the armor production and usage of it compared to a common appearance in media.
For a big part of an audience, equipment of soldiers in the movie remains no more than just a decoration that helps to recognize a time period.
However, we shouldn’t blame main characters for going on battles with uncovered head, because it’s important for a film director to help viewers to identify main heroes in a screenplay.
In the same time, we as designers feel that there is more to explore than just an aesthetic side. We’d like to have deeper knowledge about the subject to understand what kind of design tasks armorers solved with their creations.
When I dug deeper into the subject I got completely lost, in the number of facts and details that exist behind these pieces of leather and metal.
People who constructed armor were great designers. They worked on a protection keeping in mind physical strength of a person, war conditions, weapons of an expected enemy and make them not only functional but even elegant.
One of such examples is the Maximilian armor which has a lot of fluting to provide extensive protection for soldier. Also, it reflects the fashion style of its age with lots of cloth layers in a garment.
In this beautiful painting made by Sir John Everett Millais, we can observe Joan of Arc wearing full plate armor.
What is interesting about this painting, even counting the number of details described, it’s not historically accurate. Joan of Arc lived and fought in the middle of the fifteenth century. While Maximilian armor was invented about sixty years later after her death.
The armor was so solid that could protect a knight from arquebus shots.
When we look at the variety of armors it’s hard to figure out how exactly these pieces of chain and plates functioned. Reasons and facts standing behind design decisions remain unclear.
Historical reenactors spend years on studying old manuscripts to understand how it worked and get a more precise context of its usage.
The main point — the design for military purposes must be efficient.
Any kind of miscalculation may have a severe impact like wounds or death of a human. Here we can remind the importance of appropriate UI design in aircraft cockpit when design decision without deliberate testing would become a disaster for hundreds of people.
The essential part for an understanding of the way how armor works are conditions and environment.
Military equipment of modern soldier can weigh up to twenty-five kilograms while the suit of armor of the fifteenth century wasn’t heavier. Each of them created to protect a soldier, while particular age and weapons dictated different goals for manufacturers to solve.
The first masters of armor design appeared a long time ago. So we will track the conditions and specifics of different time periods to understand the context.
Methods of war were changing as tactics and technologies of manufacturing armor and weapons got more and more advanced.