A Curious Similarity

I don’t want to trivialize the inhumane horrors that African slaves endured on slave ships (above) destined for the Americas. But after a recent airplane trip, sitting tightly next to my neighbor in steerage seats, I feel the discomfort and pain endemic to the current air experience has certain curious similarities.

Ever notice how similar the seating plans of airplanes resemble the more horrific layout (yet efficient design of those slave ships)? Could airplane designers be unconsciously influenced by them?

Yes or no, it was prudent that the airplane designers to use chair icons instead of people icons, no?

(And check out real potty humor here, in the Nightly Daily Heller.)

146 thoughts on “A Curious Similarity

  1. Jane

    I’m not trying to “dis” your work but….
    In know way would I ever think it ok to trivialize (as you so aptly do) the tragedy that was the slave trade. You compare the crossing to America to a flight in a plane? Maybe if your ancestors had been cramped and chained together under a deck for weeks on end with no fresh air or water– without a clue of what was happening to them because they didn’t speak english, all while watching their friends die around them becaus of the conditions– then you wouldn’t be such a wimp about one uncomfortable plane ride. 
    While I never have had the experience personally of being tortured in a slave trip, I have flown to over 14 different countries (sometimes at the expense of a 20 hour flight in coach). Let me tell you, thats no where near as frighteneing or painful a journey as what my African ancestors once face.
    Grow up, be a real writer, and stop using insensitive if not ill-conceived analogies.

  2. Rakia

    You found two forms of transport that are sort of the same shape and hold a lot of people. Profound.
    This was clearly done for shock value. To say that you were not trivialising it or comparing them objectively is laughable. I am embarassed for you.

  3. Shavaughntrellishemay (AKA Ms PerNounced)

    Y’all are all just a bunch of sanctimonious assholes..  It IS a funny comparison, precisely BECAUSE it is so offensive.  

  4. Ann

    I do not understand.
    Was this post updated with more pictures from the author/website, but  NOT updated with an apology for being so off and offensive?!!!!

  5. Pingback: No, it is not like slavery | Prof-Like Substance

  6. Potter

    What the fuck is wrong with you?  How many people starved to death on your plane ride?  You shit yourself with dysentary? 
    Rot in hell you insensitive bastard.

  7. Suebob

    All you commenters are cruel and lack compassion. I can relate – the last time I was on an airplane, I got a drink with TOO FEW ICE CUBES. It was pretty much the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone, anywhere. I don’t know how I will even go on after that. 

  8. Patrick

    It’s good that you “don’t want to trivialize the inhumane horrors that African slaves endured on slave ships.” Who was it who forced you to do so against your will?

  9. Pingback: Not trying to trivialise slavery and poverty, BUT… | Jonathan Rothwell

  10. Mike Aquino

    THAT IS SO TRUE. I once had to walk 2 miles down a road at high noon because the LRT train was busted, and I thought, wow, my sweaty walk and the Bataan Death March have certain curious similarities!

  11. Joey H.

    You know, I was cooking a meal on a really hot day in my kitchen with no windows. It got ridiculously uncomfortable and I sweated as I had to keep opening the oven to check on my food. And that made me think back to the Jews getting gassed and burnt up in crematoria. I don’t want to trivialize the Holocaust, but I noticed that the situations have certain curious similarities.
    “No rich young white guy has ever gotten anywhere with me comparing himself to Rosa Parks. Got it?” –Isaac Jaffe, “Sports Night”

  12. Levi

    Wow, what an tasteless and insensitive post! Yes, modern airline travel is exactly like African slave ships. Except for, you know, the whole slavery and inhumane conditions and racism thing. Just saying you don’t mean to trivialize it doesn’t mean you’re not trivializing it. It’s akin to saying “I don’t mean to come off like a racist, but I hate black people.”

  13. Psychodigger

    You sir, are an arse, a complete waster and a spoiled, whinging, excuse for an adult person for comparing your slight discomfort on a voluntary(!) airplane trip with the horrors experienced by slaves. How self-centred and buffoonish can one get.

  14. Josh

    Hmm.  I think this was a little distasteful.  It seems obvious that efficient transportation necessitates compact arrangements – this is true.  Yet, so are lines at the checkout, or seating at the theater or in a sporting arena.  Surely, these too must be akin to being trafficked as property…  I see the image into which the dots were trying to coalesce, but the point isn’t substantial.

  15. Holytape

    Question:  Exactly how far can Mr. Heller stick his own head up his rectum?
    Answer:  So far that his head can come out of his own mouth, and be re-inserted into the rectum, thus forming an infinite head in the ass loop.

  16. Neil Craig

    If you don’t want to trivialise don’t.
    Apart from other points made a plane flight lasts a few hours. Slave ships took weeks.
    Only somebody completely cosseted from reality could think this comparison persuasive. To be fair almost everybody in western society IS completely cosseted from the reality most people throughout history experienced.

  17. Luh

    Dude you should go hang out with Sarah Palin. I’m half expecting you to trivialise blood libel like she did, with all the (DESERVED)negative comments you’re receiving. What an ass.

  18. KG

    “He made it clear he wasn’t trying to trivialize it.” – Rob
    No: he said he wasn’t trying to trivialize it. Then he trivialized it. His only poissible excuse is extreme stupidity, as is yours.

  19. RickK

    Which airline flays open the skin of your bare back, hammers chains around arms and legs, tells you lie down on top of your fellow travelers, and leaves you there in a mix of urine, blood, bile and feces for several weeks?  
    Well done, Mr. Heller.  You’ve given us a lesson on how to demonstrate ignorance of history, lack of imagination, and a complete lack of human empathy all in one short blog post.  How do you score on the Psychopath Test, Mr. Heller?

  20. adam

    I . . . it . . . this is some kind of Swiftian joke, right, like A Modest Proposal, but in far worse taste, right? I really want to believe my species doesn’t contain such crappy people, but I’m not sure I can. :-/

  21. You Doorknob

    Let’s see…
    12 hrs vs 2-5 weeks. Yep, very similar!
    sitting in padded seat vs lying on wood. Yep, very similar!
    getting on plane by choice (even a bad choice) vs kidnapped/captured. Yep, very similar!
    attendant with food and water vs attendant with whip. Yep, very similar!

    You could have avoided the whole brouhaha you’ve started here by NOT including such idiotic statements such as “I feel the discomfort and pain endemic to the current air experience has certain curious similarities,” sticking instead with straight engineering/design comparisons.

  22. Erika

    I’m blown away that you could find flying in an airplane similar in any way to being on a slave ship. Really? Seriously? Did you take History? 

  23. Jeff Behrens

    Surely I can’t add anything to this discussion that hasn’t already been posted here, but I just want to chime in and say that you are a complete pile of shit for this. I mean… God, I almost feel as if an intellectualized response to this would dignify behavior that can really only be responded to with comments like “Grow a brain.” 
    So grow a fucking brain.

  24. Pingback: Filed under WTF

  25. Allison

    What a disgraceful article and an embarassment for yourself. It never occured to you those images of slave ships are extremely loaded with history and a legacy of hatred, racism, and oppression? Get over your privledge and apologize immediately.

  26. Ann

    You’ve succeeded in driving extra hits to the site. Unfortunately, you have also succeeded in disgusting most of those visiting people with your offensive and poor taste.
    You are NOT merely comparing the design. No, unfortunately you dare to compare the unpleasant experiences of flying to forced slavery.
    “But after a recent airplane trip, sitting tightly next to my neighbor in steerage seats, I feel the discomfort and pain endemic to the current air experience has certain curious similarities.”
    Your mistake goes beyond “trivializing” and reveals certain aspects of your lack of empathy and intellect that I am sure you wish were not out in the open for all in the world wide web to see. My advise is apologize as soon as possible, and don’t dare write something along the lines of, “I am sorry IF my words MAY HAVE offended anyone.” Such apologies do not equate to owning up to one’s mistakes.

  27. Foster

    Yes, the similarities in seating are there — obviously both had/have the goal of maximizing travelling bodies. Unfortunately, your blithe association of your discomfort and the slaves’ agony absolutely trivializes their suffering. This is shameful.

  28. chickade

    Wow, the insides of things have tight layouts? Who knew? So do movie theaters, but apparently they aren’t annoying enough to compare to slave ships.
    Would you have publicly spewed this thought to actual face-to-face humans? Every semi-clever notion that pops into one’s head is not automatically worthy of an audience, even in a world where this kind self-indulgence has become the norm. Page-views aren’t everything, you know.

  29. Sandy MacDonald

    It’s hard to say much that hasn’t been said about the absolute wrong-headedness of this article.  Safe to say that it’s a text-book example of the way that overweening privilege and a serious lack of imagination can gang up to make a person look like an absolute fool.  Attached is a copy of image of the steerage area on the Saxonia.
    You might note that steerage on this ship looks a great deal like an airplane.  So a ship of the the sea looks a great deal like a ship of the air.  Huh.  And economy will always look like economy.  Huh, again.
    Absent the whole slaveship theme, your idea is remarkably unremarkable: cliched, boring. Without your trivialization of the chains, the misery and death of the middle passage, your revelation is without merit; it’s only of interest because your inability to see very far beyond your own nose. Kinda sad!

  30. Pingback: Aeroplanes Are Just Like Slave Ships, Says Some Kind Of Expert | The Millionaires Club

  31. Pingback: kross media » Meet All Ten Winners Of The 2011 National Design Awards [Slideshow]

  32. Pingback: Airplanes Are Just Like Slave Ships. Except They’re Not. At All.

  33. Pingback: Inspiration? « The Gimlet Eye

  34. Freeman Robinson

    “modern day slave ships…just without the slavery?”
    I think @neil is missing the point. NOTHING is like slavery. The mere CHOICE to “hop” on and off of whatever vehicle you choose to negates that entire comparison. I do agree Steven didn’t MEAN to say anything derogatory, insulting or disrespectful…but intent and execution are very different things.
    All that being said I’d like to see this comment stream come to a close. He as repeatedly stated in this blog that he made an error in judgement and the responses are beginning to lose relevance (in my humble opinion) Let’s just learn from this and move on before it begins to become trivial.

  35. Pingback: The Middle Seat is not the Middle Passage. | jsench

  36. neil

    It’s an observation on visual design and how history repeats itself; a thought he shared with people. When did he ever negate the horrors suffered by slaves? Or say something derogatory? He didn’t. Think of how large groups of people get around crammed into subway cars, buses, or trains? Thousands of people hop into modern day slave ships everyday, just without the slavery. Just a bunch of ignorant nonsense. 
    I love the comments though. “just ask a black friend, everyone has one”
    If you want un-PC
    @Hira I thought Aushwitz was a Summer Camp for fat kids?

  37. Yeah no...

    Lord this is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, have you ever stopped to consider that anyother design could be …well rediculas? Planes can’t be shaped in too many ways, for the sake of knowing a plane has to fly first, and fly safely before even considering were people will sit. If ecomony was that bad consider leg shortening surgery….or use some miles for an upgrade. Sitting in a cramped seat in no way compares to having to duse the bathroom where you lay on a wooden bunk for about 3 months. We get that you weren’t trying to compare, or offend but clearly you didn’t before speaking.

  38. thindjinn

    He clearly just stated an objective similarity while doing his best to avoid any offense. I am an African American and I clearly see the similarities that he has pointed out.

  39. risunshine

    i can do without this comparison. we know the slave trade was terrible in every conceivable way. but unless heller is trying to expose the inherent greed, human exploitation, and capitalist frameworks that promote airline transport like the new transatlantic slave trade (BTW- this means that current commercial aircraft seating designs should be banned, with full refunds due to every person who’s ever flown. advocate for that), i see no meaningful point to this analysis. i agree with previous posts–there’s no substantive critique or even an alternative design that make better sense. sure, this post sparked conversation (you got me to reply), but if you’re going to take on the horrors of the slave trade as it relates to contemporary aircraft design, bring more to the table (e.g., head, heart, a qualified writer/historian, and a usable drafting pen). aim for substance over sensation.

  40. Ruby A

    So… flying is just like the Middle Passage? The sort which saw a huge number of enslaved Africans die? 
    Really? You didn’t want to run this past a black friend (everyone has one!) just to be sure this wouldn’t cause a bit of stir?
    Here’s the thing: I read the post, and although I’m not a designer I do actually see what you were trying to say. Doesn’t mean I have to appreciate how you said it, or that you said it at all. There was no way you could have drawn this parallel, as obvious to the eye as it may be, without attracting a massive and well-deserved arse-kicking. 
    As someone whose ancestors endured this, and who sees the after-effects of slavery and racial imperialism reverberating even now in institutional racism, overt racism, disproportional imprisonment, poverty, crime, a lack of social mobility and limited opportunities in certain sectors of the black community… I reserve the right to be FUCKING OUTRAGED that you’d trivialise something which is really rather important, just to make a point about the seating arrangement on aeroplanes.
    Nice to see the privilege-denying people out in force defending your post. I don’t think you’re racist, but you do need to be called out on your privilege and made to realise exactly why ‘certain people’ would be a little displeased. 
    And to the people defending the post – you don’t get to tell people what to be offended by, or how to act when they’re offended by it, or to ‘move on’. We’ll decide that.
    Good comment by Kirsten Wood – beautifully put.

  41. John

    So currently everyone is afraid to say what they want. I say congratulations to you Mr. Heller. People move to “western nations” because of their history not despite it. What certain races have had to endure is terrible yet if we are unwilling to talk genuinely about it nothing will change.

    I may be incorrect but I believe the relationship he was trying to establish is that of our growing divide among classes in America. Does it not strike anyone else as being similar. That our soceity could be headed down a dangerous road for which it has already been down and suffered greatly for it?

  42. Pingback: Airplanes Are Just Like Slave Ships. Except They’re Not. At All. | Awesomely Luvvie

  43. Joe Joe

    This is a very sad and pathetic attempt for attention.  Not even close in similarity. Sorry LOSER! Go burry your head under a rock and crawl under it.

  44. M

    I whole heartedly agree with annie’s comment. I felt this was an observation- not something meant to offend, but rather to start a discussion- which is obviously did! Some people look for arguments, some people instantly take things too personally, both which keep them from having a mature discourse on a topic. I hope you don’t take any of these comments personally. People lash out due to personal experiences that have shaped how they interpret and react to certain topics.
    You’re a fantastic writer and have always offered thought-provoking and encouraging material. Kudos for striking up such a lively conversation!

  45. Pingback: Aviões de passageiros são iguais a navios negreiros, diz especialista em design « Leonardowesleidiniz's Blog

  46. Pingback: Aeroplanes Are Just Like Slave Ships, Says Some Kind Of Expert | Gizmodo Australia

  47. Pingback: Airplanes Are Just Like Slave Ships, Says Some Kind of Expert [Ugh] | Carinsurancefor

  48. Kelly Johnson

    I don’t think the similarities have anything to do with slavery.  As great as the airplane is, it is the boat that has been mankind’s most fruitful form of transportation… and lore.  What is a plane but a boat with wings?   Ships evolved into trains which evolved into airplanes so no great leap to see similarities.  Slavery was a business, the first modern international business and was treated as such.  The British commissioned the expeditions and contracted with the Dutch for transport.  It was done just the way business is done today; contracts, permits, licenses, accounting, ledgers, tariffs, inventory, insurance, investors/shareholders, etc, etc, 
    As a black person I do find the images of the slave ships grotesque.  I won’t even use the word ancestor…it’s is much closer to me…my great grandfather was born during the Civil War, he was born a slave. 

  49. Pingback: Airplanes Are Just Like Slave Ships, Says Some Kind of Expert [Ugh] | Zone Pal News and Updates

  50. Alison Brown

    Actually, there are a large number of significant differences between those two photos. But sure. Both means of transport are roughly the same shape, and hold a lot of people. Profound.

  51. Pingback: Airplanes Are Just Like Slave Ships, Says Some Kind of Expert [Ugh] | Review Tech

  52. Pingback: Airplanes Are Just Like Slave Ships, Says Some Kind of Expert [Ugh] « My Gifts Boutique

  53. Pingback: Planes are flying slave ships, expert says [WTF]

  54. Pingback: Del barco de esclavos al avión clase turista [Veredicto: se parecen demasiado] |

  55. Pingback: Del barco de esclavos al avión clase turista [Veredicto: se parecen demasiado] - Gizmodo ES - The gadgets weblog

  56. JT73

    Too many people too overly reactive.  I suspect no ill will was meant on this poor comparison.  Removing the emotion that people are freaking out about, the comparison has a pinch of merit, but it’s obvious and doesn’t warrant discussion.  Simple economic use of space.  Trying to fit as many people into a space as is feasible.  One is under annoying conditions.  The other truely horrific.

  57. Kirsten Wood

    I’m an academic historian by trade, specializing in the United States during the period of slavery. Others responding before me have made it abundantly clear why your comparison is superficially insightful yet fundamentally ludicrous.  
    To expiate this post’s quite staggering sins of imagination — both committed and omitted — may I suggest that you sign and circulate this petition to your numerous students and contacts.

  58. GetAfuckinclue

    “…In the ship’s hold, the slaves were chained ankle to wrist, with barely any place to move.
    In the worse case, the captains did not provide any kinds of hygiene. In other boats, the captains placed buckets for the slaves’ excrements, but there was never one bucket per slave. Slaves who were close to the buckets used it but those who were farther away often tumbled and fell on others while trying to reach it. Severely hindered by the shackles that were tightly secured around their ankles, most slaves preferred to ease themselves where they were rather than to bruise themselves in the process of trying to reach it. Also, some sailors would be ordered to go below deck to wash the slaves briefly.  Although the crew avoided the slaves, they often would call a woman on deck to satisfy their desires. When weather conditions were bad, the conditions of the quarters dramatically worsened. The slaves’ holding quarters were so hot and humid that the floor of their rooms was covered with layers of filth and excrement during most of the voyage.”  Yep, it’s just like an airplane, brilliant….ass…

  59. Bart

    I think the text for this article keeps changing.  I thought yesterday the text of the last sentence read “chained slave icons” instead of people.  Does anyone have a screen capture of the article as it was originally posted so I can verify or disproove that suspicion?  

  60. Jeremiah Blatz

    Mr. Heller, while your post may be offensive to many, I feel you have received unjust criticism. The similarities (and differences) between modern paid transportation and slave ships are interesting and useful. To restrict any discussion of these topics is ugly and counterproductive towards acknowledging and reducing racism.
    Anyone who interprets your post as saying, in any way, “air travel is as bad a slave shipment” is having a knee-jerk reaction. In fact, you post makes the opposite point. Confinement is not the problem. The non-voluntary nature of the trip, hygiene, duration, treatment by the non-passengers, furniture, etc. are the issues. The hammer of disapproval that has come down on this post is highly disappointing to me. There are a significant number of people claiming that honest, if ill-considered, discussions of slavery are unacceptable. From a viewpoint of fighting racism, the opposite is true. It is exactly these sorts of discussions that raise awareness and introspection. And that, not angry repression, is how you fight racism.

  61. Karin Storm Wood

    @Stith: that horriyfing slaveship image is quite common in current high-school level U.S. history textbooks (at least in my experience; I haven’t done a thorough check). 
    Most of us can probably agree that that is a good thing.  Assuming it is discussed in a thoughtful educational context.

  62. Bart

    You are entitled to take the view that it was an intellectual exercise or that this post was in some way related to design.
    I interpreted it as a catastrophically misguided attempt to use one of our nations darkest and most shameful histories to take a cheap swipe at the airlines under the guise of intellectualism.  I refuse to believe that a designer of Mr. Heller’s experience and expertise would look at those slave ship images and not be affected by the horror and brutality they reperesent.  Then to place those images next to those of airplanes which were an icon of America’s wealth and power, some amount of which was built on the back of slave labor…  it’s such a strong statement it’s hard to believe it wasn’t calculated.
    So I think anyone who is offended or outraged is equally entitled to their feelings.
    That having been said, one unfortunate event does not a racist make.  There’s enough information out there for people who want to look that Mr. Heller makes a considerable positive impact on the world.  I would say if you want to be angry about the images and words he posted that’s reasonable.  If you want to be angry at him for dredging up a miserable part of our history for the sake of complaining about discomfort I think that’s also warranted.  Just keep things in perspective.  He appears to be a good dude who had one terrible lapse in judgement, recognizes that, and is sorry.  So keep that in mind.

  63. Al

    I find it comical that mostly everyone has something negative to say about this.  While i do not disagree that this post was probably not the best idea, Mr. Heller had a thought, did some  research, and presented a theory.   I’ll wager a best that most people have seen more abhorrent material on prime-time television, and didn’t bother to call the network and protest.  Honestly, are we living in a society where one must walk on eggshells all the time, and can’t make any sort of controversial opinion without being lambasted? Move on.  That is all.

  64. sean collins

    There’s much more offensive stuff on the web, but this doesn’t work on any level. Prefacing a bigoted statement with ‘I’m not racist, but…‘ doesn’t make it any less bigoted: if you really didn’t want to trivialise the link then maybe you should have spent more than 100 words (and presumably 5 mins) positing your theory.
    Is this really ‘expanding the design conversation’? I’ll take your word for it that you’re a graphic design expert, but on this showing you know bugger all about industrial design. No, aircraft designers are not influenced by slave ship design and only an idiot would suggest so. You taken a superficial similarity from a scenario where permutations are very limited and presented as some profound insight. Nor were they being prudent – why on earth would people icons be used in a seating layout (the clue’s in the name)
    Tell you what: freed from the ‘influence’ of slave ships – why don’t you show how they should look, in a way that still makes ergonomic, economic and safety sense?
    For the record, minimum standards for seat size & spacing, aisle width, number of emergency exits and much more besides are governed by regulation. How many of us actually need – as opposed to want – to fly anywhere, and of course when we do we expect it to be dirt cheap; and the airlines are raking it in ‘cos air travel is soooo profitable. Oh wait, it’s not.
    Oh look, I think I probably just spent more time commenting on this BS than you did writing it…

  65. Orville

    So two very similar problems have very similar solutions and you find that somehow provocative? This is a triumph of “thought leadership” over “knowing what the hell I’m talking about.”

  66. Pingback: Airplanes Are Just Like Slave Ships, Says Some Kind of Expert [Ugh] | Gadgets Geekly

  67. jamie

    Why are you complaining? YOU ARE FLYING IN THE AIR. If you’re such an expert pay for a better seat.
    The arrangement is similar, good call expert. A long narrow fuselage with rounded ends that is trying to fit as many people in as possible. Would haeve never figured that out without an expert.

  68. Pingback: Who Draws the Line? « autonomousdesire

  69. Pingback: Une curieuse similitude | UN AUTRE PAVÉ DANS LA MARE

  70. nhquentin

    You are partly misled by the image of the slave ship.  While based loosly on the Liverpool slave ship Brooks, it does not represent the real arrangment of bodies in any slave ship.  This was created as propaganda material for the campaign for abolition of the slave trade and was distributed by the Plymouth abolition committee starting 1788.  It’s a powerful piece of design, but not a realistic representation of the condition on slave ships.  For example, the enslaved were  arranged neatly as they are represented on the image.   Hence the similarities with the seating arrangments is less than what meets the eye.

  71. Chris

    I’ve always thought economy class should be a considered human rights violation, especailly on those long haul flights. I don’t know if any research has been done but just by personal observation i would guess that economy calss is desgned to accomodate 30% to 40% of the typical body size of a typical flyer. Its a ruthless money making design.

  72. Rob

    What a reaction to something so trivial. (Hah) Can’t imagine how something actually offensive makes these people react.

    He made it clear he wasn’t trying to trivialize it. Get over it.

  73. Pingback: Fly er ligesom slaveskibe, siger Some Kind of Expert [uf] | PCTV

  74. sva student

    I seriously think you knew it was a bad idea, but you felt like it was okay to trivialize this because it’s about a group that really doesn’t matter.
    i.e. if your boss was black, you sure as hell would not have made this joke.  
    you would not go to a dinner party with milton glaser and friends and compare any kind of experience to being at a concentration camp.
    and then cop pleas, saying your trip was “extremely stressful” and “no vacation”…
    as if that should help us in understanding how you could make the comparison.

  75. annie

    steven — i read the post. it didn’t disgust me. i saw it as a sort of clinical observation of the coincidental repetition of patterns and forms. i was surprised at the degree of virulance in the responses. i thought, surely there must be some place where people are allowed to exchange thoughts freely and without thought of censorship by the crowd voice. surely it is the role of artists to make observations such as you have done here. i worry that we have moved into a time in history where the crowd shouts down controversial ideas even before they are understood. in a somewhat related area (i feel i must state this…in strange, disclaimer-ish sort of way) my politics are left-leaning, so i am surprised when my politically conservative friends tell me that they feel censored and uncomfortable speaking their minds on delicate topics, as i’ve always believed that the uncomfortable role was the bastion of liberals. having said that and after reading many of these thoughtful replies, i began to question my reaction and tested my thinking by changing the topic from slavery to something i can relate to in a more personal way: the treatment of women in our society. i thought of some television comedians who repeatedly tell blatant misogynstic “jokes” and get away with it. or rappers who speak of violence or sexual predation toward women and i began to grow more empathetic with the angry responders here. but we bring our own interpretations to things based on our past and our parents’ past. and isn’t that one of the purposes of art and art criticism — to stir the pot? to challenge assumptions? to look at old things in new ways? to encourage unusual associations? to open dialogue? i don’t think your post was gratuitous or cruel. it was an observation. you meant no harm, no hurt. i might feel much more emotion, had the topic had been an observation about mistreatment of women across time, but that would have been my interpretation of your issue-neutral presentation.

  76. Hira

    Sorry, you trivialized it.
    That’s like saying Auschwitz is like summer camp. Hey! They both had bunk beds!
    You should thank Gawker for sending traffic your way. Congrats, you’re famous!

  77. Stith

    I do not believe that Heller meant to be insensitive to the issue of  trans-atlantic slavery transportation.  My grandfather was born a slave (1854).  Based on the trials and atrocities my father told me about in rural Virginia as a boy and about the things that happened to his father, things like these slave ship diagrams very rarely hit the light of day.  If for nothing more, I am glad that some people, particularly our white bretheren, has gotten to see this truly horrifying evidence of the hardships that black people have endured over the centuries in this coiuntry. It is my fervent wish that more of the secrets of the past, relative to slavery, hit the light of day so that the “majority” public can get to see what has happened to this day is disgustingly true.  To Mr. Heller:  If you have a need to make comparisons to other issues using these kinds of artifacts, use them, publish them.  If this is the only way this information can be published, do it, and in this case do not feel as those you should feel like you have to offer up an apology.

  78. Robert Sawyer

    I think this is an extremely interesting, if curious post. The fact that it generated such controversy is evidence that it crossed a line that that compels one to consider the acceptability of unacceptable “exploration.” What first came to my mind reading this was how images, however horrific, may enter into the unconscious mind.
    My second thought brought to mind an article in last week’s WSJ that reported on the use of private jets by our financial, corporate and political elite. Where I think you got it right, Steven, is that as the most privileged minority now considers private jet a prerogative, in spite of its many costs and few benefits to society as a whole, I’m not surprised that the designers of “common” airliners, view passengers as cargo to be “fit” in the most “efficient” manner possible.
    Finally I agree with Scot above, that no apology is necessary. People need to accept, weigh and consider ideas that run counter to their preferred world view. I agree with C. Aubry’s recommendation, but resent those who would censor what is an interesting philosophical inquiry. Your “modest proposal” is absolutely apt in a world where human beings are increasingly considered a particular mass occupying particular unit of space, for a particular duration of time.  

  79. Scott

    STOP APOLOGIZING! It wasn’t the funniest thing ever, but the diagrams are eerily similar, and it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read. Family Guy does less interesting and way more offensive stuff weekly.
    To the readers this offended: I hope you never experience genuine suffering.

  80. Stacy

    So, to “How not to write a blog post,” we can now add “How not to write an apology” to the categories under which this godforsaken post could be filed. “To those who were offended, I apologize”? “It came off as insensitivity at best, racism at worst”? No, it came off as racism, period, because that’s what racist ramblings of insensitive racists come off as. And the problem is not that some people were offended. The problem is that you ever thought you could compare your experience with that of a slave, or the image of a slave ship with that of your jet plane. This sort of thing merits a lot of self-questioning and education, followed by a separate blog post.

  81. Steven Heller Post author

    Bree’s statement is as ridiculous as it is untrue. I regret, and take responsibility, for this kind of commentary on this post.

  82. Freeman Robinson

    Got to love people like BREE “And as for this being a racially-insensitive comparison, it’s offensive to those who were enslaved; no living black person was enslaved.”
    Well that makes it all better doesn’t it?? Now that all the blacks that were enslaved are dead and gone it’s more than okay to be offensive towards them. Please forward that note to my grandmother and parents whom couldn’t piss in the same bathroom as white people or go to their schools.
    I on behalf of all black people apologize for taking it so personally. Jackoff.

  83. thomas

    That really was pretty long way to get down the wrong road before turning around. I would be less worried about people accepting your apology, less worried about being harangued, less worried about your reputation and a whole lot more worried about the nature of that blind spot that allowed you to continue along so comfortably in the wrong direction. Well, now you know it’s there.

  84. take it easy heller

    i forgive you. 
    p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 11.0px 0.0px; text-align: center; line-height: 19.0px; font: 19.0px Lucida Grande}
    {it really works}


  85. Bree

    While your comparison was a little tasteless, I think that it reflects a shared truth:  An economic desire by either slavers transporting slaves or passengers transporting themselves to save money at the expense of the transportee’s comfort.
    And as for this being a racially-insensitive comparison, it’s offensive to those who were enslaved; no living black person was enslaved.  Everything isn’t going to always be about you all the time.  Slavery’s part of history; please let’s move on and focus on current problems like crime and high dropout rates and stop being touchy about things none of us perpetrated or experienced, ‘k thanks.

  86. Alger

    “Yes or no, it was prudent that the airplane designers to use chair icons instead of people icons, no?”
    This was supposed to be the conversation point?
    In very bad taste, especially since it’s a non-issue from a design perspective. Any one who stopped to think, “Hey, what is the most space efficient method of fitting persons into a streamlined/cigar-shaped vessel?” would arrive at this layout.
    Curious similarity my ass, it’s simple packing you twat.
    And as for your talking point; why don’y you try selling chained negro slave icons to an airline as part of their seating chart? I am sure they will be as intregued as you were by the similarities.

  87. Liz

    I was convinced this was a clever joke when I read the blurb on Twitter. I thought, ‘Good for him. He almost got me! He’s just using sarcasm to point out the offensiveness of comparing trivial travel woes to actual horrific events.’ But the post is real? Oh dear.
    However, it may seem obvious to us readers that it is unwise to publicly compare an uncomfortable flight to months on a slave ship, it’s not always easy for the blogger to determine at the time of publishing which posts will be harmful, and which will be seen innocent quips.

  88. mzza

    Wow. I don’t want to add insult to injury but as someone working in the design field I wanted to take a closer look at who we were deailing with and, taking a relatively look down your “Our Author’s” roster, these are the numbers I came up with:
    24 white, male authors out of 38 total authors, 11 women, 1 institution (Carnegie Melon) and a single design firm (Fahrenheit212). If you look at the 7 Partners listed at Fahrenheit212 you add six apparently white men and one apparently white women. Yes, I didn’t look at the ethnicities of the women writers and clearly gender isn’t evidenced in their profiles and I do have to get back to my job eventually.
    i don’t think we should be surprised that this white boys club didn’t stop to question if this was the “good kind of edgy” or not.
    And as a whole (and as a white man), I just think we should challenge ourselves to be better than this.

  89. NoWay

    It’s one thing to make the comparison in your head, but once you started writing you should have known that this was a terrible idea. And then when you searched for diagrams of slaveships (from websites that undoubtedly discussed the horrors they held), that should have been a slap in the face that this isn’t a light issue. And you did realize it on some level otherwise you would not have included your qualifier about not trivializing the atrocity of slavery. You had a lot of opportunities to think better, so don’t be surprised that people aren’t taking your non-apology (blip, blunder, mistake, derp derp) seriously.

  90. Jennifer P

    I cannot believe that a post like this was conceived of, much less that it made it through the Print Mag editors, and is being actively defended by the author. Your apology is anything but and, instead of working so hard to defend your obvious lack of judgment, should focus instead the fact that you seem unable to comprehend why people would be so upset. Using so painful a history, so cavalierly, is insensitive at best and just stupid at worst.

  91. Freeman Robinson

    Sigh… Firstly being an African-American (though obviously not speaking for the entire race) I accept your apology and at the very least you’re conscious of a lapse in judgement posting this. An intimate discussion amongst friends might have been a better venue then a worldwide blog.
    Thank being said everyone, on the heels of Joakim Noah being caught using insensitive language during the NBA Eastern Conference Finals we might take advantage of this situation to open a dialogue as opposed to turning this into an after hours edition of some FOX “News” broadcast.
    For those that think that race and sexual orientation is not STILL a sensitive issue this should serve as a reminder. We’ve all laughed at IN LIVING COLOR, CHAPPELLE SHOW, or more recently the exploits of Madea from TYLER PERRY (of which I am not a fan and personally am disgusted by every time I see it) so we might want to take a long look at WHY this particular post is offensive to us personally. Any black person reading this should as themselves if Steve Heller was black himself would our reaction be different? I’m not saying it should or shouldn’t…I don’t know what the “right” answer is to that question honestly. I think I would. Same as a person from another culture using the N word in a design piece or written on a blog or whatever.
    Like GEOFF I have a great respect for Steven and his contributions to the design world with his work and with this blog. This probably not being one of those contributions honestly, but I’m hoping like a ridiculous concept from a client we can make the best out of it moving forward. Maybe that’s niave but whatever.

  92. Lolita

    Dear Mr. Heller, this post is disgustingly offensive. Rather than brushing it off as a whoops in the comments, why not ADDRESS this in the original post and actually apologize? Ask yourself: why is this offensive? You should acknowledge the incredible amount of privilege it takes to compare a voluntary plane ride to involuntary enslavement. Period.

  93. Mary Frances Charlton

    What kind of privileged, disgraceful person does it take to make such a horrific, inaccurate, and offensive comparison? Wow. 

  94. geoff

    Steven, Like I mentioned, you’ve done far more to educate minds about the power of design for the greater good (including my own), than most of us will be able to. To answer your question, I’ve read your work for years, have a shelf full of books with your name somewhere on/in them, and even have used some of your books/articles as texts for my classes. I wouldn’t requre my students to subscribe to the DH if I didn’t know you had something worthwhile to say. I haven’t lost respect for you, nor will I unsubscribe to the DH. And the discussion I will engage my students in regarding this post will take place in an email that I’m sending out (as we just finished finals last Friday). To clarify, I never said that I didn’t see or accept your apology. Given what I just mentioned about my respect for you and perceived familiarity with what you stand for from reading what you’ve written, I was incredibly surpised both that this was published in the first place and that your apology just came across as being defensive. I’m glad you see a teaching moment, and am more than anything glad to see the offer to continue the discussion of what went wrong here today.

  95. Steven Heller Post author

    Geoff: Its interesting to me that you are not able to see or accept my apology. This is not generous nor is it fair. I made a blunder. How many posts or articles have you read of mine?Instead of being embarrassed that you required your students to read the DH, perhaps you should use it as an object lesson. My intent was in part irony. My goal, right or wrong, was to make a statement. Instead, it came off as insensitivity at best, racism at worst. This post is an unfortunate blip. Your students might benefit from discussion about the problem with the post. I know I’ll make a point of discussing it with my students. If ever you or any educator reading this wants to engage their classes in a skype discussion about blogging and its pitfalls, I’m happy to engage. BTW, C. Aubry makes a superb observation about those trucks. Thank you for moving the discussion away from castigation into something that should be abhorred.

  96. C Aubry

    I think the slave ships have more in common with the trucks from south of the US driving north, containing hundreds of immigrants searching for a brighter, though unknown future (see an x-ray here: http://news.yahoo.com/nphotos/Mexico-finds-US-bound-migrants-trucks/ss/events/wl/051811migrantstruck/im:/110518/ids_photos_wl/r2728372237.jpg/).
    This would be a case where a graphic (image/drawing) may spur a free-associative connection, because  that is what graphic design is about, at least in part: an over-simplification to communicate quickly, visually. 
    But to indulge oneself by teasing out the idea that such an oversimplification creates a deeper connection only underscores the limitations of graphic design as well as the potential it has, when used maliciously, to give us permission to just look at the surface and not delve deeper, think more, and use those 1000 words that have been cast aside. 

  97. geoff

    Considering the amount of effort I have to put forth to even “publish” a comment in response to this article, the “error in judgment” excuse doesn’t hold very much water. There’s a huge difference between things that run the risk of offending some people, and things that are intrinsinically offensive…and I would say that this post falls inarguably in the category of the latter. As a design professor who has tried to promote the use of design as a tool to promote social change (even specifically as it relates to issues of racial/cultural insensitivities and prejudices), I feel a sting of embarrassment knowing that I’ve required all of my students to subscribe to the Daily Heller and they’ll be reading this today. Steven, in light of your own efforts to promote the power of design to !mpact social change—which admittedly have a far greater reach than anyone like myself would ever be able to have—I hoped to see a less defensive stance taken over such an seriously, insensitive lapse in discretion.

  98. Brian

    Perhaps there is a visual similarity, but you have GOT to be kidding me! What is this, The Onion? April Fool’s Day? Not every thought in one’s head needs to be articulated!
    Aside from the ridiculous comparison to slaves, I am tired of people complaining about lack of space in airplanes. If you need more space pay for 1st class. I don’t think your situation on an airplane should ever be compared in any way to what these kidnapped Africans faced. How uncomfortable were you really in that seat? And how uncomfortable are you now?

  99. James

    > [my blog is] unedited ramblings …  thinking out loud
    We all say dumb things sometimes during spontaneous conversations, but this was a written article, prepared by a professional writer, with six graphics chosen to illustrate the points. It was offensive and a serious error in judgement.

  100. Caleb

    A third rail comparison to be sure. But since you were flying trans-atlantic, and feeling cooped up, I can understand how your consciousness was raised.
    You did however ignore the meager or non-existent food, stale air and disease communicated among the “passengers”. Oh wait, add de-humanizing inspections and indifferent crew members.
    Now multiply that by 1,000,000 times and you might begin to feel the pain of those slaves.
    That said, the real horor of modern air travel is its impact on the environment. Every mile you fly consumes an amount fossil fuel approximately equal to the fuel consumed driving a mile in your car. 

  101. Vincent

    Self-righteous? Not at all. Here’s why I’m cancelling: periodically I get blogs from you having to do with the Nazi Germany and Holocaust, whether they be designs from the period, et al.
    Never have you trivialized this horrific time in our history nor should you. 
    But I often find myself thinking, “ANOTHER article about the Holocaust. Whew. Isn’t this blog mostly supposed to be about design? Mr. Heller clearly has an agenda.” —which is your right, by the way. It’s your blog, your view, your world and welcome to it.
    I am cancelling my subscription because I find it fascinating that you didn’t stop and think twice about trivializing slavery.
    I’m cancelling because you’re a hypocrite. Mr Heller, and there are better blogs on design and better ways to start my day.
    Sorry if that seems self righteous, Mea Culpa.

  102. Oladele

    You’re right, unsubscribing is a bit much, and I hadn’t planned to after reading this, as I usually enjoy the Daily.
    This subcriber accepts your acknowledgement of making a blunder like this.

  103. John

    Steve — judging by your disclaimer in the first sentence and subsequent explanation in the comments — you clearly meant no offense. But this is just another example of the pitfalls of blogging, as it circumvents the editorial process. I can see how the visual entered your mind…but perhaps a little more discretion in the future?
    I couldn’t help but submit this “article” to http://www.whitewhine.com/

  104. Oladele

    Seldomly, I experience “racial slips of the tongue” in my presence when I am encountered by Caucasians (mostly in the workplace) who have either never been in the company of anyone of color for an extended amount of time, or are just socially inept and unaware of a world of multi-ethnicities that exists outside of their ‘bubble’. In this, my being offended by any of this has become almost passé, since it happens all over the place.
    But this???
    A carefully thought out, proofread and published commentary like this, whether meant to be whimsical, has fallen way short of the mark. Albeit, your prerogative to express such random observations, this should have been kept to yourself, Mr. Heller..

  105. Steven Heller Post author

    Let me put this into perspective.
    I made an error in judgment. No more, no less, based on an emotion during an extremely stressful trip (not a vacation).
    The blog is a mechanism for expressing, reporting, critiquing, arguing and just thinking out loud.
    I agree with all who call this post insensitive. I will, however, keep it posted as it is now a matter of record.
    However, to those who want to cancel their subscription, isn’t that a little extreme (and even self-righteous)? If you’ve subscribed up to this point, I presume you are getting something from this blog and PRINT in general.
    Mistakes are made all the time. Its fair to criticize, even appropriate to show indignance, but it was, as I said, a mistake.

  106. Hoolie

    I agree with Neil MacLean; keep things like this to yourself. This was beyond offensive. Terrible. There is plenty of stuff to write about. There is no place for this kind of comparison.

  107. Chris

    I know you didn’t want to trivialize the issue, but that is what you did. Maybe instead you could have discussed how cramped and stressful these planes are and then compare that to what you would propose we do to change them.

  108. alfred

    Heller was bringing attention to the similarity of the seating maps. Nothing more. He made it clear the human experiences were drastically different.
    I, for one, found the information fascinating.

  109. Vincent

    Mea Culpa? Really?
    I’m looking forward to your insight and humorous parallels ‘tween Auschwitz and fat camps.
    Whoops, I forgot, you don’t trivialize the Holocaust in your articles. Mea Culpa, indeed.
    By the way, I’m stopping my Dailer Heller starting today!

  110. Kristen

    You have GOT to be kidding me with today’s Heller. My goodness. Comparing the design of an airplane to that of a slave ship. Maybe we could have compared it to the layout of a luxury cruise liner, with the various sections up and down the plane. Or that of a charter bus. Slave ship. Gotta say, these daily reads are disappointing me more and more.

  111. Steven Heller Post author

    Robb, I couldn’t agree with you more. However, the point here, and its admittedly a tenuous one, is that visually this is what I conjured when I flew.
    Yes, this is an anoyance, not an imprisonment.
    So, to those who take offense, I apologize, adding: A blog sometimes allows for unedited ramblings to get published. I posted this today consciously knowing that the statement made might be overly simplistic. Mea Culpa.

  112. Robb

    The difference being that slaves were transported in this manner for months at a time and the ones that didn’t die on the way were forced into a lifetime (albeit often a terribly short one) of incredibly hard manual labour and vicious physical and mental punishment.
    Whereas you were going on holiday.
    Well done.