Grey Room

Making the “World Spectacle Trial”: Design as Forensic Practice at the Nuremberg Trials

Alejandra Azuero-Quijano

Justice Robert H. Jackson (standing) delivers opening statement at lectern designed by Dan Kiley, Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, November 21, 1945. Harvard Law School Library Nuremberg Trials Project (1945–1946). Image courtesy Harvard Law School Library, Historical and Special Collections.


The practice of designers was central to the American effort to establish Nazi war-waging, political persecution, and extermination as international crimes. While American prosecutors sought to demonstrate the political and bureaucratic organization that lay behind Nazi crimes, professionals working for the the Office of Strategic Services Presentation Branch (PB) drew from design practices developed within the U.S. intelligence apparatus for the institutionalization of global governance. From their efforts emerged a project of criminal punishment defined by the simultaneous mobilization of legal reasoning and design practices to create the normative, aesthetic, and spatial conditions for adjudicating Nazi crimes. This effort materialized into a new forum of judgment, one best described as a media environment. Within this forum, which sought to bring a whole political system and not just individuals into the fold of legal judgment, media technology enabled the presentation of forms of evidence unknown in the context of a criminal trial, particularly ones aimed at persuading judges as well as global audiences of the vast scale of German crimes.

As this article shows, these media-centered forms of courtroom presentation constituted forensic practices in their own right. Against the nearly ubiquitous association of forensics with the figure of lawyers and forensic experts, PB designers marshaled the forensics of presentation—an ensemble of design techniques centered on the media-technological and aesthetic conditions of presenting evidence in the space of the courtroom, the modern forum from which forensics derives its name. Ultimately, by designing a courtroom that operated as a media environment, Kiley’s world spectacle trial explicitly mobilized architecture, graphic design, and media aesthetics as forensic strategies that were essential to demonstrating the rational, organized, and large-scale nature of Nazi war crimes as juridical facts.