In 1974 NASA commissioned New York agency Danne & Blackburn to create a new modernist, typographic logo to replace their 15 year old ‘meatball’ design.
With heavy lettering and ‘A’s reminiscent of rocket nose cones, the new logotype was precise, futuristic and visible from a mile away. What followed was a fascinating journey of brand execution across every channel – from space shuttles to satellite markings. It was also a highly diplomatic process that involved presenting the proposed branding system to the multitude of space agencies – now united under the NASA banner – that had been operating independently for decades.
Following on from approval of the new designs, the creative team then spent a whole decade creating and refining what would become the NASA graphics manual – a definitive guide to employing the new graphics system. And then in 1992 a new team at NASA decided to reintroduce the original ‘meatball’ logo of a blue circle surrounded by a sprinkle of stars, complete with a flying rocket ship and a bright red arrow which is still in use today.
A logo, incidentally, that Michael Beirut of Pentagram NY has labelled ‘an amateurish mess’.
Display recently published an extract from Richard Danne’s essay ‘Space Odyssey’. It’s a fascinating, insightful read about the lengths a branding agency and creative team will go to roll out a brand consistently across every medium. But ultimately – it’s a tale of how design is dictated by a new client that wants to make their own mark on an organisation.
As a branding agency, we’re constantly looking (and lamenting) at how big brands have moved away from the classic designs of their earlier identities – Pepsi is a real case in point. But in this instance, it seems a crying shame that such a well considered design system has been consigned to history in favour of something much more ‘obvious’ that lacks impact and originality.