Co.Design

NASA's Logo Redesigned To Be Truly Out Of This World

In 2010, a design studio proposed a fresh new logo to NASA. NASA passed, and we still wonder why.

The NASA logo of today—the "meatball"—is actually the organization’s original. It’s pure ’60s space-race fodder, and it’s served as the casual face of NASA since 1959, save for a two-decade stint when the "worm" logo replaced it. Personally, I’ve always liked NASA’s logos as snippets of place and time, as both managed to be timely without ever becoming tacky. But with NASA facing funding woes, the organization could use a jumpstart into the new millenium, a facelift, a reminder that space was the original awesome.

In 2010, design firm Base reimagined the NASA logo for Viewpoint magazine. Rather than Jetsons flourish or ’80s futurism, the team wanted to propose a new look for a post–Cold War era and gesture toward the future. (We honestly have no clue what’s ahead—but it’s often quite beautiful.)

NASA’s previous logos.

"The meatball logo belongs to America. It is part of our historical heritage," Base designer Thierry Brunfaut tells Co.Design. "But the context of this has changed with time. At the beginning, the logo was linked to the army. It was about competition and power. But now there’s the ISS … different nationalities are working together in space. Space discovery is not about competition anymore or ‘being the first out there’ but about the future of mankind."

The sentiment is dead on. While NASA is still the undisputed worldwide leader in space exploration, since 1960, science has gone international. Forget the ISS—consider the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson. Thousands of researchers from across the globe contributed to CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, and its countless terabytes of data are constantly processed by servers of a similar expanse. The greatest discoveries of tomorrow will happen on networks, not in labs.

All of this modern ideology had to make it into the NASA logo, and we haven’t even talked about space yet.

"From the start, we set out to find something that was evident and immediate, that wasn’t about design, and didn’t require explanation. Something that on a very basic, universal level was about what NASA is and does. We went back to the essence of NASA, which is not about technology or politics but a dream," Base designer Thierry Brunfaut tells Co.Design. "So we went with a fairly neutral typeface that won’t look immediately dated. But we also wanted to de-emphasize the name in the logo to create more of a symbol that would be universally understood. So we eclipsed the name with a giant sphere, which could be Earth or any other planet. The idea is to suggest an infinity of possible discoveries, new planets, new worlds … An infinity of possible paths to our future as mankind."

This new logo sends an entirely different message from both NASA and America. Rather than conveying authority or eliciting idolization, it’s actually after the complete opposite. By obscuring part of the logo itself, we’re reminded that NASA is about exploring the unknown at the most intrinsic level. It’s a tacit acknowledgement of a lack of knowledge, with the slightest inspirational peek at things to come.

At the same time, it’s perfectly meta. In an era when YouTube clips are parodied five minutes after becoming popular, we’ve grown into a society that not only tolerates but expects allusion. So while Base’s NASA logo probably wouldn’t have worked in 1960—what the heck is that word supposed to be?—in 2012, it’s a perfect riff on itself, and even on the greater nature of how logos are meant to be seen.

Sadly, NASA passed on the logo. "They politely replied they were ‘not looking to revise their identity at this time,’" Brunfaut laments. "Would’ve been nice if that piece of news had come in through an intergalactic phone call as opposed to an email."

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56 Comments

  • Rhett Ahlander

    It is nice looking, but it could be better. Let's be honest. Some guy on Behance has the right idea. His redesign is impressive. Google: "Federico Moreno NASA Rebrand" to check it out.

  • M Johnson

    SHAME!!! The NASA (newly designed) logo on the CANADARM?? It is The Canadian Space Agency not NASA!!! The Canadarm has never had the NASA logo on it!

  • simanek

    It might be clever, but did they really think cutting the “S” in half was a realistically good idea? Looks like student work.

  • Bill Motzing

    I don't like the rediesign because its not legible on the spacecraft which to me is the most important place that logo needs to "sing". I'm a huge fan of the gestalt principle of cropping the lettering, when done effectively. In this case the type is to bold and when reduced down in size becomes difficult to read when 40% of the type is missing anyway. Also the condensed font goes against the "tone" of NASA being a fast moving, rocket making organization. Look at "fast" logos and they are wide not tall and condensed which looks too tall and stately.

  • Khalsa Lakhvir Singh

    for an out-of-this-world brand, this logo may have its own merit, but is in no way an out-of-the-world icon. not a very memorable way of typography, and icon. unimpressed, if that is the best an agency can produce.

    N - Not
    A
    S - Serious
    A - Attempt.

  • Jared

    Wow, lots of haters here. While I don't think this would work, it's not bad. I'm a huge fan of space exploration, but the current meatball logo is just ancient. It doesn't connect with my generation (20s) and it isn't forward looking. In case you haven't noticed, NASA is in need of a BIG campaign to educate the public on the benefits of space travel, both for practical and inspirational reasons. This country needs a reboot, and NASA could help do it. But they need to do a major marketing push to get people thinking about it again, and to answer the pessimists who decry any space spending. Not necessarily a full on re-branding, but a definite refresh. It needs to connect with the younger generations again.

  • Phunken

    Thank goodness they passed on that contrived "new repurpose" design. It look like a first year graphic design project...hmmm how can we make it different i know just chop off a internationally recognised logo that can be read by non-english speaking background and obscure it to beyond recognition. The S is cut off beyond recognition. The worm design is still modern and as a beacon for the future NASA should be more proud of its heritage not doing a GAP or Window redesign. 
    Its irresponsible to re-brand in a budget constraint which would cost them heaps. Imagine repainting the shuttle or all of the satilites and stationaries. 

  • ZEEG

    A rebrand involved much more than slapping a logo type on radical photographs...

  • Artistmurthy

     im upset becoz i even looked at it!
    there's no better way to say it... i know crappy sh.. when i see it
    well the silver lining on this cloud ... we all agree its not worth a 1st look, even.

    maybe we can use this as a litmus test !... when we hire someone new... see if they like this s**t... i wonder if there's something OutThere.... even worse than this!

    God! I hope no alien would form their opinion about Graphic Design on Earth based on this...

  • Designo78

    Looks like it took about 5 minutes to create and that includes turning on the computer. Focus on the agency's mission not the name.

  • Satweavers

    Nope.  Worse than the old, new "worm" logo.  It's the "meatball" logo or nothing.

  • BongBong

    Mark Wilson, please consult with a credible designer before making posts that illustrate a limited understanding of good design. It would save us all time in the future.