In 1972, just 14 years after NASA was established, the National Endowment for the Arts initiated the “Federal Graphics Improvement Program," aimed at improving the design standard for government agencies.
Designers Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn eventually won the bid to reshape the look and voice of the United States space program, and in 1974, presented their portfolio to administrator Dr. James C. Fletcher and his deputy, Dr. George Low. The following year, the Danne & Blackburn-designed NASA Graphics Standards Manual was released in a simple, 8.5-inch x 11-inch ring binder.
That manual—from letterheads to motor vehicles—would become the visual identity of the program for the next 17 years, with the “Worm” logotype at the forefront. Everything changed in 1992, when mounting pushback culminated in the rescinding of the Danne & Blackburn logo, with the original “Meatball” logo reinstated in its place.
The "Worm" and "Meatball" logos // Kickstarter.
“I’ve had an exhilarating career, and I love it," Danne said. "But, this was the toughest thing to swallow that I ever had to deal with.”
That quote is from the Kickstarter campaign to reissue the 1975 NASA Graphics Standards Manual. The men behind the campaign—Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth—have already blown past their fundraising goal with 33 days to go. For $79, a copy of the reissue can be yours, and $292,166 in pledges from nearly 3000 backers (at the time of writing) suggest that the 40-year-old design document is still as relevant as ever. Danne describes the work as not simply a logo but a true, comprehensive system to create a unified program, and a successful one at that.
The 200-page reissue will be printed and bound as a hardcover book using scans from Danne’s own copy. It will also include supplemental materials and the original NASA presentation. The publication is not connected to NASA in any way, and Reed and Smyth write that it’s “... undertaken in an effort to preserve and disseminate an archival record of graphic design from the era.” It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like designing the look of a such a massive organization, rife with infinite possibilities and final frontiers.
Or, as Danne says in the video for the project: “It was a great undertaking to tackle one of the toughest assignments known to man.”