Picking this one took all of five seconds. Actually writing about it took a little more time—and many gentle proddings from my team.
THE WINNER IS:
NASA 1975-1992 (RIP) Richard Danne (Design Director), Bruce Blackburn (Designer) Danne & Blackburn, NY, NY
Growing up in Mumbai in the 70s and 80s, I saw NASA as the epitome of futuristic cool. The logo didn’t seem like it was from a distant country, but a distant and very advanced planet. My family encouraged this nerdery. My uncle often brought me NASA literature from his U.S. visits. Poring over every elegantly designed detail, I discovered the joy of Helvetica. Later at art school, I came across a NASA graphic-standards manual, which I read more often than the art history books assigned to me. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
At art school, you’re taught that to design a good logo, you must eliminate the fluff and distill the idea down to its essence. It doesn’t get any more minimalistic than NASA. Unilever is a wonderful exception and not the only one, but I like logos that tell a story with the fewest lines. What’s not there is part of the design; it’s an idea many clients and even designers struggle with.
Most designers should know this story, but it’s worth retelling. During the first design presentation, the proposed system did not go over well. NASA administrator, Dr. James Fletcher, and deputy administrator, Dr. George Low, had the following exchange:
Fletcher: “I’m simply not comfortable with those letters, something is missing.”
Low: “Well, yes, the cross stroke is gone from the letter A.”
Fletcher: “Yes, and that bothers me.”
Fletcher: (long pause) “I just don’t feel we are getting our money’s worth!”
Eventually, the logo won over the skeptics, along with the Presidential Design Award for design excellence. However, it didn’t win over all the naysayers. Fast-forward to 1992, when the logo was unceremoniously dumped. You can read the full and painful story in Danne’s own words here.
Considering the obstacles put in the path of a typical corporate identity program—especially one of this scale—this logo’s existence, however brief, seems like a miracle. Two design enthusiasts recently revived NASA’s graphic standards manual with a Kickstarter campaign. Who knows? Maybe one day the real thing will be resurrected, too. One can dream.