Evolution of the NASA redesign with interesting details and anecdotes from the 1975 Program. Also the successful crowdfunding Reissue of our Design Manual in 2016.

Unedited Transcript

Chris Coyier:

Just a little break into the swooping powerful epic to the conference. I know just how excited Gina was when Richard said yes to this talk. It's an incredible opportunity we have. Closer to the mike. Gina was stoked. She still is. I think any one of us in this room would did well to aspire to the career like Richard's six decade career. Some of you may have heard of him for the first time latest. Last year there was a goal to kick start a Two years ago, Richard got the A I G A medal, the highest honor in graphic design. And now lives in Napa Valley with his wife, with Danne, design where he enjoys French wines, I hear.

[Applause]

Richard Danne:

hello everyone. Can you hear me now? Well you are on the home stretch, Friday afternoon is looked good. I'm here to talk to you, and I'm going to feature the NASA program and we will go on to some other style guides I have done too. I wanted to sigh honesty this week, these last two days, I feel like I have been beamed into a sort of alien planet and the language is totally unrecognizable. But that's okay. I, one thing I can assure you, this is not going to be a single reference to code and that should be a relief. On another level, the reason I'm comfortable telling you, is Gina has been a generous colleague and I want to congratulate her on an incredible first conference. And secondly I met a lot of the speakers here and there was a lot I Q there are. We did have something to do with one of the very first style guides in the country and definitely for the federal Government. So it set the pace. So I asked Gina, what do you want me to say? And she said, you invented the style guide. And I would not take that. When I look back on this, it's it is 42nd anniversary of this program. That's a long time. What I want to do for you, is we will be showing visuals from the manual that my colleagues of the New York offices they reissued the book and referred to the kick start campaign. And we will look at that now. And we will talk more about that how happened and some other style guides. The main thing to keep in mind is this was all done in another century. If you get that, then please be kind. We will watch the video now from kick start. Well that was the plan.

[Video]:

Recorded voice 1:

At the present time everything is going smoothly, we are looked for a launch on time.

Recorded voice 2:

T minus 20 second and counting.

Richard:

I'm Richard Danne, I started in 1974.

Recorded voice 2:

T minus 15. 14, 13.

[Piano key]

Recorded voice 2:

Four, we have got the

[Roaring]

[Music]

Richard:

I think a lot of us felt, our country as young as it was and is, was way behind especially Europe. In terms of design.

Recorded voice 1:

... we think that shuttle

Richard:

When we got the R P, we had been a firm for a whole year. The very idea of tackling something as huge as this would a huge berm in those times. It really defied the odd. And we pulled it off. I think what distinguishes this project from anything that I've been involved. It's a high profile. And romantic. The NASA manual was a great success, everything was suck succinct. It was a unified program. It would look great miles away. Another side of a truck or a spacecraft, it was almost indestructible. The answers were all there. It was really the complete document and the fact that it is, it's not a logo. It was to be sure that, but it was a true systems program and the language was part of that. And what shocks people is that it was all in place. It was no longer theory. It was on every aircraft, and every shuttle. The infamous event in '92, I guess, that Dan Golden had taken over the agency and was flying over Ames and he said, can I change that? And I said, of course, you can. Of all the program, associate with so many designs, having the exhilarating career and I love it. This was the toughest thing I ever had to deal with. It's a documents. It's a real moment in time. It raises the design principals to another level. There is nothing frivolous about it. It a design document minutes for the ages. That's why it was developed that way and I think it succeeds on that level. It was a great undertaking to tackle one of the toughest assignments known to man.

Richard:

There you have it.

[Applause]

Richard:

So, the kick starter, what happens with that format, I want to give you a summary what happened at the end of the 30 month period and the automatically cut off we had nine thought backers and a million dollars. This meant that project could not go totally forward, that's what I call a rebirth so it's born back again and it's a wonderful thing. This is Bruce and I when we were a couple young boys, it was 1975. The manual had been published and it was in our offices in New York. At that time we were going to Washington about once a week, shuttling over there. We had is very small office. It was five people, it was a skeleton staff for sure, we added people later as we built out. I'm going to show you some pages now from Jesse's book. It's predigital of course. It's 74, 75. So we were talked about French curves. And all that stuff. This is for large scale use. When they were doing this grid, if he messed up, he will start all over again. It would be so easy today. Because of that time and a lot of other issue, we had done a lot of research to NASA at that time, and we knew that we had to put in here some of the don'ts because it's too easy to mess with this thing. This was things to avoid. Most of the book is what to do and how to make things better. This was about no, no,s. And this was an original seal. People thought we were opposed to it, and we kept it. We were talking about, cut and paste. So this was a NASA logo itself, and other than that, you had to get Photostats. The hierarchy here is expressed by the handling of two headquarters and they consolidated different centers. This page shows how jet propulsion laboratory. This is the P M S, it was a 185, and refererated chips. This is a 15 punch spiral binder. Some of the aspects of the program, business forms, they look so simple, they took about a year to get these things reviewed and passed. This is also before electronic type setting. So everything was almost hand made. The review by the federal Government, many different agencies would get involved in this. It was unbelievable. I think there were 4 or 5 different type families recommended. This was a page demonstrating thousand use them. These are individual pages, on brochures and leaflets. Trying to show how the logo would be placed. And here you have some low level news letters. And on the right you see NASA being used as a stem word. We were trying to make it as versatile as possible. Here we did about 80 of these. They were in the original presentation in D C. Some examples also of custom covers, and two posters. One on the left was a comp. At the time they were having trouble it funding. The theme was making space technology and research, bringing it down to earth so it applied to you and me. Obviously this is, we were talking earlier about public domain, that's what it is, this dealt with the heart and the weight and the spacelessness and the pacemaker machines that came out of that. There was no graphic designer when we were do you go research, on the staff of NASA. So someone who was assigned to do publications, but the reality was there was no trained graphic designer in any of them. So what you had instead, was an illustrator, someone who did, air brushed renderings. So you know art, so they were put in charge of design. In two of the centers that was are they were secretaries. That's not it statement. The fact is that they didn't regard it high enough, or important enough, so they passed it off on a secretary. We decided we had to get extremely fundamental and deal with grids and try to explain why they would be useful to get jump start designs. And then here is spread relating cover to a text, in different size publications and formats. The signing which is a fairly large issue because NASA had a such a public face and the public do come to the centers and they have tours and educational things. So we dealt with that pretty thoroughly. There were external signs and some internal design system to back it up, very cohesive. And this was years ahead, he will vet can a was not so popular, we did I it. This is one of the last times I working with It was a simple and thoughtful things were done. This was a gradation card, and you had these vinyl cards that you put on the doors, it maybe red or blue or gray. And it tells you if you were over presenting. And there are some examples. Of little higher level people we got to do it in two colors. Very specific, there is a lot more than I'm showing, these are on a handful of page. They were split up and there was hand assembly. This is pretty much representative of the entire ground fleet, working vans and tour buses, and Dumpsters and things like that. They had about five of these educational units. And they, they would tour high schools and give space lectures. They had great success with that, and they toured the country. This is the gulf stream two. There were many many craft in the fleet. Each is different. If you were doing afford E C O N O line. You can get the blue prints from the company. They are proprietary stuff. It was the military and sometimes it wasn't. So we had to go out in the field and measure the aircraft. Meaning we would hire someone to go out. And there were many more than that, some huge helicopters. And each was hand measured. When they painted them they were very honest to the schemes and the stuff came out looked great. Space shuttle went through a lot of change. And the real thing that drove this was the scientists and engineers finally told us where we can put the graphic it is. We were not going to make a plane crash no. It was critical where graphics were placed. You would not think so by looking at this, but there were a couple really important innovations in the aircraft. It had always been the United States of America, it was the first plane to fly with the hell V E T I C A font. And the machine bold. So this required approval, the NASA logo could not be as big at United States and things like that. This is one of the things I got very involved in and loved. Satellites. Some people ask what remain. And these fly in deep space. They are not sending someone out to repaint these. They shouldn't have done this to again with. The reality is that there a lot of these things out there. And architectural treatments that were effective including head boards in Washington still has the logo. The uniforms cross the line, everything seems to simple, but I can tell you that the little orange patch, it took about a year to develop, and it had to be flame retard ant. We had to work this over and over, and we finally got it down. Actually the slide is out of place. That's okay. What I wanted to say about that, is at the same time, which was a very busy time in life, when we were finishing the NASA program, we had taken on the Department of Transportation. And we were also working for I B M and Bristol Myers and it was a heavy load. And then I got elected the president of A I G A. And was it transitional time, it was a difficult critical time. We had financial problems. And it was a triple hit and I almost moved a cot into A I G A until we got things straightened out. My wife is here, she is my business partner, and my son is here, they didn't see too much of me those years. Make amends for that. To finish up that thought, by the end of the two year term, it was a New York club, basically, and I knew it had to go national, and I'm not taking full credit for it, so by the end of the term instead of all New Yorkers on the board are we had seven from around the country. And we were developing chapters. So 1600 people, and today we are 17 chapters around the world. To my other peoples credit, that did work. And sometimes when you are in crisis it's an advantage. To make changes in a hurry. This was a very fierce over lay, and we got through it. Some applications. There are you see the space telescope. The space suits, that one appeared in the video earlier. This is the gulf stream one. This was used as a trainer. They would go and stall it and have an astronauts float around in it. Very dangerous activity. This was what I was just referring to, architectural signing like there. They kept it. Okay so a couple years out after we introduced the program. Instead of, you know, like public broadcasts film titles. This was an opening sequence, a thirty second treatment which had amazing sound behind it. It starts with the infinity symbol, and by the time you got to the da Vinci man, it was all synthetic. These were the first computer animations done in New York City. Here you have the logo doing a soft space roll. And landing quietly. This was all hushed synthetic sound. A chase plan, a trial run for enterprise, they dropped off the 727. Very early on. The S T S 11 crew with all uniformed nicely. Launch pad at cape Kennedy. That poster I spoke of earlier, the heart studies. I did series of posters to send to high school students. Here again you see the theme I related to earlier, going to work in space, and your taxpayer dollars were working. The space research was a tremendous boon in terms of the medicine it and was it productive area. The space station, this was an illustration obviously. In 1983, we made a joint decision that we needed to publish something for the managers at NASA. There were many reasons for that. One of them was to mark this point in time. But also to serve as guidance for both internal personnel. It's almost like a style guide. Now that we are rolling and in place. And contractors who had a lot to do with putting these in place. These shows things that had been accomplished already. These are tapes. Materials and education, here is a before and after on conventional mail envelope. So those things were designed by the center by that point. Here is another at the top. NASA activities, before and after. E V As and one of the posters we were talking about. Documenting the film. Now this could not be referred to. It was a completed product and how to guide. They began to hire what you would call professionals and they started doing better work. This had nothing to do with NASA as such, but I self initiated a series of posters for the air and space museum. And it was on the a maiden flight of the Columbia. They were on sale for a couple of the decades. And the sad thing was a Columbia came apart ore entry. And we lost the entire crew. This hit very hard, you feel like you know everybody, especially astronauts. Well now, this is a fun exercise, but to show you how this stuff seeps into culture and has a life of its own. These are people that sort of borrowed and they borrowed heavily. Actually, it's sad when you think about it. So Saturn tell I say that they are copying. But what is more obvious is the font. This one ended up in court. We had nothing to do with it. It was NASA taking them to task. The reality is over the years I had to go to court a number of times to defend our logo being appropriated by somebody else. Even after it was scuttled. This is Boeing, and one of the jumbo jets, just borrowing the hell out of it. No problem. And now, Barbara and I were driving and this van pulls up next to me. It was on the tail of something. I don't know what it is. What you can see here, is what the logo looks like with cross strokes. In the original presentation in NASA, he had trouble with the logo, and he asked, what's the problem? There are no cross strokes in the A? Yeah. And he says, what his wrong with that. And he said, I don't think we are getting our money's worth. Think about that. All right, point being that we came a long way from that day. They did accept it and promote it. This is a TV series, called expanse, and the uniform patch has some familiarity. And our friend mat D A M O N borrows the font in some measure. This is a young Austin tailor, who you know, he's three years old here, it was 1983, he has his little shuttle, and his mother baked him a space cake, and he's a terrific fan. He's all grown up now, and he ordered several reissue books. This is him in the New York subway. A few week back. I'm not sure with an it represents. It's all awfully pretty. Okay. So let's leave NASA behind for a moment. What I wanted to say is, we will looker at some other style guides now briefly. But maybe now you can appreciate now, I have been to outer space in a way, to the moon in back. But I was born in 1934. And no Oklahoma. And I was raised on a farm there. So, it was the middle of the great depression and it was dust bowl okay Oklahoma. So make you can appreciate the track I have had. And why my memoir was called dust bowl so Austin. So one of the things with did some years later was a yearlong event for D U P O N T and the theme was shaping our future. This was a major science symposium. A big deal, internationals and we designs the poster for it. And we carried over at the bottom, it had the same feeling, but by using the diamond. And then we wrote guidelines for a lot of people and now we had at least three our five products that would be documented and sent to people. Because there were many many agencies that worked on the project. We did the D O T, which was a massive program it incorporated railroads and highways. And then we did the F A A. We had one of the first presidential awards for design excellence for NASA. And I was privileged to go to Washington to receive it from Ronald Reagan. This was part of the F A A program, they have 30 different aircraft are here are some schematics for them. The finished DC 9. This is a part of a program for Fashion Institute of Technology. Where I was a consultant for over 30 years for them and the guideline for them was change. The idea was everything for theme changed all the time. This was a book that went to high school. In their fiftieth year, this was the palate of colors we used and we did a series of apparel for sale. There was very very actively sales for clothing that year. I really enjoyed this, it's a Brazilian company, they were huge steel manufacturer. And they do construction projects all over the World. Here is the manual. It's a spiral manual. It was very beautiful inside. It was unique, in that it was in English and Portuguese. How many of you work in Portuguese. It's a difficult language. And I usually try to learn the language. But no way. Even getting the written form right was different. There was that and here is the end result of that. I just like the people so much, and I have done for the final presentation, and it was one of the nicest presentations we ever had. And every one had their earphones on and they were translating into French and English what I was saying. This is a style guide for Pratt and Whitney. The jet general manufacturer. He figured out what bound their stuff together is the circle. So the oldest symbol was the eagle. So we decided to keep that going and in all these publications used the circle and it made a cohesive program and then there are the usual font and style guide too. Here is a manual for a company that specialized in marine shipping. And the logo was a derivation was an admiral's piping on the uniform. This is their headquarters in lower Manhattan. And we did six issues of this new magazine, and then prepared written guidelines and sort of like, do it like that. Just follow it. They did a great job. There is a program for the cape S Y M ph O N Y oh, R C H E S T R A. Gnat written guidelines to go over things already published. This is one of the later efforts. Kid knowledge is a new teaching technique for kindergarten through 3rd grade. You see the double K. There were about ten, I think, of these application, which could be rotated and done in different ways. The black kit in the middle is the teacher's manual. And the little kids that are front to back are reflecting the K K. This was fun and had some neat music. Much of my life I have been immersed in music. And now I'm on the board of the Napa valley jazz society and we do live shows and we did two concerts for them. And I did templates for the other shoes. This is Claire Danes from San Francisco, a great singer. And this is A O J medal. It was a great honor to receive that medal. The next year, which would have been last year, he was surprised to get the call when they asked me to design all the material materials for the next gala. As you see I go back to an idea I'm well versed in. And the reason I do that is that is the night all our stars come out. We use that as an anchor for everything. We acquired all these images for NASA. At the top you see, about 30 or 40 web items. In the center is the trip tic invitation to the event and the 40 page program for the evening. It was a tremendous honor. It was done in a huge hurry, about a month and a half and that it was twenties thousand designers, that they picked an 80 year old. There was nothing printed it was built around this typeface. And the celestial image, we furnished that. As well, 40 beautiful beautiful, images in high res, so the other designers involved in the event itself which was spectacular, that night we got lucky, after a brutal winter in Manhattan, it was a starry night it was too beautiful for words. So this really worked. And on the bottom you will see some of those products. Now here, I wanted to say, this is you reissue, it just came out. If anybody here wanted it, I hope you got it. But to say something about J E S S E reed, they worked for my friend in the pentagon office and they have been on a kick of honoring iconic pieces of mid century design. And they have done it spectacular job and it's been a wonderful relationship. And this book has been just, on May 3rd we will be in New York and it will be a retail book. For anybody who missed it the first time around, you will be able to do that. A really neat over lay on it, as I speak, this very often, not these guys, but two French designers are creating a French version of it, and it's in French as a teaching tool for high school and college. They started their kick start campaign. And we are very excited about that. I should mention also for a program that died for these last 24 years and really for a whole 42 years, it's hardly a month goes by that I don't gate call from some publishers or someone who wants background on it. So the beat goes on. So it's not something I ever expected and it launched a speaking tour too. Which is kind of fun. Yeah, that's it. Well it enough. Regardless it's enough. And basically, I wanted to say thank you to you all, and Friday afternoon, glad you hung in, and say what I wanted to say, on ward.

[Applause]

Chris:

That was great. Thank you. For talked with us. Before it existed. We can start with NASA, you said yourself there was some pioneers involved. It was a new thing. What was it like before? It must have had some branding first? Could you tell it needed a house cleaning.?

Richard:

Well yeah, they had a process, national endowment of the arts, was behind that. They would collect all the material from the agency and then brought in a panel of the professionals. No one that was involved in the bidding on the job. I think that first program they had about eight people invited to submit art piece. And then that's.

Chris:

You were the winner of the eight.

Richard:

Yeah we won. I think one of the reasons we won is was Bruce designed the by centennial. It put us in the strong position it was brand new and everybody knew it. So everybody helped our cause. The subsequent programs later. After we did the F A A, we were up to about 30 firms they would invite. We would win because of our track record. Anyway, with NASA, they pulled all this stuff together, and it was very tacky.

Chris:

Really? Was there a pricing war?

Richard:

Not on the art piece no. Actually, the submission was strictly a word. There were no visuals. So you had to respond with what you thought needed to be done, and you talked about your credentials.

Chris:

Really? Just a paragraph?

Richard:

Yeah. It's like going to prison or something. In fact there were a little side story on that, we had a secretary who was essentially blind, we loved her, but she could not type because she could not see. So the R A P had white out. And the thing was covered in white out and I think it added pounds to it. But we got accepted it anyway. But NASA was very poor. It was really 11 disparate centers who all resented orders. They were independent and jealous of each other. It was quite a state. And the problems went on for years and years because they reap resented he went out the Washington. You would think they were leading edge.

Chris:

Did it pull them together after?

Richard:

Well it never did. You can see we got results. About you that was schism between the old guard and the young employees. All the young people, almost to a person loved the new one and the old ones were hanging on. Sort of the fly boy era.

Just fly around a great speed kind of guys. That really was never settled.

Chris:

There is a solution to that situation. This was on everything.

Richard:

It had probably the most public base certainly of any public agency and better than most corporations. You would be hard pressed, to match that. It was I B M. Because it was manned space flight. That pulled people together and they were glued to the whole idea. It was very exciting.

Chris:

When you got the job they were so ready to take your work and start working.

Richard:

They did and we got to implement it quickly. There is always the issue for this.

Chris:

What did you bill for that?

Richard:

It would not believe how low it was.

Chris:

I was worried.

Richard:

I would say in general we were making quarter of what a corporate would pay. It never got better. On the last program it was still the same $34 an hour.

Chris:

After the that the subsequent clients paid double.

Was there push back, or any battles? Or fights?

Richard:

Well the centers were, I have several relatives who work for NASA, and they resented everything. They were very talented so they kind of resent things. Anybody coming around. There is an engineering mentality there, and a lot of engineers, you work with many of them. The sense was that anything you can do I can do better. I don't think they ever really coveted it. But then they settled down and the stuff was beautifully rendered of the and the public saw it quickly, and they got the automatically coverage. There was no graphic designers. There were a lot of technically illustrators. There was not a high respect for design. That changed and we got them to hire an internal graphics coordinator in Washington.

Chris:

That you had to push H E L V E T I C A through congress.

Richard:

Make I misconstrued that. We had another congressional approval, because they had a public face and it was important, there was no agency that had this advantage, and the public could not get enough of it. So they got approval far two colored letter head.

Chris:

Threes would have been pretty far out post NASA, were you style guy with the phone ringing?

Richard:

I think almost everything we touched after that were a lot of program even at the state or corporate level. And then they were automatic style guides were produced. Some were spiral binding or stapled. And in the last few years, we did mostly electronic. It's interesting because I have been talked to other designers, and especially Jesse, and I said, what does this mean, it's a big movement back to style guides. And I said, are you doing physical manuals? And he said, yep, we tried it electronically for years, but we went back to something people can hold in their hands.

Chris:

It's are binder iconic

Richard:

you can replace the things you had, we did supplements for years, and it made it very flexible. It's a workbook. They could photocopy it or something.

Chris:

When you see design systems today of similar scope, are you like, people doing a good job? You see delta, or something?

Richard:

I stay out of those arguments of the I haven't seen anything better than what they replaced. United in an example of that. Delta, it's like crash test people. They put so much stuff to the tail, it likes like it's disintegrating. It should look like air flow. Natural. So there is a lot of showing off. And I supposed there is a manual behind ever one. I don't know if that's your question. Their tendency is to treat it more like our whole society treats everything. Our attention span is almost gone, shot.

Chris:

Mean is.

Richard:

There was a reference this morning, that a trademark or brand can't last very long. It's disposable. We were always about permanent. Most of the thing you saw for year. It's kind of back now, and that's encourages. I think what is happening in the world, on the web, and we are totally computer based from day one from what they were introduced, there were so many tricks you can get into. They make the marks so much more complicates just because they could. And what's happened is you probably talked about this plenty because of the small mobile device, it's forcing designers to going back to simpler solutions. Everything that goes around comes around.

Chris:

Do you think that 30, 40 years, some of you will be in a conference with an alien language?

Richard:

I apologize for that. There is so much tweaking. As a society, one of the things you have to appreciate about what we did in that era, and in some degree, in the current times because I still work every day, you are trying to create something that has value and that lasts want today is so complex, you can see from your teams there are so many people that have to be involved. A lot of our work is intuitive. It's gut stuff. You solve things, the intelligence is there, and in the end you did it your way, but that can't apply to the world we are talking about now. In other words you could almost operate in a vacuum alone. Today to do a retail website, for Wal Mart, something of that scale, it requires hundreds of people to be involved.

Chris:

And you were five.

Richard:

We were grew to 60 in New York. That's still small. I think that this will all out. I wrote the piece about the awkward state of design, but eventually it will all come around. And it will be okay.

Chris:

Thank you Richard.

[Applause]

Jina Anne:

Thank you so much Richard.