Some logos, wordmarks, and icons are so universally identifiable we might take them for granted. We lose sight of the fact that these designs often started from humble beginnings, with a human taking pencil to paper and dashing off a quick sketch. NASA’s “Worm Logo” is right up there with the best in this category.
The NASA Worm Logo: you know it, you love it. How could you not? Designed in 1974 by Richard Danne in partnership with Bruce Blackburn, the futuristic Worm Logo succeeded NASA’s Meatball Logo, created by James Modarelli in 1959. The Meatball ousted the Worm once more in 1992, only for the Worm to be revived in 2020. The good-natured debate wages on to this day:
Worm vs. Meatball.
My colleague Steven Heller staked his claim last week on the occasion of NASA honoring Danne at its DC headquarters with a media event about the insignia’s nearly 50-year history. To get in on the celebration, I had a few questions for Danne, which he answered below.
How does it feel being the brain behind a logo as iconic and culturally significant as the NASA Worm Logo?
In a word: Thrilling!
Having served as NASA’s external design director for almost ten years, it’s so rewarding to see its staying power and current popularity in the United States and the world. And my nearly 50-year NASA relationship is truly exceptional.
No one ever knows how long a Mark will hold up, but we knew this would serve the Agency for many decades to come.Richard Danne
Do you remember the moment the core concept of the Worm Logo came to you? How did it develop? Did you immediately know that you’d created something brilliant, or was that more of a surprise?
This logotype and its evolution in our Danne & Blackburn studio was arduous and definitely not a quick-hitting surprise.
Back in 1974, the mountain of current visual material supplied to us by NASA was almost overwhelming. And, by any standard, poor! There were no designers at Headquarters or any of the Centers. So Bruce and I went back and forth and kept simplifying our symbols and logotypes as we tried to make them work in all two and 3-dimensional applications: from publications to signs to rockets and space vehicles! We even designed to survive the mediocre printing from GPO back then.
We just kept refining until we had a strong, progressive mark that spoke for aeronautics and space exploration. We had decided early on to present only one solution and back it up with multiple applications to show it was a real Program, not just a badge. It was the analog age, so Bruce (the lead designer) rendered the final logotype solution in a Pentel pen, and we were airborne!
No one ever knows how long a Mark will hold up, but we knew this would serve the Agency for many decades to come.
My greatest satisfaction comes from seeing apparel, sporting the Worm, worn by young people around the world.Richard Danne
What is the magic of the Worm Logo? Why has it stood the test of time in this way, and why do you think people love it so much?
It’s very hard to explain. It’s so simple (timeless design is always my focus). It’s a no-frills solution, but it still speaks for technology and innovation; it’s strong and still speaks to the future. It’s telegenic and can be read from miles away! My greatest satisfaction comes from seeing apparel sporting the Worm worn by young people around the world. It has that universal appeal, which bodes extremely well for NASA going forward.
Fellow colleague John Van Dyke said recently: “This logo is so great, it’s good for another 50 years!”