Worms & Meatballs: Unearthing NASA’s (Old) New Identity

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I’m not usually one to tout a Kickstarter campaign on my beloved PRINT, but this particular project seemed too perfect an opportunity to pass up.

Pentagram designers Hamish Smyth and Jesse Reed started the campaign to reissue a gorgeous hardcover edition of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Graphics Standards Manual. That’s NASA, in case you glossed over the title.


Designed by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn of the New York design firm Danne & Blackburn in 1974, the book documents the evolution of brand standards for NASA’s logotype known as “the Worm.” As a result of the 1972 launch of the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Federal Graphics Improvement Program,” which aimed to improve visual standards across government agencies, the Worm was designed to replace NASA’s previous—and current—logotype known as “the Meatball.” Danne & Blackburn intended for it to create a cohesive visual identity for the administration. The new logo was first released on internal documentation, followed by the release of the NASA Graphics Standards Manual as a 8.5 x 11″ ring binder. In 1992, the Worm was rescinded by NASA and replaced with the prior Meatball. An appetizing saga, no?


The Worm and the Meatball

Alas, the Worm faded from collective memory. However, following the success of their latest Kickstarter design project, a reissue of the NYC Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manual, Smyth & Reed reached out to Danne and launched the campaign.

“As design nerds, we think the Worm is almost perfect, and the system behind it is a wonderful example of modernist design and thinking,” the Kickstarter page crows. “But for everyone, we think the Worm and its design system represent an agency whose goal is to explore space and push the boundaries of science. Where the Meatball feels cartoon-like and old fashioned; the worm feels sleek, futuristic, forward-thinking. All good things for a space agency at the bleeding-edge of science and exploration.”


In a recent announcement, the pair announced that the NASA Graphics Standards Manual will also include The Manager’s Guide by Richard Danne as a 22-page supplement to the book.

Filled with intriguing imagery and captivating illustrations, the full manual is a beautiful collection of ephemera for the print-minded creative—or the astronomy enthusiast.

Check out the Kickstarter here, and explore a lo-res pdf of the book here.

More images from the book—logotypes, standards and applications: