Retired NASA engineer Joe Chambers was asked by his wife to look through his ever-growing collection of historical material to cull what had already been published and to clear out their house a little. When sifting through folders, Joe saw one labeled “NASA Insignias.” It formed the basis of a 2013 presentation at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

It’s three minutes in when Joe takes the podium.

Wings, Meatballs, Worms, and Swooshes: The Untold Story of the Origins of the NASA Seal and Insignia, on YouTube.

Found on the NASA website. Via Brian’s comment on the NASA logo evolution (in the archives).

Skip to 27:36 for the story on how the official seal was chosen in 1958, and its road to Presidential approval.

“Over 350 designs were submitted. They spent half a day arguing about the merits of all 350, and finally Glennan got up, pounded the damn table and said, ‘I’m gonna make the decision, we’re going with this one.’”

NASA seal

And skip to 34:28 to listen to how the “Worm” was introduced in 1975.

NASA worm

“Something looks strange about this. We’re not sure we’re happy with it.”

Interesting to see the letterhead NASA was using back in 1959. A bit too much space in the company name, mind you.

NASA letterhead 1959Image courtesy of Cooper Hewitt.


This is so great. Facinating to hear that The Worm was disliked. I can think of 2 other logos that had a similar reaction (Nike and Chase Bank). Goes to show how unglamarous it is to be a logo designer. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall to hear the conversations in detail.

I wonder if any uncertainty came because the Worm was outsourced to Danne & Blackburn, while the earlier seal was an in-house project. The mark was obviously a big change, but I can imagine people in NASA asking why they weren’t designing it.

I’ve always felt that the Allen Fleming’s Canadian National logo from the 60s set such a high bar for this type of wordmark. I’ve personally loved them both.
I think Allen had an easier time getting CN approved than Dane and Blackburn had with the worm.

David, I couldn’t agree more — “I can imagine people in NASA asking why they weren’t designing it.” Or “Why didn’t we thought of this.”

This kind of cases— NASA, Nike, and Chase Bank (as Ian mentioned)—amidst the brilliant new HP’s logo inspires me to trust my gut as a designer.

Just last year, we read the story of HP’s new premium logo as once a rejected mark; a mark designed by British creative agency Moving Brands.

This stories don’t surprise me; the two big questions are,
1. Are the big agencies that engage brand identity designers learning something from them?
2. What does it mean to designers?

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