Fast Company

London, We Have a Problem: U.K. Space Logo Proves Graphic Design Is Rocket Science

Austin Powers

Three...Two...One...Liftoff!

Well, from a graphic design standpoint, not exactly.

Last week Great Britain announced the formation of a new space agency. At the event Science and Innovation Minister, Lord Drayson, said: "The action we're taking today shows that we're really serious about space. The U.K. Space Agency will give the sector the muscle it needs to fulfill its ambition." Britain's space industry can grow to £40bn a year and create 100,000 jobs in 20 years." This all sounds exciting, but the new agency's logo unveiled at the event is nothing to cheer about.

U.K. Space logo

The design recipe is simple, right? Take a square, add a Union Jack, thrust an arrow through it and BAM!

This logo is anything but tasty. The net result looks terribly fractured and unstable. Not the ideal visual for space flight.

To make matters worse, the U.K. Space Agency will have the inevitable and unfortunate acronym "U.K.S.A." which sounds like something translated into Pig Latin.

In Britain's defense, this mark just joins the other less-than-stellar logos representing space agencies from other nations.

NASA logo

Some find the NASA "meatball" endearing.

NASA

I never have and prefer the "worm" logo designed by the firm Danne & Blackburn in 1975, for its cool technical feel.

logos

Logos from Canada, Russia and China just lack design merit and look like they were designed "in house." (According to Brand New, the U.K. logo was not designed in-house but by Oxfordshire firm Folio Creative.)

Considering the thrill, magnitude and nobility of space exploration, who cares what graphic is put on the side of a rocket. But given the mission critical demands the space industry places on every detail of their work, I only wish that graphic design wasn't bottom on their list.

A great logo won't make a spacecraft fly faster or better. The logo is for the public to love and must communicate the bold ambitions of these important programs. Governments should employ world-class designers to create world-class logos. If not, maybe they should give Hollywood a try. They know how to get people excited about the future.

Read more of Ken Carbone's Yes to Less blog
Browse blogs by other
Expert Designers

Ken Carbone is among America's Most respected graphic designers, whose work is renowned for its clarity and intelligence. He has built an international reputation creating outstanding programs for world-class clients, including Tiffany & Co., W.L Gore, Herman Miller, PBS, Christie's, Nonesuch Records, the W Hotel Group, and The Taubman Company. His clients also include celebrated cultural institutions such as the Museé du Louvre, The Museum of Modern Art, The Pierpont Morgan Library, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the High Museum of Art.

Add New Comment

18 Comments

  • Pommie Knight

    I've nothing against the arrow at all or, at least, the principle of having an arrow in the patch. However, I don't think that swapping the red and blue stripes at the bottom of the flag makes it quirky, just disjointed.

  • Vincent Cataldi

    I write this because I smell a Rat!
    Why BLAST this 'logo', , ... why?

    GRAPHICALLY: this is Sweet !

    Use of "white space" is Old Fashion 'spot on';

    Symbolism is 'proactive',

    "Lets Go Right: - ".... and up , UP!"
    and that's the PlaN: 'hanng on, fear not',,
    (... no, "... and then Keep going Right, no
    ... and then ... ?").

    Sweet ! IMO !

    Colors are Primary aspects of any 'design',
    These Define 'Primary'. - and are Primary;
    (Hint): where is the green; hey? ... we are,

    WE, Life at the - centralized focal source.

    InWard or OutWard is our Option, contingently;
    clockwise & anti_clockwise, ' from where?' ? ;
    at all variant degrees spherically, at least.
    ... and its' reverse, ,... at the same time,
    ... almost ?... almost but for a very tiny probability

    ...

    we are "WRON-G-A ZunTight",
    ' excuse Me please!'. a bug! ..?
    ...

    Put 'That' In an Image - this image - It self 'Directs'

    'Heck', I See growth, and perhaps Growth;
    "We" can do "IT", as a 'Team';
    - reflect convergence to divergence
    - if we trust our Heart.

    Look again; Focus is UpWard;

    WITH "Reality" - sifted through 'realities';

    complex angular precision, of singularity
    induced hyper-bolic changes parsed
    sequentially for retrieval.

    ... yet filtered ; 'snif'.

    HEY ALL - None of US or Us are Right
    - we all got it wrong somewhere,

    We Are SOLID in Structure,
    and need to differentially-harmonically,

    defy 'LOGIC',

    but, only quantum level 'magic' please,
    and do so with "Conscience" and 'nothing up your sleeve'.

    This is Quality Design, IMO.

    symmetries here are 'imperfect' ly balanced..
    .. and this one seeks a secondary subsystem of symmetry

    ... which is symmetrically --> asymmetrical;

    yet they both are - calculable and precisely; 'perfectly'
    - opposed perfectly 'almost'.

    Helps me think - about the media, and reality:
    Lets Take Their Symbol and Beat them with It?, no?

    Remember: GRAPHICALLY: this is Sweet ! :)
    (hint): flip it once, ... we can blast out of the 'rIGHT'.

    vJc

  • Roy Cordell

    Your obvious prejudice against "in house" work ruins your credibility in criticizing anything. While the other space agency logos are poor symbols, blaming their low quality on someone "in house" is a cheap shot at every designer that chooses to work as an in house designer. Shame.

  • Tracey Hex

    The main problem I see is that the word "agency" seems stuck-on, arbitrarily.
    Me likey the logo.
    Me not impressed with logotype.

  • angela voulangas

    That is quite a good point about national imagery being out of place— it makes the scope of the logo seem disconcertingly small. There's a pleasant snappiness to it, but it does feel very local: the British express bus and space agency.

    The NASA meatball is, in my mind, 'dangerously' silly. It conjures up 1950s scifi dramas and retro naivete (cue the theremin sound effects). Nostalgic design reissues do not do any favors for a program trying to keep funding, remain relevant, and provide inspiration.

    --
    voulangas.com

  • Greg Hammond

    In response to Robert Day's comment, I knocked out a quick UK Space Agency logo concept for fun. Feel free to send me your comments:

    http://greghammond.com/portfol...

    I actually like the visual design of the UK Space Agency logo, but I'm not crazy about the placement of typography - doesn't seem to fit the graphic well.

  • Gary Sanchez

    This reads like yet another hit piece. One of the oldest and commonest tricks to gain cheap acceptance is to trash something for subjective reasons that don't need to be defended. So, please, feel hit by me for your hit piece.

  • David Symons

    The logo looks great - it immediately conveys the intent and the pride of ownership. The wording underneath will probably remain "UK SPACE", which is concise and sounds great as well (not the proposed acronym). Think of "My Space" with galactic aspirations. Some may interpret it as a tongue-in-cheek British claim ... I like it!

  • Ronald Paredes

    Are we in presence of another fiasco from UK?, after the big disappointment of the London 2012 Olympics logo, now we have this.

    This is a really pretty logo and probably that its biggest problem, seem like is nothing more than that and of course this is not enough. Arrows have been for ages the easiest way to resolve a logo, so enough of that, I would personally feel ashamed as a designer to have a logo in my portfolio with an arrow.

    This is probably one of the easiest solution to this brief, we have the union jack, the colors and the pointing arrows, "...a logo to go, right away!!!"

    A logo for a new space agency should be a chance for hundreds of options other than some pointing up arrows. And not to mention the technical problems of balance and composition.

  • Martin Elneff

    @Robert Day: You asked for examples before criticism. So I posted one here: http://elneff.com/?p=109 (It's a few years old, but I hope it give me the right to criticize now).

    It always disappoints me when patriotism gets in the way of our imagination. Especially when it happens in an age where space travel is no longer a symbol of a single country’s achievement or status. Boasting may have been the main priority in the sixties, but today we face a new age where we are truly pioneering and exploring our solar system. And in this reality I believe that observing is more important than claiming, and being an earthling is more important than which country you are from.

  • Frank Wendeln

    Oh, I forgot to mention that one major problem with the UK logo is the off-centered text will make for a lousy patch. Space Programs LOVE patches. You think that was a joke in Armageddon the importance of Brice Willis sending back his patch to grounded Billy Bob? No way, that's an honor to receive.

  • Frank Wendeln

    I love the NASA Meatball, but I love the designs from that era. A friend of a friend had to redraw the logo for NASA as a vector graphic. I never cared for the worm, I probably thought it cool in the late 70's/early 80's when it was introduced but it has an outdated feel to it now. The Meatball is retro and the swash gives it the feel of flight.

    Rob Jengehino stated what I like about the logo, it's movement and shaky action, though from the ground, only the flame and smoke are imperfect and only the astronaust feel the shaking. That's why arcs are usually used in space logos, because that's the representation of trajectory and orbit.

    Also as noted, the pronunciation of the agency wouldn't be UKSA, it would be like You Kay Space. OK Not as elegant as ISS, either (International Space Station).

    Go to the NASA Flickr page (You can find it through Facebook) The upcoming mission parodies the movie posters for Armageddon and Reservoir Dogs.

  • Tim Johnson

    This logo is problematic - a lot of sort of jarring movement, and the symbols are like "duh, no kidding." But it's a hell of a lot better than the NASA meatball. The NASA worm is a great logo, and why it's not primary is beyond me.

    As for Robert Day's question, why would anyone bother "taking shots at it" ourselves? Logo design is how designers make money. UKSA has already paid for this. They aren't going to pay someone else to do it again. Besides, you don't happen to have a copy of the design brief, do you?

    --
    Tim Johnson, President
    Coactive Brand Lab
    Brand Designer, Marketing and Communications Expert

    www.coactivebrandlab.com

  • Rob Jengehino

    I like the UK logo. I like that they tied in the Union Jack. It makes it very recognizable as being a UK agency. It has great movement and is certainly, IMHO, more creative than the NASA logo.

  • Robert Day

    So much criticism, but no attempts of your own? It's easy to hate on logos, and I'm not saying these are good, but maybe take some shots at it yourself!

  • Fredrik Stai

    Reminds me of the good ol' times when designing a logo was usually done by an enthusiastic insider, probably of the more nerdier, technical kind. I suspect something like that is what's happened to most of these logos.