NASA releases its graphic standards manual
06 Oct 2015


NASA Graphics standard manual

Recently NASA made their 1975 graphics standards manual available to the public. This is the manual that incorporated the use of the iconic font known unofficially as “the worm” (The cool sleek lettering that used curved lines to make up the words).

nasa worm vs meatballThe original logo used by NASA (known as the meatball) was used from 1959 up until the Federal Graphics Improvement Program in 1974 which was undertaken in order to update the visual identity of government agency logos with the aim of making them more appealing to the public. One of the agencies included was of course NASA.

It was Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn who created the updated designs for NASA in response to this program using a sleek minimalistic font for the rebranding (the worm). This drastically different design was met with a mixed response from staff at NASA. For example there was the now-famous exchange between James Fletcher, NASA’s administrator at the time, and his deputy, George Low, during an early presentation of the graphics system:

Fletcher: I’m simply not comfortable with those letters, something is missing.

Low: "Well yes, the cross stroke is gone from the letter A."

Fletcher: "Yes, and that bothers me."

Low: "Why?"

Fletcher, after a long pause: "I just don’t feel we are getting our money’s worth!"
Nasa uniforms It didn't help that there was no official announcement on when the branding change would roll out, it was only officially known when every centre director in NASA was sent a box of updated stationary that was covered in the the updated worm font, which only added to the feeling that the rebranding was being forced upon employees.

Unfortunately this division in sentiment for the worm never really went away, and in 1992 the meatball design was reinstated in order to invoke a sense of nostalgia for the days of the Apollo missions. Public interest in space travel had been waning, and they thought reverting to the old logo would help to reignite it. However, even with the reversion back to the previous logo, the worm font is still painted on some of the older hangers around NASA as well as on the hubble space telescope (They can't exactly repaint something floating through space!)
NASA Hubble Space Telescope

Luckily NASA has released the entire Graphics Standard Manual for public use via a PDF which you can find here. It includes outlines for where to use the font and logo in various situations, like which typeface to use on mastheads and letterheads, or the correct placement of insignias on vehicles (for the record, it's ideally just below and to the left of the handle on the driver’s side!).
nasa cars

Apparently one of the trickier aspects of insignia placement during the creation process of the logo was where branding could be placed on a space shuttle so that it could be easily photographed but also did not affect the heat resistant tiles used on the craft.


NASA shuttle smaller

Due to the fond memories associated with the branding NASA used during this time, there has been a successful Kickstarter campaign to have a hardback version of the manual released. It's scanned from Richard Danne’s original copy of the document. Check it out here.
We can't help but find all of this really interesting (and can't wait to get our hands on a physical copy of the manual!). If you feel the same way you can download the entire design manual as well as a reproduction of the worm font for free here:

Nasa subscription banner

What do you guys think, do you prefer the worm or the meatball? Are you as excited as we are to get a physical copy of the manual? Let us know in the comments!!

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