Ask not what your country can do for you

Last week Great Britain got a new space agency. The venture is ambitious, potentially generating 100,000 jobs and sparking an industry that can grow to £40bn annually. In the design community, however, it’s the identity that’s been getting all the Buz*.

Which I understand. The new logo isn’t exactly something I’d like to run away to Mexico with. When talking about space exploration I think I’d prefer something with a bit more security. This logo gives me frightening flashbacks to the Space Shuttle Challenger breaking up after take-off.

The real problem, however, is the idea of basing the logo on the Union Jack. When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, but never because of an inclination towards patriotism.

One could argue that kids don’t make very good astronauts, or astronomers, or firemen or designers for that sake. But looking at the perspective of space programs such as this one I’m pretty convinced that we need to catch the interest of the younger generation.

This was also emphasized in 2003 when we, at ping-pong Design, participated and won** a design competition aimed at developing the new logo for Dutch Space. A central element in our work was to stimulate young people to take a closer look at science. Contrary to popular belief, we found that this interest didn’t start with technology. It started (and still starts) with opening your eyes, looking up, and wondering.

Our initial proposal (and please bear in mind that these are only sketches) was based on the image that you would see looking up at the sky from a typical Dutch suburban home. We didn’t need the flag. Instead, we let the sky create the image of a map of the Netherlands…

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.

* aka. Edwin Aldrin

** The final design ended up being a black tulip, the unachievable goal of the Dutch tulip economy. This proposal was discarded by Dutch Space when it was discovered that”Black Tulip” was also the synonym used for Russian hearse-planes flying body-bags back from Chechnya.