The case of NASA’s famous, modern “worm” logo designed by Danne & Blackburn is an interesting exception. Rather than being superseded by a contemporary revision, the worm was replaced by a revival of the logo that came before it. Apparently many people with lots of influence preferred the NASA logo from their youths, and they brought back what is commonly referred to as “the meatball.”
All of which gave me occasion to revisit the worm in detail, and to realize that, as it turns out, I don’t like it very much. Though it was in fact the logo that I grew up with, looking at it now closely, I realize that it’s really not that spectacular a piece of branding. It’s better than the meatball, that’s for sure, but it just doesn’t invoke anything in me other than nostalgia for the Modernist past.
Which I think is the secret to its ongoing appeal to designers; it echoes a time when design was, if not more powerful, then more aspirational than it is today. Not that I think the logo is an effective conveyance of the dream of space; rather I think the worm represents the aspiration that all human endeavors, even the most ambitious, can be expressed within the constrained visual vocabulary of modernism. Looking at the logo as it appears in the photographs above, what comes to mind is not the idea of reaching beyond man’s limits, but the idea of incorporating the heavens into an enterprise, a system that reflects mid-Twentieth Century business practices. Seen this way, the worm actually feels quite unambitious, like a poor reflection of NASA’s lofty goals. The meatball needs to go, but the worm is not the answer.
Update 10 Sep 2015: NASA has just made a PDF version of this standards manual available for free download at nasa.gov.