Today has been a day I have been anxiously waiting for months for a few reasons. The first, I can’t keep secrets, the second, I got to meet an astronaut, and third, this project is nearly finished. Now let me start from the beginning all the way back to October.
Last semester back in October I chose to take a semester long design project course, unfortunately the first one I chose I was told would be too difficult for me as it was entirely in German and at the time I don’t think I could even properly introduce myself to someone in German. So the professor suggested another class she thought I would be good in that wasn’t filled up yet. I didn’t know anything about it other than we were making a logo for some company. Little did I know then that this would become probably the most defining thing of my experience here in Germany, and one incredibly unique addition to my portfolio.
Our project was going to take the whole semester, we had about 12 or 13 people in the class but by the end we only had 9 people because a few dropped out. We were going to work with Deutsches Zentrum für Luft - und Raumfahrt (DLR – The German Aerospace Agency) and the European Space Agency (ESA). Now you’re probably thinking, why would space agencies need graphic designers, well because everyone needs graphic designers. They wanted us to create a logo for a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in spring of 2018. The logo would be used for many things but the main one was for the patch that would be worn by the astronaut for the duration of the mission. Our class was going to create between 4-8 logos to present to Alexander Gerst, the German astronaut who would be leading this mission. To make this even more exciting this would be his second trip to the ISS and for part of the mission he would become the commander of the ISS. Making him the first German commander of the ISS and only the second ESA commander. Gerst will be commanding the station on the 2nd spaceflight of Expedition 57.
Now I secretly am a space nerd, science has never really been my thing but I have always loved space. As with making any logo you need to really do your research and do it well. We are designing something for scientists about science, if something isn’t correct they will know and so we had to be prepared. After two weeks of intense research we all learned a lot and were ready to start the next phase. Our next phase was the “Rough Concept” we took a few weeks to start sketching and narrowing ideas down and eventually we each had our own ideas we were developing. After several weeks in the rough concept phase we moved onto the “Fine Concept” phase. We tweaked and made small changes for weeks on our logos to make them perfect, we even had representatives from ESA come to our class and we presented to them our work so far so they could see if we were on the right track. We developed mock ups and images of our logos in use in different ways and up until the last few weeks we all had really been working separately. Now we had to come up with a way to present them to Alexander Gerst in a way that showed our logos in the best way possible but the same so that they would all be presented equally.
Finally, the day came and we were ready to send our logos to Alexander Gerst. This was nerve wracking and exciting for all of us we didn’t know if he would like any of them or if he would like them all. We didn’t know what was going to happen. Our original plan was to go to Cologne, Germany and meet him and present our logos. Due to his very busy schedule with training for the mission and flying back and forth from the United States, it wasn’t much of a surprise when we found out that we couldn’t go and meet to present our logos. He was given a document that had all of our logos and so we just had to wait for a response. On the day we were supposed to hear back about the logos our professor contacted us and said he was headed to cologne to discuss the logos and would get back to us later. Alexander Gerst loved all of our logos, but unfortunately as it was his decision about the logo he didn’t feel any of them were exactly what he had wanted.
Finding out that none of our logos were chosen was difficult, our professor would be working with them yet to develop the new and final logo. At this point our semester had ended, and our next task was to create a really strong documentation for our logos to see the whole process from start to finish. Weeks went by and we worked on the documentation in our free time, but we had little contact with our professor and didn’t know what was going on with grades and a deadline to finish our documentation. Finally, the spring semester started, we finished our documentation the best that we could but we needed feedback from our professor. We found out he had been sick and in the hospital, which was the reason for the lack of contact, but the new logo was well in progress.
We finally got word that the logo was finished and they were planning a press release event and our class was all invited. We only had about a two week notice about the event and so unfortunately most of my classmates couldn’t attend the event. So me and one other student made our way to Cologne, Germany to meet up with our professor for the event.
It was 95 degrees and sunny, and if you have ever been to Germany in the summer you know that air conditioning is scarce. We arrived early and chatted with a few of the people our professor knew and got our seats right in the front row. They started off by having a few important people speak leading up to Alexander Gerst coming up to introduce the name and the plan for the mission. Our professor was then asked onto the stage to help reveal the logo and speak a bit about it before ending it with questions for Gerst about the mission. After Gerst was finished with questions, me and the other student were invited on stage to take a photo with Alexander Gerst and meet him in front of the press. Gerst was then scurried off for interviews with unicef and other news agencies, and we were approached by some journalists to get our names and answer a few questions about the logo and our thoughts.
Since the beginning I knew that this was going to be a once in a life time opportunity for me, I took it head on and did the absolute best I could so no matter what the outcome I would have a unique project to add to my portfolio that I am incredibly proud of. To make this experience even better, even though Gerst did not choose any one of our logos he will still be bringing our logos to space with him and taking photos with them so our designs can still go to space.
Here is the final logo for the Horizons mission 2018. Since Alexander Gerst did not choose any specific one of our designs, they decided to take pieces and inspiration from all of our logos to create the final logo. The logo has many parts that can mean many things. The arc in the center represents a rocket flying into space, to the ISS, to the moon, to mars, and beyond into infinity. The arc begins with the German flag. There is a face that is looking up and into the stars and the future. The Eye of the face is a bird flying over a horizon, reminding me of looking out onto the ocean and seeing a bird flying on the horizon. The blue arc represents the atmosphere of the earth and the white touching it is if it is clouds covering the earth. Lastly, we have the ISS represented next to the name of the mission in the ESA font.
Overall this logo has many more meanings than one can tell from looking at it. For each student involved in the project there was some inspiration taken from each of us. What was taken from my logo is the human aspect, from the start I wanted the astronaut represented in my logo from the start, the way I did it was with the shape of a helmet, and here in this logo it is the face and the way the arc mimics the outline of the helmet. Alexander Gerst said for this mission he feels like a ship captain going off somewhere and exploring something new, for this that’s the representation of the horizon and the bird flying over the ocean, you feel like you are looking off into the ocean and the unknown.
This is the logo that I created. Like the logo above there is a lot to see and interpret from the logo. First the shape, the overall shape is to represent the helmet used during space walks. The outer arc, is the horizon of the earth. The inner arcs represents the mars and the moon horizons. These two symbolize the research going into exploring our horizons and beyond, building the moon village, and traveling to mars. These shapes are also roughly proportionate of the size of the planets to one another. Next is the visor of the helmet, and that is the sun, hidden within the edge of the sun is the colors of the German flag, which is also represented again along the bottom edge of the logo.
When starting this project I liked the concept of connecting the human to space some how, and not just creating something with planets and rockets and things that had been done in the past. I wanted to keep my colors simple for printing, I limited myself to 12 colors plus black and white making it in total only 14 different colors. Trying to keep the shapes simple, yet understandable was a little difficult but in the end it started to work. As students this was a huge learning opportunity for us, we were challenged with working with a corporate design style, the reality of transferring our designs to print in an affordable and uncomplicated way. I am unbelievably proud of this logo, this project, the people, and this mission that I have been working with. No matter the ups and downs and hurdles we had to go through on the way, I would do it again in a heartbeat and I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world.
Check out the rest of my the work I did for this project on my Horizons project page.
The press conference was filmed live, watch it here:
Alexander Gerst News Conference: Mission 2018
Here is an interview of me and some of the other students discussing our roles in the making of the logo.
Here are some published news articles about the news event:
- New Horizons for Alexander Gerst
- German astronaut Alexander Gerst announces 'Horizons' ISS mission
- Gerst bricht auf zu neuen Horizonten
- "Horizons" - die neue Mission von Alexander Gerst
- Horizons: h_da-Studierende gestalten Logo für Mission von ESA-Astronaut Alexander Gerst
- Darmstädter Studenten entwickeln Erkennungszeichen für ESA-Astronaut Alexander Gerst