Exercise 3

Exercise 3 – Writing the Brief

The NASA posters released this year featured 14 posters from a range of Illustrators,Designers and Artists from the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) division of NASA, based in California.  The artists involved approached the project, which was called ‘Visions of the Future’ with a view to celebrating the explorations of the exo planets by NASA.

The posters are all unique in their designs and in their approach to exploring and promoting the exo planet featured yet they all have a certain style in common.

The posters from the range that I wanted to focus on were The Grand Tour, Enceladus and Mars poster, all of which were designed by Don and Ryan Clark of Invisible Creature.

The brief for the designs appeared to be coming from a place of nostalgia and had a very retro feel to them.  They were very clean and clear designs, with a strong imagery focus and a coherent intent behind the message.


My first impression of them was ‘Wow! What colours!!’.  In particular I loved the implied speed and race to see something rare and exciting as demonstrated in The Grand Tour imagery.  The various styles of space craft also gave a lovely retro vibe to the poster and the lightness of the colour palette gave it a fun tone.  The colour scheme reminded me a lot of ‘The Jetsons’, a cartoon I would have seen in my youth.  It gave me the impression of possible futures and how you might spend your holidays with your family doing something amazing and in space.

The Enceladus poster had a more mature feel to it and the imagery included a couple with a well behaved dog so it gave the impression that this destination might be a slower paced one, so the audience for it might be older.

Mars was strong and a very busy design which gave me the impression that this was a mixed audience and possibly aimed at everyone.  School tours came to mind as a way to educate on the progress of colonization on the planet.  The inclusion of the robots that discovered the planet and sent back the first pictures of it were on the same level as the future astronaut that we imagine may end up there.   I got the impression of a nod to the film ‘The Martian’, as a way of saying that anything is possible.

Overall my impression of the brief was that it could have been outlined as follows:

The Grand Tour :

  • show the key planets that align for the this rare event of aligning once every 175 years.
  • use a colour scheme that evokes a sense of the 50s/60s to echo back to the peak time of excitement about space exploration and the excitement of discovering space.
  • Keep it simple in design and avoid using images of people
  • use posters from the 1950s/60s as inspiration

Enceladus :

  • show the key aspect or feature for this planet
  • keep it simple and clean
  • use posters from the 1950s/60s as inspiration

Mars :

  • demonstrate the exploration of this planet so far and what we have found there.
  • keep the design simple and use a palette that reflects the impression of the planet (red planet)
  • link the intention of colonization with relevant images
  • use posters from the 1950s/60s as inspiration

Based on research however, and using the pattern of activity for responding to a brief, this was the possible path that may have evolved for the project.

Receiving the brief

The brief was related to ‘Visions for the Future’ and the idea that we can be architects of the future by visualizing the possibilities of visiting, exploring and imagining what other planets are like.

The inspiration was taken from the Work Project Association Posters from the 1930s and 40s in America.  These posters were used for promoting events and the arts in seventeen states in America.  For this project it seemed that the style related to the national park posters were the focus.

Each poster had its own theme, depending on the planet or event it was depicting.  For The Grand Tour, Enceladus and Mars, the event, moon and planet were depicting very specific things respectively.

Enceladus, Saturns moon, was depicting the plumes that erupted from the south pole.  Mars was representing the discovery of possible life on another planet, in particular the presence of water and the suggestion of possible colonization.   The Grand Tour however, was depicting viewing a rare alignment of planets along a specific flight path, that occurs once only every 175 years.

Identifying key words

The Grand Tour – alignment, rare, flight path, repeat, Voyager 2.

Enceladus – plumes, moon, south, Saturn, ice.

Mars – possible future, water, discovery, robots, red planet.

Responding to words

The Grand Tour  – Voyager 2 had a specific type of design for the space craft, what will the future style of space crafts be?

Flight path could mean specific journey, flight path indicates busy traffic because of a popular destination.  Rare means expensive and therefore in demand and a very unique experience.

Enceladus  – Plumes can be elegant and graceful, moon is often associated with romance, the plumes contain ice.  Ice means cool, blue, white, clear, transparent and other gases could mean strange mix or effects.   Maybe the plumes act differently to plumes of smoke or erruptions?

Mars  – Red planet…but what type of red?  Water indicated to be present but is it the same as ours?  Does it look the same?  People respond to positive associations with words so the water has to be something we recognize on earth.  Robots beamed back the first image of Mars, it is essentially the first planet that has robots only on it! Can we live there?

Generating ideas

Using images from files and records held in NASA for reference, the team of illustrators and artists probably used them for inspiration.  They seemed to have generated ideas related to the concept that these exo planets could one day be visited and made to feel like home.  They most likely did a mind map or spider graph based on what words they  associated with each of the events or planets.

They most likely did a mood board or inspiration board that they associated with space.  As the brief did link in with the WPA poster design, I imagine they would have experimented with colours a lot and may have gathered a colour palette from images from space in NASAs files.   It did seem that they kept their colours in groups of 3 and 4, so complementary schemes would have been important.



WPA posters were strongly suggested as a design element to go with, so what does that involve?

Brief background on the WPA posters:

During the Great Depression of the late 1930s in America, a large number of artists found themselves out of work.  The Federal Arts Project was created as a relief measure aimed at employing  these artists.  Part of the project involved the creation of over 2000 posters by the Work Progress Administration.  These posters were designed to promote the arts and events in seventeen states in America.  The posters designed to promote Americas  national parks are amongst some of most famous designs from this period.

The artists were engaged with a wide range of commissions such as mural painting, sculpting, handcraft techniques such as book binding and block printing and many others.(see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Art_Project for more details).

Drawing ideas up

A number of ideas were drafted up by the group of artists involved and were reviewed, edited and revamped many times.  The concepts and revisions were numerous and underwent input from the JPL experts to ensure that were representing the exo planets accurately and any important details were noted correctly.

Choosing ideas

The ideas generated were originally just about focusing on the exo planets and celebrating NASAs study of them.  It wasn’t until the director of JPL went on holidays and saw a WPA poster(link to pinterest on posters that may have inspired) that the direction of the brief seemed to evolve into the more nostalgic retro design for the posters.  In particular it was the national park posters style that evoked this sense of exciting adventure and so that style was suggested in feedback as something to include in the poster design.

In the case of The Grand Tour poster, they were experimenting with the image when they discovered that the inverted image worked better and so they went with that.

Working within the given format and creating ‘thumbnails’

The style of the WPA posters for the national parks of America are very distinct and so the style and colour scheme were adapted from them and tweaked to be included with the designs already working.

As a result the limited colour palette and silk screen print method would imply that careful consideration of which colour would dominate was employed.  Thumbnails for layout would have been very important for exploring the tonal values of the image as well as the text and font size.  The final layout was important as keeping a flow in the image and ensuring the key information was legible and easy to follow was an essential component to making it a successful design.

Thumbnails would have given the artists a chance to play with the direction of the lines, the plumes and consider the size of objects relative to each other within the scheme.  In the posters there was limited areas for text and so it had to be clear and clean and easy to read.

Considering viewpoint, composition, content and Visuals

Composition, as mentioned earlier in relation to ensuring key information was conveyed clearly, is very important.  In The Grand Tour the eye is focused on movement, speed and a rare event so there is a race to see it. The eye was drawn to the spacecrafts and the various types used over the years are clearly lined up.  They were an important part of the composition, but the greatness of the planets is expressed in the size of each one relative to the spacecraft.

The lines of colour indicate a blurring effect from speed and the colours evoke a sense of fun and playfulness.

Enceladus has a darker colour palette but the eye is drawn to the observation deck with the couple and their dog.  They have a magnificent and unobstructed view of a spectacular display and the angle of the moon tilted to an 8 o’clock position just adds to the drama.

Mars was done more in an infographic style and its aim was to show the progress being made on the planet now, as well as the potential of living there in the future.  The black and white circles lead your eye around the poster to consider each element of progress and into the newer possibilities with water and plants and possible real life on Mars.  The text is in a warm yellow to add to the ‘heat’ and the main colour being red adds to the assumed public knowledge of Mars as the ‘red planet’.  The astronaut gives a nod to the Humans on Mars 2030 project while morse code through visual odometry spells out ‘JPL’.

Final artwork

The final artwork, after many revisions and considerations and plenty of experimentation, reveals 3 very different posters that have an overall common theme.  They’re also silk screen printed, which would make the colours stand out and give a professional and highly polished finish to the overall project.  They almost appear digitally made because the colours are so striking, so hearing that the final product was silk screen printed gave it a whole other level of respect.

The overall impression having reviewed the process from the research found, really shows how much consideration went into creating these posters.  They reworked and revised the designs continuously and asked for feedback from others on a regular basis and re-edited the work until it evolved into something that completely hit the brief.

They all reveal a place that you would want to visit and discover and these posters evoke a sense of wonder about the possibilities for the future in relation to space travel the future potential for space as a holiday destination.