November 16, 2021
Symbolizing a journey to a metal world: How the Psyche “badge” came to be
The Psyche mission “badge” was first developed in 2016, before the mission was selected for NASA’s Discovery Program. Since then, it has been called a “badge” or a “logo” or even a “mission identifier.” To the Psyche team, though, it is much more than that. It symbolizes our journey to a metal-rich world.
Branding has been used for centuries to identify a good or service. It’s typically thought to be an identifying symbol or mark that distinguishes it from all the other goods or services available to the public. Entities like Coca-Cola, Nike, Apple, and FedEx have logos that are recognizable throughout the world through their colors, typeface, and shape. And these companies closely guard their branding to maintain its integrity and meaning.
But branding is more than just colors, typeface and shape. Brands and their logos have an ultimate goal to create an emotional connection, like many might have with the NASA meatball, the Olympic rings, or the Nike swoosh.
In essence, branding represents a promise. While that promise might be adventure, or nostalgia, or safety, a successful brand creates an emotional connection and delivers on its promises.
In 2016, before Psyche was selected for NASA’s Discovery program, the Psyche mission’s Principal Investigator, Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, knew she wanted to have a strong brand for the mission. We were going on a journey and everyone was invited to come along.
Lindy had a designer in mind from the start: Michael Taylor, a freelance graphic artist from San Francisco whom she had worked with in the past on other logo projects.
To start the process, illustrations and concepts of the Psyche asteroid were shared with Michael, as well as descriptions and goals of the mission, including the hypothesis that Psyche may be the core of a planetesimal that had endured violent collisions.
The challenge Michael faced was to convey, in the small compact space of a badge, the uniqueness of this mission, how Psyche may have been formed, and what its composition might be. This was a tall order for a mission badge that had to be simple enough to be used on t-shirts, bookmarks, and social media accounts; but complex enough to encompass the meaning and purpose of the mission.
From there, Michael created and presented three concepts to consider, with various depictions of the asteroid:
Concept 1. Using Psyche’s symbol (depicted on the left and in several badge forms on the right):
Concept 2: Variations on the Widmanstätten pattern, found in iron-nickel meteorites:
Concept 3: A depiction of a planetesimal, separated internally into a rocky mantle and iron core that endured violent impacts, stripping away its mantle:
Ultimately, Concept 3 was selected for further refinement. From there, the designer provided several options for texture, color palette, and layout:
The badge on the far left, second row, was then selected from these refined options of the third concept. From there, an informal focus group of colleagues, friends, and family was solicited for their initial impressions of the selected concept.
In addition to changing the shape of the overall badge and eliminating the “16,” one comment that stood out from the focus group was that the badge looked too flat and that the negative space created a square shape that didn’t have mission or asteroid significance. With those comments in mind, Michael fine-tuned the badge to create a more rounded 3D look to the “core” depicted in the center of the logo, with convex and concave versions:
And lots of shading options:
The concave look was then selected and the color palette incorporated:
Michael then added a sans-serif easy-to-read font called “Knockout” by Hoefler & Co. , finalized the bright color palette, and the mission tagline, “Journey to Metal World,” was added around the outside of the badge (left). He also provided variations on the badge to be used on darker backgrounds (middle), and without words (right).
The badge is also available in a black/white version, when printing in color is preferred or possible:
This badge is now used on many Psyche mission-related communication and marketing items including reports, cover letters, websites, social media accounts, lanyards, presentations, postcards, books, artwork, banners, and various apparel.
It will even be on the Space-X Falcon Heavy rocket, with the NASA insignia, that will launch the Psyche spacecraft on its journey in August of 2022. We’ll all be looking up at that rocket, and that badge, knowing that we’re on our way to a type of world we have never visited before, and we’ve invited everyone to join the journey.