Take a moment, think about outer space. Visualize it in your brain – what comes to mind? What do you see?
If you’re like most people you see blackness – an empty void. The dark, scary unknown. Maybe you see space hardware like satellites or rockets or even a Star Trek character or two.
You see these things because this is the prevailing popular imagery of space. It is the imagery that represents the broad concept of space as humans see it today. This is the current brand of space.
Until recently, this brand has done a fine job representing space as a whole. The intrigue represented by the dark unknown served the narrative that space is the final frontier – a dangerous place just waiting to be explored. It did a fine job fueling the earliest exploration of the cosmos.
Space is going through a renaissance.
But the image of the unknown black void won’t do for much longer. Space is going through a renaissance. A surge in the number of new space startups has reinvigorated the private space sector in such a way that funding is flowing in and competition is real. They are all banking on space ceasing to be a frontier and becoming a stable place to do business. As new companies form and old companies reconsider their positioning, a central pillar of their successes will rely on how they communicate about themselves and the field in which they operate: space.
THE SPACE COMPANY WHO FOCUSES ON DESIGN, WINS
Design has the power to shift perceptions of big ideas. As space business matures and a functioning economy emerges within the sector, deliberate design will be at the core of the leading organizations. The companies that can successfully communicate to their customers that space is no longer the dangerous realm it once was will have an advantage over those who stick to the old narrative.
Consider those leading the tech industry. Take Apple and Google – two companies who have successfully normalized vastly complicated industries, personal computing and the internet respectively. They have placed their design philosophies at the core of their businesses and as a result their customers clearly and confidently relate to their products and feel comfortable navigating those previously inaccessible spaces.
Similarly to space design today, at the time these companies were founded, most competitors were failing in the branding department. When Google was founded in 1997 the internet industry leader, America Online, was looking like an Illuminati vacation resort. Apple’s main competitor at their inception was IBM who to this day alienates customers with their safe, blue, collegiate, prison-esque logo. It’s worth noting that at certain points in their evolution that both Apple and Google chose to radically differentiate by adopting bright, playful, colorful color palettes.
It is no different for space. There’s an enormous opportunity for a space companies to follow this example and become design leaders within the field. Just as with the internet and computers, space needs to be made accessible. It needs to be brought down to a human level so that the average person can relate to it, not be afraid of it. This ethos should be baked into the core of the emerging (and established) space company’s brand.
YOUR COMPANY’S SUCCESS RELIES ON THINGS THAT BLOW UP REGULARLY
When it comes to building a strong brand ultimately the goal is to cultivate trust with your customer. Customers look for this trait above all other things when deciding where to place their money. The most successful brands are typically the most trustworthy because customers feel that when they engage with that brand the likelihood of having a good experience is high.
Space companies more than any other industry need to be laser-focused on building that trust because the work they do carries so much risk. Operating in space is dangerous. To put anything into space (a satellite, much more so a human) you have to strap it to a million pounds of rocket fuel, light a match, and hope for the best. Every. Time.
As a customer, it would be in my best interest to avoid this risk when considering where to spend my money. Let’s say I’m a small satellite maker and I need to hire a launch service company to blast my payload into space. I’m going to go with the company who I trust to safely, reliably complete the job. Same goes for any other product or service. Why should I trust your cubesats to not malfunction? Why is your propulsion system more reliable than another? All of these messages can be communicated through a trust-focused brand strategy.
Develop a trust-focused brand strategy.
That trust is built not only from producing high-quality products and services, but also from the language used to describe them to consumers; the story you tell about your company’s inception, the colors you use in your logo, and how consistently your brand is portrayed. Utilizing imagery not typically associated with space and a bright welcoming color scheme will inspire good feelings within your audience and thus lower the barrier to entry.
THE TIME IS NOW
With so much new energy being poured into the space sector now is the ideal time to incorporate this type of thinking into the core of space companies. As the landscape (spacescape?) begins to shift away from the final frontier towards business-as-usual the opportunity for design-focused organizations to thrive increases.
Space companies need to take note of how the leading companies on Earth are utilizing design to increase accessibility and build trust.
And it’s really never too early to bring design consciousness into the process. Design decisions are made every day along with every email signature we close with, every proposal we write, or business card we hand out.
The need for deliberate design doesn’t just come when you’re ready to approach customers – it’s necessary at the earliest possible stages of growth. Developing thorough design systems early on will help to guide visualization decisions as the organization grows ultimately making the product/service more consistent and thereby more trustworthy.
Things are happening quickly. What organization will fill the inevitable role of industry leader by placing design at the center of their philosophy?