For a book literally full of typefaces and diagrams and gridded layouts, NASA's Graphics Standards Manual has sure gotten a lot of attention over the last couple weeks. Two guys want to revive and sell the long-lost manual for $79 a piece on Kickstarter, and in response (we assume), NASA has just released a PDF of the document for free.
Designed in 1974 by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn, the standards manual featured NASA's famous "Worm" logo—in which the A's had no crossbar—and other official fonts and designs to be used on spacecraft and the like. It's a cool bit of history that NASA retired in 1992.
New York City-based graphic designers Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth tracked down an original and are planning to sell a high quality reproduction as a coffee table book on Kickstarter—the project currently has about 6,500 backers and has raised $677,000. The project has scored writeups in the New York Times, Gizmodo, Wired, and a handful of other publications.
Legally speaking, there's nothing wrong with what Hamish and Reed are doing. The manual is technically in the public domain, which means anyone can do whatever they want with it, including sell it for a profit.
In any case, a handful of the Kickstarter’s backers probably just want to see the full document and don't necessarily need to spend $79 on the manual, however, which is also presumably why NASA decided to release the thing in full Tuesday.
"We can't say the move is directly responding to our project, but it's safe to suspect they are related," Reed told me in an email. "It's great that they're making the guidelines available to the public, we think they should be. That said, we don't think that having an online PDF is the easiest way to engage with the information."
Reed told me that his version of the book includes supplemental information and is of much better quality which, for 79 bucks plus shipping, is to be expected.
"From what we see, they are scanning the pages rather quickly and without much consideration for reproduction value," he added. "Our scans will be much higher quality, perfectly color balanced, and include the matching spot colors specified in the manual (among other signature elements)—something you don't really understand through a digital representation."
That may be, but if you still would like to attempt to understand the signature elements through a digital representation, here's a free link to the design manual. Reed says that the team will donate at least some books to universities and design schools for educational purposes, which he said was “crucial.”
NASA did not issue a statement with the rerelease, but noted that there are many "gems" within the book.