Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NASA: Then and Now

The current media attention being given to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, more commonly known as NASA, led me to consider how and what Americans think about space exploration.

NASA programs, and NASA in general have a fascinating brand identity because it seems to have a general appeal; people think positive thoughts about NASA. However, unlike many brands, they're not really selling a product and they're thought of differently by different generations. Also, as a government agency, their public relations and marketing is important, but not as key as it is for private industry.

I'm too young to have experienced what I consider the golden age of space exploration, the space race of the 1960's, but I still have a sense of what it meant to Americans. Still, because today's youth didn't experience the excitement of the first man on the moon as it happened, instead learning of it in history books, younger generations have a different perception of what the space programs mean. To young American's astronauts and space exploration are largely something to be taken for granted, accepted as "nifty," but not a truly thrilling subject.

Granted, NASA is far from the only brand name that suffers from a generation gap. However, it seems that for NASA, as an agency that is meant to perform a public service and also being on the cutting edge, the generation separation has more significance. How are NASA researchers, scientists, and astronauts going to continue to be innovative and continue to widen the bounds of human knowledge and experience without enthusiasm from the youth?

I think the recent highlight of the Apollo missions, among other space exploration milestones, may pique the interest of a few. I don't think that's enough though, considering America's collective attention span. Maybe NASA needs to put a few pennies of it's budget into the marketing side and try to make space exciting again. After all, image is still important, even if you managed to put a man on the moon.

History of the NASA logo: http://www.logoblog.org/nasa-logo.php

Friday, July 3, 2009

Convertible Furniture: More than Meets the Eye

I recently came across a website called Yanko Design that includes new, interesting, or innovative designs for everyday objects. It included everything from a salt and pepper shaker made from legos to adaptable modular lighting fixtures. The design that piqued my interest, however, was a pair of chairs, very innocent in appearance. They look very sleek and modern, but did not look like they'd be too comfortable to sit in for any length of time because of their straight lines, 90 degree angles, and lack of curves. What makes these chairs unique can be seen by scrolling down to the next photo which shows that the chairs are not only meant for sitting. When tipped forward and interlocked, they can be converted into a table of the appropriate size for holding magazines and coffee. The website doesn't give much explanation for the origin of the chairs other than giving their designer's name: Joel Hesselgren.

There is a particular reason why I chose to focus on this particular design of all the ones I viewed while browsing the website. The chairs/table are very modern and contemporary in appearance, but they are not actually using an innovative or new concept. The idea of creating convertible furniture has been around for decades. Convertible furniture can be as simple as that hide-a-bed your aunt has you sleep on when you visit, or the futon your college buddy had in his living room. Many people have done something as simple as re-purpose an old trunk or luggage as a coffee table or end table.

Furniture that is more than what it seems can also take the form of a true "murphy bed," A bed that is hidden in upright form as part of a wall. There are of course ones that look like they appeared magically out of a solid wall or set of bookshelves, but murphy beds also exist as pieces of antique furniture. My parents, in fact, have always had one. It looks like a fancy cabinet (pictured below), but has false drawer-fronts that allow you to pull the entire front panel forward. The gingerbread-like wood detailing that appears to be simply for decoration swings outward to become the legs for the foot of the bed. It may not be the most comfortable bed (because of the age of the mattress), but it proves that modern Americans are not the first to try to save space and get the most out of their furniture. My grandparents have even more examples of the piece-is-not-what-it-seems concept. Their home is full of antiques including a tall door-ed cabinet and a table that both convert into beds, though they're rarely used as such.

Clearly people have always been trying to make the best use of their space (and maybe accommodate unannounced guests on short notice). It takes a little creativity, but it can be fun to find new ways to use the things that surround us. If you have one item that does two jobs or even just saves some space, maybe it will help clear some of the clutter.