If you said designer Andrew Sloan has his head in the clouds, he would probably take it as a compliment.
Sloan is the founder of Cosma Schema, the world’s first design and branding agency exclusively for space travel companies. Working with companies like Impossible Aerospace, The Planetary Society, and World Space Week, Cosma Schema’s team of designers and space experts help their clients stand out in a competitive and quickly growing field that is making strides technologically, but feels stuck in the past in terms of design.
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From websites and experiences to videos and animation, Cosma Schema works from the top down with companies as they grow to spread a message of innovation and hope for the future. For Sloan and his team, Cosma Schema is an exhilarating opportunity to infuse design to an emerging industry where technology has surpassed aesthetics.
Sloan began his design career working for a record label in Portland, where he learned how to create visual identities for bands, which he dubs “microbrands.” A lifelong fan of science and nature, he started investing time researching the burgeoning “new space” scene, which was rapidly filling up with private companies dedicated to advancing commercial space travel.
While major players like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic were grabbing headlines, Sloan saw an opportunity to work with the slew of smaller companies trying to keep up. Surveying the field, he quickly identified a problem: visual homogeneity. “All of these logos and websites were just terrible,” he remembers. “It was all just blues and blacks and swooshes, stars and literal spaceships taking off.”
The World Space Week logo before Cosma Schema….
… and after
In this way, Sloan noticed a stark contrast from clients in other industries. While most brands or Silicon Valley startups have a solid visual identity locked in even before they launch, Sloan observed that many of these companies were helmed by academics or engineers who just “didn’t know how to sell their products, or what it meant to start a brand. A lot of these logos were designed by Star Trek fans or people only familiar with NASA. They weren’t really thinking about who their actual target audience was, and how to best convey their assets through design.”
With his background in creating identities for bands that helped them stand out from their competitors, Sloan knew that he could do the same for the new space industry. Most thrillingly, no one else was doing it. In 2015, Sloan launched Cosma Schema in Los Angeles starting with a redesign of a now-defunct blog about space. Sloan began the company as its sole employee but has grown to three full-time designers and network of over 25 designers that join the team on a per-project basis.
Cosma Schema found that the new wave of space companies are missing an opportunity to tell these stories and connect their message and vision to the masses by getting lost in technical jargon and details. Add that to a design standard that was dated and flat, the transmission was being lost. “Because there’s such a standard ‘space look,’ we try to help our clients see that finding a unique design is a business opportunity,” says Sloan.
That’s why Cosma Schema works with companies not just to produce logos and graphics, but to conceptualize an entire brand strategy. As a design agency, Cosma Schema encourages their clients to experiment with unexpected color palettes, unusual imagery and more diverse typography (moving beyond, as Sloan says, “the kind of typeface you’d see on the Armageddon poster.”)
Even though the commercial space travel industry is a new frontier, the design process is a familiar one. At the heart of every design is a focus on the unique functions of each company. Cosma Schema conducts in-depth research, speaking with stakeholders and founders to formulate a design strategy based on their core values and specific offerings.
Branding work for Impossible Aerospace, a company dedicated to replacing our carbon-based flights with electric alternatives.
For example, if a company’s main selling point is using water as a propellant, that is the most logical starting point when conceptualizing a visual identity. “If your main selling point is water-based propulsion, but your logo is just a spaceship taking off, you’re not getting your point across,” says Sloan. “At the end of the day, these companies just want to sell their services just like any other business.”
One of Cosma Schema’s specialties is creating digital tools that help consumers understand the more technical aspects of how these companies work. They’ve worked with spaceflight delivery specialists Momentus since the company launched (originally under the name “Space Apprentices,” something Cosma Schema quickly recommended a fix for) to craft a brand based around space transportation.
“As technology advances closer and closer to making space a viable destination for consumers, it’s more important than ever for brands to inspire both wonder and trust.”
They’re currently working on developing software for Momentus that will function as an interactive calculator, illustrating how the company transports things like satellites through space. They also created Explain.space, an interactive app that educates users on intergalactic concepts like eclipses and moon phases with a sleek and simple, graphic, and modern interface.
As technology advances closer and closer to making space a viable destination for consumers, it’s more important than ever for brands to inspire both wonder and trust. Moving to the head of the pack in this dynamic field will come down not only to technical innovation but in an ability to connect with the public at large.
Sloan notes that Cosma Schema advocates for tools like explainer videos or mission calculators because successful companies going forward will have to embrace using design as a way to lower the barrier of entry into this complex industry, or risk being misunderstood and left behind. “It takes a special company to have the foresight to see that,” he says.
It’s clear that the future is now and, if Cosma Schema has anything to say about it, it looks bright.
by Laura Bolt
Laura Bolt is a Los Angeles based writer and editor. She has covered design for Details magazine and the AIGA’S Eye on Design. Bolt is also a contributor to publications including Bloomberg Businessweek, Salon, and Nylon.