Out of This World Design Experience - Q&A with Aimee Crane
Aimee Crane (Visual Communication Design - BFA ’09, MFA ’12) has the distinction of being the Kent State graduate whose work might just go the farthest. The farthest away from the Earth, that is. Currently the Artemis Brand Manager for NASA, Crane designed the mission patch for the Artemis I Mission which accompanied the Orion spacecraft on its orbit around the moon. We recently spoke with her about her own voyage from Kent State to NASA.
CCI: Tell us about the career trajectory that's led you to where you are.
Aimee Crane: I earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees both in VCD. I didn’t even apply or look anywhere else. Through The Tannery, this wonderful graduate studio we had, I met someone who had recently interned at NASA Glenn in Cleveland. And that was fascinating to me. I've always been really, really obsessed with space and NASA since I was younger. So I thought, How in the world can I get involved?
It turned out NASA Glenn Research Center was looking for more interns the summer I graduated, so the timing was great. They needed somebody who could develop communication strategies, provide graphic design expertise for exhibits and build 3D environmental visuals– exactly what I studied for my graduate experience. By networking there as an intern, I found a contractor providing design work for NASA Glenn, and less than a week after my internship ended, I was hired to work on NASA projects for the Orion spacecraft team. I stayed with that communications team through various contracts for about eight years, then was asked in March of 2020 to join the Artemis Communications team at NASA HQ.
CCI: What is the Artemis program?
AC: Artemis I is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions and will do what has never been done before, launching the Orion spacecraft which will fly farther into space than any ship for humans has ever flown and stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station. Human exploration at the moon under Artemis will enable us to learn more about our universe through scientific discoveries and inspire the next generation of explorers. With these missions, NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the moon and establish the first long-term presence on the moon. Then we will take the next giant leap—sending the first astronauts to Mars.
CCI: Why go to the moon first? Why not try to go directly to Mars?
AC: Exploring the moon leads to new discoveries and returns incredible value to humanity. It also establishes American leadership and strategic presence while also inspiring a new generation by building careers in STEM. By exploring the moon, we help advance civilization by revolutionizing science and technology and creating opportunity and economic growth. Artemis missions have many science and technology objectives. By going to the moon ahead of traveling to Mars, we are able to prove various technologies and capabilities before sending humans to Mars.
CCI: Tell us about your work with the Artemis program.
AC: My job consists of providing strategic communication plans, solving messaging challenges through impactful graphic design solutions and participating in outreach opportunities to museums, schools and the general public. My position as a communicator is to talk about the Artemis missions, how exciting they are and how they are advancing humanity, as well as NASA’s international partnerships to build a future in deep space exploration. I create infographics and robust slide presentations to explain the Artemis missions, as well as work with teams across the agency and internationally to promote and amplify the Artemis brand. Also, I designed the Artemis I mission patch which has been incredible to see everywhere as we celebrate this first Artemis mission in the series.
CCI: That must be exciting to see your work everywhere.
AC: It is! It’s super exciting!
CCI: How did courses in VCD play a role in your design of the patch and in your career?
AC: Not a day goes by that I don't use the skills and experiences I gained from the VCD program. The patch design, the communication plans I lead and produce and all of the strategic Artemis brand logistics and coordination for NASA is a direct result from my VCD classes and experience at Kent State University.
From studying corporate and brand identity with Professor David Middleton, to Professor Ken Visocky O’Grady’s design research classes and Professor Joan Inderhees’ design courses, they were all just incredible. Professor Bob Kelemen taught me so much in Type High Letterpress, especially about being sensitive to typography and more importantly, how to work an idea and problem solve. All of my graduate courses and associated professors were instrumental in helping me earn various leadership positions throughout my career path.
CCI: Were there other experiences at Kent State that influenced your path?
AC: Oh absolutely. I was one of the founding students at the start of The Tannery, what’s now IdeaBase, and that was an awesome experience. Working with client relationships, with teams and individual projects in a studio environment. All these multidisciplinary groups, including students studying advertising, marketing, communication, helped me gain all different kinds of skill sets that have helped me at NASA. Before The Tannery, I was involved with VCD’s Glyphix Studio. This experience laid the groundwork for my passion for working on multidisciplinary teams creating successful solutions for our clients.
CCI: And what kind of experiences have you had with the public doing this kind of work?
AC: It’s been really great. I’m translating all this wonderful technology and science concepts and messages to the public so they’ll be engaged and excited and understand what's happening at NASA. One thing that surprises me, is when I tell people I work at NASA they often cannot believe I work there as a designer. They think NASA, you must be super smart, like a rocket scientist. Have you been in outer space? Are you an astronaut? And when I tell them what I do, they're absolutely blown away.
One year, I went to Houston Comicpalooza, a state version of Comic-Con, and we actually had an astronaut on our panel. And we each talked about our careers and things that we were working on at NASA. After the talk, I was mobbed with people of all ages who wanted to hear about art and design at NASA. I was right next to the astronaut who has actually been in outer space, but they wanted to talk to me! Students from all over, said, Well, I love to draw. I love design. I love game design. Is there an actual spot for me at NASA? And I said, “Absolutely.”