Chris Edwards, director of programming and content at Ad:Tech – an exhibition of marketing, technology and media – sat down with NASA visual strategist, Dan Goods to figure out how on earth he goes about marketing outer space.
Goods’s philosophy is all about creating moments in people’s lives where they can interact with something beautiful, meaningful, and profound. He works for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he heads up a creative strategy team developing everything from art pieces that expose people to the wonders of the universe to brainstorming NASA missions of the future. His work is seen in public spaces, art museums and outer space.
Q: What role does experience play in marketing space?
I think we all gravitate towards moments that are special and unique. If you’re in retail and you’re just creating a normal store, people may not think one way or the other about you, but if you create an experience, you’ll stand out. The difference between watching something online where millions can see it versus going into a physical space where there’s physicality and your other senses are activated. There’s something about that. You have to ask yourself, do you want to impact lots of people in a little way or less people in a bigger way?
Q: You’re working at NASA jet propulsion labs as their lead visual strategist, how do you get a bunch of people in white coats excited about infra-red lights and multimedia platforms to show what space is like?
My way of telling stories is different to their way of telling stories. They work on really complicated stuff and if you can’t tell your story, you can’t get funding and miscommunication can occur. They could see that I can tell stories in a way that is meaningful. Whenever JPL is trying to win a new mission, I’m involved in the pitches and there are some really high stakes, like a $500 million or $1 billion mission. I want us to be known as a place of creative insights.
Q: How did you prove to a group of white coat propeller heads – being a visual artist – that you were of value to them?
I was shocked that they said, “show us what you can do”, so I got to work. A few people were wondering who I was and wondering what an artist was doing working there and why they were paying him money, but over time they saw I had a true respect for what they were doing and once they saw what I was doing, they started having a respect for me too. In the last couple of years, my role has really taken off, I have all these extra people working for me.
Q: What is a visual strategist?
I deal with experiences, whether it’s a printed piece or an art piece, whether it’s the flow through a building, or a new facility. Those are various things we work on – anything with a visal sense to it. It’s also about helping a person to understand their environment better.
Q: Do you pinch yourself when you see people experience something you created?
We worked on these exoplanet posters. They’re in CNN, Newsweek, Gizmodo, The Verge. So we’ve been finding all these planets, but it’s tricky to find them. We came up with an idea – we loved the travel posters from the 30s and 40s – so we thought, what if we made travel posters to planets? We did one and it’s headline was: Where Your Shadow Has Company.
Q: When people experience these posters, what do you want them to do next?
It’s amazing how people actually get into them. On one level, they think they’re cool but then they start thinking, why in the world are our trees green? Because somewhere else in the universe, if there was grass, it wouldn’t be green. It’s really about getting people interested in the universe. I like creating experiences where people have a moment of awe about the universe we live in. We talk about this thing called, ‘sneaking up on learning’ – which means creating mysterious, interesting things that people are drawn to, you may not know what it is when you first see it, but it gets you asking questions. So then you’re ripe for learning. Everything we create for NASA is all about ‘sneaking up on learning.’
Dan graduated valedictorian from the graphic design program at Art Center College of Design. He was recently selected as “One of the most interesting people in Los Angeles” by the LA Weekly. Dan currently lives in South Pasadena with his wife and three kids.