Meet Designer Duane King
Duane King (@duaneking) is a Portland-based designer who has a deep-seated love affair with space. So much so, that he recently launched the Pioneer Plaque Project on Kickstarter. Anyone who's a fan of design, outer space, or Carl Sagan should keep reading.
Interviewer Alexi Ueltzen (@alexi) is Ello’s Community Evangelist. If she’s not at the office, she’s probably swimming, getting muddy with her dogs or baking cookies. Seriously. The best cookies.
Tell us a little about your background as a creator/designer.
I’m an entrepreneur, provocateur, raconteur, and flâneur who trained as an artist and designer. Since my education, my concerns have shifted to Design with a capital D—the arrangement of things to have a specific outcome. My beginnings in the design industry were in video game logos and packaging alongside luxury branding. And somehow, this sort of dichotomous existence has followed me throughout my career. In recent years, I became known for parallax on the web along with the work I’ve produced for Nike—but I’m a moving target. I’m constantly reinventing myself.
How did you get interested in space and the cosmos?
My father was an engineer, so at a very young age, I’d sit next to him at his drafting table. That deep love for drawing, perfection, and machines fueled my early career as an artist. As result, there wasn’t a single aircraft or spacecraft in my Time Life book collection that I didn’t attempt to draw as a child! Growing up during the last years of Space Race contributed to my interest in space as well. I consumed a heavy diet of shows like Cosmos: A Personal Voyage and The Six Million Dollar Man along with movies like Planet of the Apes and Moonraker.
Can you tell us about the Pioneer project, and how it got started?
The Pioneer project began a long time ago as pioneer10.com was the first domain I ever purchased. It was selected because of my fascination with Carl Sagan and space. And Pioneer was the perfect metaphor for the extremes of human exploration—and the fact that it was headed towards my birth sign, Taurus, didn’t hurt either! The more I learned about Pioneer, the more I became fascinated. And the deeper I dove into research.
This past October, I became obsessed with the idea of creating a replica of my own. A personal challenge to myself. As I began to research the specifics of materials, dimensions, and imprint, I began to learn more about the story of its creation. My love for the ideas it was intended to communicate deepened too. And so did my research.
I purchased rare NASA books and watched countless documentaries trying to learn more so that I might create a truly accurate replica. Lo and behold, as I watched a documentary I saw the craftsmen’s hands. I thought, “He’s alive?!”, as I frantically began to search for more information on the original maker.
In a matter of minutes, I honed in on his business name which I promptly Googled. A quick glance at Google Street View showed a little shop with trophy-filled windows. “Could this be the place?!”, I wondered. And then in the corner of the window, I saw a small sign that read: “Home of the Pioneer plaque.” Hunch confirmed!
I immediately called up the shop and a gentle voice answered, “Precision. Ponciano speaking.” As it turned out, not only did the company produce the plaques in 1972—but the voice on the other end of the line confirmed that he himself had made the plaques in 1972! I had discovered a piece of history in an obscure strip mall in San Carlos, California.
So Ponciano made a prototype for me. And once I held it—I knew I had to try to make it available to others!
What are some of the elements of the Pioneer Plaque that you find most fascinating?
The Pioneer plaques were launched in 1972 and 1973 aboard NASA’s twin spacecraft, Pioneer 10 and 11. It was designed by Frank Drake and Carl Sagan with artwork prepared by Linda Salzman Sagan to serve as an “interstellar greeting card” should any extraterrestrial life come across it, as it portrays when Pioneer was launched, from where, and by what kind of beings. Put simply, Pioneer is an expression of the vision and adventurous spirit that defines humanity at its best. Gold-anodized optimism!
From a designer’s perspective, it’s difficult to fully express the challenges of a brief that outlines something as grand as designing a “message from Earth.” As result, it is quite possibly one of the most ambitious pieces of graphic design—ever.
There’s an interesting intersection between art and science when it comes to space-related design. Do you find the technology used to explore it, or the mystery of space more compelling?
It’s a little bit of both to me. But ultimately it’s the mystery that keeps me riveted. There’s nothing more human than wondering—it’s what defines us.
What are some of your favorite sources for space-related art, news, design, etc.?
My sources range from Ello to Space.com to Twitter to the occasional blog. Typically, the most unexpected tidbits come from the most unusual places! Consistent favorites: But Does It Float, Present & Correct and Codex 99.
What’s next for you? Are there any new projects coming up?
There’s always something in the works! I took a sabbatical year in 2016 and I learned that I’m like a shark—I never stop moving. Since the beginning of the year, !’ve been working on everything from branding sustainable fibers for clothing to rethinking brands as digital personalities and reinventing charitable donations. NDAs prevent me from disclosing more, but needless to say—good things are soon to be announced!
What’s something about you that would surprise our readers?
I did the identities and packaging for Quake III Arena and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. How’s that for a blast from the past?!
Follow Duane on Ello, Kickstarter, Twitter, and Instagram.