The shared experience and processes involved in the creative strategy to establish ARCS (Autonomy Research Center for STEAHM) as an innovative Convergence Research space on the CSUN campus.
September 2019 - March 2019
As the project manager, I was responsible for branding, creative brainstorming, prototyping designs, social media content, and criticism/ feedback systems producing a design for a cohesive visual and spatial presence.


The Autonomy Research Center for STEAHM (ARCS) is a newly established NASA-sponsored multidisciplinary university center of excellence, combining the knowledge, experience, and talents of faculty and students from across California State University, Northridge (CSUN) colleges and units,  including physical, social, and behavioral science (S); technology and engineering (T); entrepreneurship and business (E); art and design (A); humanities (H); and mathematics (M).

ARCS’ vision is to be an international leader in education, research, and commercialization regarding increasingly autonomous (IA) systems. In order to achieve its vision, ARCS utilizes the US National Science Foundation's Convergence Research (i.e., coming together and transforming of multiple disciplines) model to study various aspects of Increasingly Autonomous (IA) systems — from their creation and development to other societal and cultural factors that deal with acceptance, trust, legal rights, and privacy. One of the many goals of ARCS is to study these IA systems from an art and design perspective by establishing a clear brand identity, defining communication strategies, providing an optimized user experience, and creating engaging user interfaces.

Alignment + conceiving

Competitive Analysis

Several other universities in our region and beyond such as California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), University of California, Riverside (UCR), University of California, Merced (UCM), Delaware State University (DSU), and Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA), also received a grant through NASA’s MUREP Institutional Research Opportunity (MIRO) program.

ARCS recognizes that fields such as art and design are also an essential part in achieving the goals of the MIRO program. We established a collaboration not only between students within the STEM education but expands it to entrepreneurship and business, art and design, and humanities–reinventing STEM into STEAHM.

Defining the ARCS brand

Art and design have played a significant role in ARCS by creating a unique identity. In the first phase of collaboration, students and faculty from various CSUN colleges were involved in an integrated learning process to define what the brand messaging and creative strategy should be for ARCS. In the initial 2-hour session, we implemented exercises inspired by the CORE Discovery framework established by Chris Do and Jose Caballer of The Futur, two highly regarded brand design consultants and educators based in the Los Angeles area. We participated in team collaboration and brainstorming to establish the Brand Attributes and Audience/Customer Profiles.

Brand attributes exercise

The Brand Attributes exercise is conducted by dividing a whiteboard to 6 columns in the categories of:

  • Culture: How would your community describe ARCS?
  • Customer: How would you describe ARCS’ customer?
  • Voice: How does ARCS sound to others?
  • Feeling: How do others feel after they interact with ARCS?
  • Value: What tangible impact do you have to others?
  • X-Factor: What makes you different from others?

During this process, we were moderated and started by brainstorming words for each column answering the questions followed by narrowing down each column to one final word or phrase to represent the answer to each question. 

At the end of the exercise, a formula is used to develop a brand attributes statement by utilizing the chosen words:

"For pioneering team-players seeking a visionary research center, ARCS, a NASA funded center, provides skilled and diverse leaders that seek societal impact or change."

Audience/customer profiles exercise

After defining the brand attributes of ARCS, the next step was to define the audience or customer. Based on the MUREP goals and through group collaboration, we established three key customer profiles: faculty researchers, industry partners/scientists, and students.

Qin Sun

Qin Sun is a 35-year-old Assistant Professor with a Ph.D. in Engineering from MIT. Qin needs an environment that enables her to collaborate with students who have ARCS values and is looking for research topics, resources, and opportunities. ARCS’ solutions for Qin would be networking, internships for students, support from her team, and access to funding.

Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is a 40-year-old JPL Engineer. Sarah needs to hire diverse and skilled leaders wanting to influence the next generation of space exploration and research. ARCS’ solutions for Sarah would be the opportunity to serve on boards, teach courses to train students as well as access to labs/facilities, and funding.

Ramon Iglesias

Ramon Iglesias is a 21-year-old CSUN undergraduate Computer Science Major. Ramon needs a sense of purpose while gaining research experience through working with a team and mentors to build his resume. ARCS’ solutions for Ramon would be scholarships, internship opportunities, access to lab resources, and collaboration with NASA/JPL.

Creative strategy + designing

In this second phase of collaboration, we reviewed the finalized brand attributes and personas to mockup and prototype the brand identity. This was a three-week process where we were given enough time to analyze, design, internally critique, and then prepare a presentation to stakeholders. Only a few restrictions were in place from a visual standpoint, as CSUN guidelines recommend the use of red and the font titled “ATC Overlook” to maintain consistency within the university visual communication and design guidelines. 

We were encouraged to interpret concepts of space exploration, autonomy, sustainability, and zero waste.

After A/B testing between the team, faculty, and other stakeholders, the final logo was chosen based off the responses received:

  • It is a simple and straightforward design.
  • It maintains accessibility guidelines by being versatile.
  • It conceives the look and feel of a long-lasting brand.
  • It emulates concepts that were most representative of ARCS’ brand message. 

The final logo focuses on the white spacecraft orbit featured on the NASA logo representing space travel and the path of a celestial object. By putting the orbit around the “C” it represents how this center will become the main sphere of influence for CSUN students with similar interests in STEAHM. The orbiting craft can also be interpreted as an arrow to represent zero waste, renewable energy, and sustainability.

Touchpoints + implementing

After the logo was chosen, the next step was to apply the brand to internal and external applications. We created a website landing page that describes who ARCS is and the three integrated research thrusts intended to launch new trajectories for IA systems: developing assured and trusted autonomy; human autonomy teamwork and explainable AI; and social barriers, acceptance, and impact. In addition, we created and designed PowerPoint templates and business cards, using the look and feel that coincide with the brand. These will be used by the ARCS CO-Investigators.

In late February of 2020, we worked on an event that allowed NASA/JPL collaborators and CSUN partners to celebrate the groundbreaking convergence research projects that the first cohort of ARCS’ Fellows are launching in partnership with senior scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. To promote that event, the ARCS’ brand was applied to design deliverables including email blasts, shirts, stickers, and program flyers.

ARCS HQ + operating

While working on designing deliverables, we were also tasked to design the interior for both the ARCS Convergence Research Opportunity Program (CROP) space and the gallery space within the main offices. The CROP space is a communal area where Fellows are able to collaborate on projects. We are helping to build a sense of community by utilizing the brand identity and guidelines to provide the Fellows with a welcoming and collaborative space.

The main gallery space is where ARCS Fellows and Co-I’s can display prototypes, drones, robots, etc. When ARCS partners and affiliates come to visit the new space, the gallery will be the first stop. Our goal was to make this space inspirational to new and existing members while encouraging students and faculty to get involved.

Thank you!