Creating the imaginary with wonder My 7th MVP for #1mvp1month - Space Nomads

BACKSTORY

I’m tired of myself talking about making products but never actually doing it. It’s always been my dream to make products, especially ones that serve the public good and create positive social impact. It’s my passion and purpose to create a personally meaningful body of work at the intersection of design, social/public issues and entrepreneurship. So I’m committing to make 1 minimum viable product per month, starting Feb 2018. I’ll keep going till I run out of ideas or money, or something takes off in a huge way that requires all my time, or exhaustion kicks in. Whichever comes first. #1mvp1month

For my 7th MVP, I made a fictional space travel tour agency of the future called Space Nomads. I was inspired by SpaceX’s recent announcement of sending artists around the Moon, and it got me asking, “What would a designer/maker’s response to the vision of space travel look like? What kind of products/experiences would makers and designers create to inspire hope, optimism and awe in the stars?” This is also my first experiment that’s focused on creating an entirely imaginary and fictional product which doesn’t even exist yet (read my previous post on my too-serious *ahem boring* projects and about making ‘useless’ things for fun).

 

WAIT WHAT…A SPACE TRAVEL TOUR AGENCY?

Yes. Think a typical tour booking agency where you can book flights, guided tours and lodging for your vacation to a beach in South East Asia. But this time, it’s for trip out of this world. Literally. This imaginary space travel tour agency will organise trips that are part fact, part fiction. Some of the trips are already possible and done before, like going to a suborbital flight to experience zero gravity, or a short jaunt to the International Space Station.  Others, like going to Mars and beyond, will be based on best research estimates and current technology. While creating the tour packages, I did my best to reference past NASA missions, information backed by data/facts, or concepts explored by experts.

 

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM &  future oPPORTUNITY?

Why make Space Nomads?

I was inspired by Elon Musk’s recent announcement that SpaceX will be sending the world’s first commercial passengers to orbit the Moon. The entire flight had been paid for by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and he’s planning to bring along 6 artists to be inspired to create art based on the journey.

“If Pablo Picasso had been able to see the moon up-close, what kind of paintings would he have drawn?

If John Lennon could have seen the curvature of the Earth, what kind of songs would he have written?

If they had gone to space, how would the world have looked today?”

#dearMoon

Art meets astronomy, artists meet the moon. So exciting and awe-inspiring! Stuff like this makes me hopeful for humanity and excited for the future. I love how we can see space travel and humanity as a space-faring species from an awe-inspiring, artists’ point of view, instead of out of practical doomsday necessity.

This was for artists. How about makers and designers? How can we normalise the conversation around space travel and make it more accessible, instead of talking about it from a predominantly technical/science-y narrative? What kind of products/experiences would makers and designers create, to inspire hope, optimism and awe in being out there among the stars? What might be a designer/maker’s response to space travel look like?

Specifically, how would a tour agency selling space travel packages look like? I’m interested to explore ways to help non-technical folks better understand and get excited about space travel. Making a present day product like a tour booking agency for a future fictional product like space travel seems like a fun and accessible way to bridge space travel to the masses.

 

REMEMBERING A CHILDHOOD WONDER

The prospect of being able to travel to the stars, reminded me that I used to be a bit of a space nerd, but has forgot about it over the years of ‘adulting’. I grew up watching cartoons like Transformers, and Ultraman. I loved Stars Wars (yes, even the prequels 😆). Coming back to it now, I realised I had forgotten how it felt like to be awe and wonder of something, especially something as crazy and sci-fi as space travel.

There’s also been a growing news presence of space tech startups like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic working on rocket technology to send private citizens to space. Japan just landed a space probe on Asteroid Ryugu. The world was awed by NASA’s high resolution photos of Pluto, taken during the flyby of New Horizons space probe in 2015. All these news seem to have slowly saturating people’s awareness of space travel.

Part of the inspiration to create Space Nomads also came from making my last product Coffice City – where I made a cafe list for Mars City and the Moon. I found that super fun and irreverent – never mind that Mars City didn’t exist and there’s no habitats – lest cafes – on the Moon! Making those lists of future imaginary cafes made me want to create from a place of imagination and wonder some more. While making present day products are also fun in themselves, they all have a certain mundane, ordinary practicality/utility feel to it that doesn’t quite lend itself to that level of awe and wonder that space travel incites.

Making those lists of future imaginary cafes made me want to create from a place of imagination and wonder some more.

I also recently read a fascinating Vox article on how the travel industry is evolving from selling experiences to selling personal transformation as a product; self actualization as tour package, especially for millennials. I was wondering which will be the next industry to adopt this after the mindfulness meditation/mental wellness industry, and it makes complete sense that the travel industry is picking up on this trend. So, what better way for personal transformation than a journey outside of Earth to experience the overview effect?! (Side-note from Wikipedia: The overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from orbit or from the lunar surface. It refers to the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, “hanging in the void”, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. From space, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this “pale blue dot” becomes both obvious and imperative.)

Where the words fail you to describe why I made Space Nomads, I suggest you watch this awesome video:

DIGGING DEEPER INTO MAKING FUN+’USELESS’ STUFF

Continuing from my previous product Coffice City – where I wanted to make something for fun, something ‘useless’, something only for myself, something that I don’t care whether it gets featured on Product Hunt or not, something I don’t care about monetizing, something that I want to make because I just want to, without reason or care. The focus is on maker enjoyability, for sure, rather than business viability, technical feasibility, and user desirability. If it was so much fun making up cafes on Mars and the Moon, then the next logical step to take it further is to imagine fictional products of yet-to-exist products, in a distant future where inter-galactic nomads can space travel for remote work!

 

MAKING SPACE NOMADS

I made the site in a week, but took a few more days of fact-finding to beef up the content, and creating fictional content where there’s little/no data.

Most of the time, research just consists of typing in Google: “How much to fly to the Moon?” or “How far is Mars”, etc etc. NASA, and Wikipedia provided most of my research.

Setting up the site was easy enough. Next comes buying the WordPress theme. Of all the different ones on Themeforest, I found Grand Tour to be the one that fits looks modern. It had features for tours and destinations which was what I needed, and and a focus on large hero images which will make the cool NASA images stand out. At US$64, it’s really affordable and great for creating MVPs on a budget. After an easy installation of WordPress right within the Siteground admin page (no need to play around with FTP or text editors), the site is up, the theme installed and next up is creating the fictional content on the site.

As for the name, I polled my friends on social media. We played around with Space Nomads, Starbound, Cosmonuts, Space Farer. Space Nomads polled well. What was surprising was how many space-related domains were all bought up, and considered premium domains (i.e. costly). After buying the domain on Namecheap, I linked up my DNS to my server, installed WordPress and the themes and I’m all set.

For logo, I took inspiration from the theme’s logo and went with a lettermark which was easy and fast to make. If your product name has 2 words, it’s really easy to make logos by contrasting a light font with a heavier font of the same typeface. Quick logo hack for non-design makers who need to roll out a MVP fast. In this case, I used Poppins ExtraLight for “Space” and Poppins SemiBold for “Nomads”. Easy peasy.

For this site to inspire and excite people about space travel, I needed inspiring, beautiful hero images for each tour package. There’s a lot of free public domain photos from NASA, SpaceX, and Unsplash that allows me to make something visually exciting and other-worldly, with very little effort. Love these images!

 

WHAT I LEARNED, POST-LAUNCH

[To be updated post-launch]

 

SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK?

So Space Nomads is now live. I’d love to hear if this makes space travel more accessible and exciting. Why ,or why not? Honest feedback is how I like to take it, so just give it to me! 😛

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ALL ABOUT SPACE NOMADS

Space Nomads is a [fictional] space travel tour agency for the masses. We believe that humanity’s fate is starbound, and we’re here to enable that. Galactic-class launches, flights, trips, experiences, and places. All in one service, to all places in the universe.

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