What does it take to paint a rocket? We sat down with Heidi Rueff, graphic designer at Virgin Orbit, to learn about her role in the Virgin Family and share her industry insight.
Heidi also discussed her thoughts about the future of design and the role of 'girl power' in STEM.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Virgin Orbit?
I’m Heidi Rueff, the graphic designer for Virgin Orbit. I grew up in the San Francisco area but moved to Southern California 10 years ago to finish school. I started my career in the entertainment and fashion industries designing for Disney, Vans and Hot Topic. Virgin Orbit has been my first exposure to aerospace, but I’ve been able to tap into a lot of skills and experience from my other positions. At Virgin Orbit, I’ve dipped my toes into everything from clothing and patch design to poster design and painting rockets. I credit my boss, Jonathan, for giving me the freedom to create without constraint.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
I don’t think there is a ‘typical’ day for me here, which I love. I’m constantly being asked to design things I never could have imagined - like a championship belt. My job requires a lot of creative research, ideation, and sketching - which are probably the only typical aspects of my day.
What are some of the moments you’re most proud of from your time with the Virgin Family?
The moment I’m most proud of when I was asked to paint my own original artwork on the water rocket. How many people can say they’ve done that!
If you could give three tips to someone looking to enter the industry, what would they be?
- Be a sponge: Soak up all of the information you can. Before working at Virgin Orbit, I knew nothing about aerospace but I now understand it much better.
- Learn to collaborate: Not just with your creative team mates, but the technical ones too. I’ve come up with solutions to projects that I never would have thought of simply from brainstorming with our engineers.
- Go for it: If there’s a project you’ve been itching to do, do it. Some of the coolest things I’ve been able to create, like making my own Virgin Orbit clothing line, only happened because I pushed forward and got my team on board.
What does the future of design look like to you?
I’m really excited about the future of design. As the aerospace industry booms with private companies, design is a wonderful visual marker to differentiate one company from the next. This gives designers more opportunities to work in industries that were once never accessible.
We heard the Virgin Orbit rocket artwork was inspired by dazzle camouflage, which first emerged during WWl as a tactic to make it more difficult to track the direction and speed of ships at sea. What drew you to this concept?
My boss, Will Pomerantz, first introduced me to dazzle camo and I was drawn to the simplicity of the style. The problem with painting a rocket is that you have a very limited colour pallet. The specialised rocket paint only comes in four colours, so the design had to be simple. Also, the rocket wouldn’t be seen up close by many people so it had to be bold. In my personal artwork, I work a lot with bold lines and shapes and saw this as the most logical translation to fulfil all of our constraints.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Girl Power artwork you created?
The Girl Power patch started as a passion project of mine. Growing up with a working mother who faced enormous challenges, feminism has always been very important to me. It seems like women don’t always get the same representation as men in the aerospace industry. I wanted to create something powerful to celebrate the badass women I work with. I think of it as a reminder of how far women have come—not only in this industry, but in the workplace in general. Persistence and strength are what have helped us get this far and it’s what will help us continue to break barriers.
What advice would you give to a girl pursuing a career in STEM or – to add in ‘the arts’ – STEAM?
Never get discouraged. Never in a million years would I have thought I could work for an aerospace company as a designer. Less than a decade ago, that was unheard of. Tech industries are now realising the importance of art and design and more opportunities are opening up for creatives. For the girls who are looking for a left-brained career, there are so many resources already out there to guide you. Many of my female colleagues participate in outreach programs where they mentor local girls interested in STEM. I really admire their commitment to showing young girls that there are opportunities out there in any field they choose.
What’s next for you and the Virgin Orbit team?
My team and I are collaborating on some really exciting projects for first launch. I can’t wait to share this monumental milestone with the rest of the company and the whole world.
Feeling inspired? Head to Virgin Orbit to learn more about how the company is breaking barriers to open up space for everyone.