Phnam Bagley: Her Agency Turns Science Fiction into Reality – EP. 163

About This Episode:

Phnam Bagley designs the future of everything on and off planet Earth.

She co-founded Nonfiction, a design firm that turns science fiction into reality for a better future.

She’s a TED speaker who has designed new food systems for astronauts and who really sees the bigger picture in everything that she does.

Her company closely parallels the vision that I have for myself, for my own future and for my own company. So it was deeply fascinating talking with someone who has truly shaped an unusual life of exceptional meaning.

Full Audio:

If you enjoy the show, please rate it 5 stars on Apple Podcasts, subscribe, and leave a nice review!


There's a lot more you're missing.

Submit your email address to gain instant access to the rest of this page, including episode highlights with timestamps & original research.


1:41 – “I ended up starting my own design firm called Nonfiction in 2016 with my partner Marcus Bagley. And what the premise of the company is, is that we take science fiction and then we make it real. And we do that for the benefit of humans and the planet. And we practice in different ways. So we design a lot of physical products, practicing what’s called industrial design, which is the design of mass manufactured products specifically.”

2:56 – (Ross) “People have this vague recollection of these 1960s-era astronaut food like Tang and freeze-dried ice cream and all of those things. And you’re saying, what if we reimagine that and built a device that you can actually grow plants, you can have kale, you can have certain types of plants that grow, not only for better quality food and produce for the astronauts as they travel, but also to give them the peace of mind in that connection to something organic when they’re surrounded by buttons and wires and things that are whirring and beeping in a very cold climate.”

4:29 – “What’s common for astronauts to eat right now is freeze-dried food or ready to eat food. And a lot of these have an expiration date of about two years and going to Mars and back is going to take between two and a half and three years so it doesn’t work. So instead of just thinking about the reconstruction of micronutrients like what you described was done in 1960s, what we wanted to do was offer these astronauts real food, real macronutrients. Food that they can relate to emotionally, food that really feeds their souls and reintegrate rituals and culture into their life as they’re putting their lives on the line.”

7:53 – “I found the phrase ‘turning science fiction into reality for a better future.’ What this sentence means to me is that it is all encompassing but also it’s very aspirational, right? I look to the future through the lens of Utopia…I think that hopeless sense of hope that I have about the future and the fact that I can have a say in it is the driver, of all things. And then from there, we started attracting as a company all of these incredible companies that actually do that – they turn science fiction into reality to make the world a better place.”

9:49 – (Ross) “I run a marketing agency and I have done digital marketing for a very long time. But of course, my dream is to only have clients in these fields. And I’ve done this podcast, I’ve talked to enough phenomenal individuals at this point that you have this sense of something out there that’s greater, that’s possible. You see smart people working on smart things that are also grounded in the realities of our planet. That’s where I want to live. So when I look at you and your work, it seems like something that I would strive to be in, let’s say, 3 to 5 years from now where all of my clients are doing those things.”

11:51 – “I network pretty heavily but I don’t network in the sense of, ‘What is your business card? What kind of big company do you work for?’ I actually don’t care about that. What I care about is what kind of story do you have to tell me? How can we build something together that will make this world better in every way, right? That’s how I start conversations. And that has made it very clear to the world where my position is, but also helps me attract the people that I want, and the people that I don’t want to attract usually they just stay away.”

13:20 – “I’m not the kind of person who speaks a lot about the future without practicing it. I put my hands in the dirt, I make prototypes, I design my CAD. I do all those things because there’s something that happens in the brain that allows me to think deeply about the why, the who, the what, the where, the when behind every decision that we make.”

20:12 – “We actually have conditions to work with us now. Condition number one is it has to be a first to market innovation or product. So everybody who wants to do a me too product or go after a market that already exists, we’re not interested. Condition number two is that it has to serve at least one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals put together by the United Nations…so this list encompasses poverty and access to health care and education and sustainable systems for cities and water and things like that. We’re in a day and age where if you don’t satisfy at least one of these, you shouldn’t be in business. That’s just the way I think about things. And then the third condition to work with us is the project has to have a path to execution and success.”

24:46 – “After I got my degree and after I got acquainted with the world of space, I realized that I could never be a good designer if I stayed in space, a good designer in the sense of how do I go very deep in balancing function value and aesthetics in a way that’s actually meaningful. So what I did is I actually quit my space career for about ten years and really focused on design. So I worked for all the design studios, some of them pretty famous, I guess, that really taught me how to see things, how to create things, how to build things, and how to work very well with engineers. And only after I became very comfortable in that world and fairly successful did I realize that now is the time to come back to space.”

28:47 – (Ross) “This is a lesson that I learned and took on board many years ago. But how many astronauts do you need to hear, that tell you they go to outer space and what is the one thing that they all learned, like clockwork? How important Earth is, how rare Earth is, how special Earth is, and how absurd it is that we who all dwell on this finite, tiny rock would hate each other, would go to war against each other, would kill each other because we act as though we are different. But we are not. And we are on a singular planet. The only one that we’re aware of, an infinite nothingness that can hold us and bring us all of that. And the first thing they want to do is come back down, go to a beach and kiss the sand and put their hands in the water. So a lot of these things – we’re talking about first principles – they emerge from these ideas. Thinking about space inevitably brings you to things that are very earthly and dirt and things that grow, and they’re not totally separate.”

32:24 – “Are there other aspects that your culture, your affinities, where you grew up, how you grew up, is going to enrich the way we think about the future of space? I’ll give you an example. I’m talking to these high schoolers in Peru. And Peru has these potatoes that grow in this extreme high altitude, cold temperature, low oxygen environment. And this sounds very much like what growing potatoes on Mars would be. So what if we took all of that ancient wisdom and applied it to the way we think about how to feed astronauts in space? But not based on pure science and breaking down every nutrient of the thing, but really thinking about the indigenous wisdom that comes with how do we feed ourselves when there’s nothing that grows? And that’s really the marriage that I’m most interested in, in the world of space.”

34:00 – (Ross) “An interesting thing that I learned actually just recently is that if you take the very smallest thing that we’re aware of on the smallest possible scale and then compare that to the size of the known universe, the very biggest thing that we can conceive of, we are actually closer to the size of the entire universe than we are to the smallest thing. We’re more than halfway towards the size of the entire universe. I think that seems like something that most people wouldn’t believe. That is just insane. That’s how small the very small gets.”

36:25 – “I learned fairly recently that chemotherapy seems to be more effective in microgravity than it is on the surface, on mice. So what does that mean for humans, right? And this is just one of the many, many discoveries that we’re just like touching at this point. So I’m actually very excited about the future of biology.”

36:54 – “A lot of people are talking about sustainable materials or sustainable systems that would be more responsible for this planet. But we also have to look at what this planet has been doing for billions of years. This planet has been run by nature. And nature is the ultimate regenerative system, right? Everything that nature creates, nature takes away. And there’s like this balance of things. There’s no trash in nature. Everything becomes food for something else. And perhaps the future of how we design things and how we manufacture things could become a little bit closer to how nature does it, really thinking about the whole system, even before we think about ideas. And so that systems thinking is so incredibly important in everything we want to put out there.”

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
Scroll to Top