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I Went Sign-Seeing in Another City and Returned with a Recharged Creativity Meter

There’s much a signmaker can learn by merely strolling an unfamiliar street.




Some unique signs from Denver. Some unique signs from Denver.

EVERY ONCE IN A while, I get the random urge to travel. Most people from LA do it to get away or experience nature. I’m quite the opposite type of person; I love routines, my home and I’m not the happiest person around dirt, rocks and trees. So why do I travel? Well, to see signs. Signs from all over the world!

Yes, National Parks are cool, best restaurants are cool, site-seeing is cool, museums are cool — but do you know what all these places have in common? Signs.

My most recent trip was to Denver. Although I will admit that the main reason for this trip was to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers live at Mile High Stadium, I was excited to see what Denver’s signs look like and how they react to weather conditions. (I’d like to know, even though LA has good weather and then some more good weather.)

Traveling with the purpose to see signs may sound a bit dramatic to some, but if I must confess, this is how I stay inspired and learn different approaches to the same results in lighting signs with exposed neon or LEDs. In concept, it’s like going to sign school in the real world, and sometimes it’s even like time traveling.

In some parts of Costa Rica, signs are still done the “old school” way: handpainted and spot lit. Places in Mexico have large numbers of businesses whose signs incorporate regional culture using elements or colors found in their environment. Signage from a local, mom-and-pop shop, bar or restaurant often has a story beyond what you may see.

Of course, signmakers in those countries, as well as many others, also embrace advanced technology. One UK company whose name I won’t mention can even match diode temperatures when repairing or replacing their existing signs! Every day you run an LED sign is a day less of life for each tiny little spot of light. The light temperature (cool/warm) slowly changes over time, so if you replace a letter with a new LED module — even with the exact same type originally installed — the letter will appear a different color and brightness. This company uses their system to create the temperature and brightness of said however-old LED to match the rest of the sign.

Good design plays a big role in my life. I enjoy being influenced by signs that push the limits. I like the “wow” factors in design, imagining how many times they were told, “No, that can’t be done…” until it happened.

It’s important to stay curious while mastering our craft, to learn from other signmakers’ ideas and resources or lack thereof. For example, sometimes when only experiencing my own signs,
I forget that other cities don’t have the same laws, regulations or ordinances as LA and other places are allowed to do things that wouldn’t be easily approved within my radius.

Surely you don’t have to book a trip across country or overseas to pay attention to signs. Just go somewhere close that you’ve never been to, or revisit a familiar place for a closer look. As the Chili Peppers sing, “… I know, I know for sure that life is beautiful around the world.”

Some unique signs from Denver



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