On April 11th, I flew to Las Vegas, Nevada to attend the International Sign Association’s annual Experiential Design Program (XDP). The program was created so that designers, architects, and brand managers can learn more about signage and the materials and tech involved in the making of it. Seeing the variety of people come together for this conference put me in awe. I was fortunate to meet such a vast variety of people who are involved with signage work.

Conference atmosphere

I sat with a New York City Planner. A Walt Disney World Imagineer. And an Environmental Graphic Design (EGD) Video Game Designer.

The Imagineer from Walt Disney world, told us that they were working on brand new signs for sections of their parks.

I also met a video game designer, an environmental graphic designer who solely works on signage in Central Park, and other public spaces. It was an amazing experience meeting and learning about different people from all walks of life, and what signage meant to them.

One of the sessions was led by Alex Perry, the CEO of Right Way Signs*. Perry taught “Signs 101”, where I was educated about the process of sign production and installation, along with the real-world implications and applications of signage. Right Way Signs is based in Chicago, known as the “Windy City”. Because of the nature of the Windy City, sandwich signs were said to be hazardous to the public given their potential to be blown away; these made the signs illegal in Chicago. It was only after a push from the public that those signs were permitted in the city.

*Right Way Signs is a Chicago based signage company started in 1980 by Alex Perry’s father, who still works there today.

I learned that it is illegal to paint a mural of a living person in Chicago. Why?

The argument from the city is that people can profit from these works of art — that is, art of living persons. The counter argument (from the people) — is that there are plenty of murals of famous figures like Elvis and Michael Jackson; and those are real “businesses” owned by living people who profit from those murals. Who decides what is a mural and what is not? It was also interesting to hear the speaker interact with people in the crowd, how he handled very technical questions from people who deal with regulation code, the very technical aspects of sign development, and how signage exists in our cities. For example, I haven’t had to think about awning clearance on a public sidewalk (yet!), but many of the people who were at the conference deal with it every day. It was really inspiring to hear all the different perspectives and the types of relationships everyone has with signage in the broadest sense, everywhere we go.

The expo itself was truly incredible. There were around 500 exhibitors on the show floor, from Canon to Mimaki, from production giant, 3M, to Ohio’s very own, Plaskolite. Plaskolite was my personal favorite exhibitor, because of how much care and consideration they put into their demonstration for us. They clearly demonstrated how complicated processes such as lighting and cabinetry can be. One of their demonstrations was having someone wrapping a vehicle in real time, using a small knife to get around the edges.

booth photo

Another exhibitor that I really enjoyed was the Italian company Siser, who specialize in heat transfer vinyl. They showed us a variety of products, the most exciting of which was called “Twinkle” a glitter vinyl made specially for fabric.

While at the conference, I was able to connect with a true “Las Vegas Local” who shared with me that Las Vegas is the reason why he fell in love with signage as a kid. Standing in the middle of the strip, I can see why: everything in this city is a spectacle, and it’s only fitting that the ISA XDP chose this place as its venue for the conference.

Overall, Las Vegas was a memorable treat through the emphasis on signage which I saw on the strip – the scale of different exhibitions like New York skyscrapers, giant Hershey kisses and Reese’s cups, a glass bottle of Coke towering over the sidewalk.

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