We had always envisioned Las Vegas as the Holy Grail of roadside signage, which is why we jumped at the opportunity to take an AIGA-financed junket to the desert paradise. As our cheesy stretch limo crawled down the traffic-choked Strip, we came to the realization that, except for a few crusty landmarks, all of the great lettering was gone. It had been replaced with cut vinyl type, bad digital renderings and a general lack of aesthetic judgement that pervades modern cookie-cutter signage. Boulevard South looked more like our local busy suburban highway strip mall, except that hulking hotels took the place of McDonalds, Burger King, Walmart and Olive Garden. As we rolled up to the sparkling new Venetian resort (which hosted the 1999 AIGA conference) and entered its imaginary world, we all shared the notion that we would have to imagine our own vision of the way Las Vegas was and should still be.
Since the trip didn’t yield the inspiration we were seeking, much of the material for the Las Vegas collection came from little trinkets picked up on eBay as well as at the local flea market and thrift shops. For example, Ken created his Castaway font based on pictures of the defunct casino’s sign as well as matchbooks, shot glasses and cocktail napkins we had managed to scrounge up. Books, travel brochures, postcards and other collateral also came into play as we built our Vegas reference library. We also spent a lot of time studying the work of Las Vegas sign pioneers—it wasn’t like Chalet where we could just make the shit up. Thomas Young opened a traditional sign shop in Ogden, Utah, during the 1920s. Ten years later he introduced neon into his repertoire and re-emerged in Las Vegas as Young Electric Sign Company. YESCO created some of the most memorable signs: the undulating Mint spectacular, the original Stardust façade and, of course, the familiar Sands pylon. The meeting of tradition and technology during this golden era of Las Vegas made for some of the most noteworthy specimens of American signage.
Two of the fonts were based on signature Vegas signs and the remaining faces fit popular aesthetic schemes, while not specifically referencing any particular lettering. Fabulous followed the fluid script logo of the Flamingo and the afore-mentioned Castaway was modeled after the since-razed casino of the same name. Nugget paid tribute to the city’s frontier-town heritage while the readerboard-based workhorse, Jackpot, anchored the group. We scrapped a fifth typeface based on the Stardust sign when Ken couldn’t figure out how to make the letterforms work together as a half decent font while doing justice to the original sign. Some logos are better left alone.