Your Name in Neon Lights? Oxide Design Preserves a Slice of Omaha History

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Meeting Aaron Draplin at HOW Live recently (he also signed some super “Wicked Boston” posters while there) made me remember his [NSFW] video talking about an experience he had with a sign he purchased – and the ‘thing’ it was replaced with. Is America replacing great signs of yesterday with signs of gradients and terror all over? Probably. But every now and then, “we’re going to take it back” as Draplin says. And in Omaha, one of these little stories happened in front of an old hardware store just months before Draplin released his video.

Shortly after moving into their current location in the middle of Omaha, Nebraska, Oxide Design Co. found themselves with a (non-working) neon “hardware” sign above their door. Word came out that rather than taking it down, they were going to “restore” it. I remember Nate Voss telling Drew it should say, “Design”. Nate’s thinking was that the old sign didn’t have the name of the business on it – just what was sold inside.

Starting in February of 2008, and completed in April, the “Oxide” sign has been a landmark on Farnam street ever since. I decided it was time to talk to Drew Davies about what I see as one of his firm’s great pieces of design.

Drew, have you seen the “The Draplin Project” talking about restoring old signs?

Hadn’t seen this video until you sent it to me. But I have to say, I agree 100% with Aaron Draplin.

What was the idea behind restoring a full-scale neon sign instead of more traditional signage as you had at your old studio?

In this case, the decision was pretty easy. When we moved into the office, the existing framework for an old, weathered sign was still hanging off the front of the building. While that shell of a sign may not have actually reduced the cost of getting the refurbished sign, it felt like restoring the original historic sign was the perfect solution.

I had assumed that cost was a factor, as is for any studio. Did any of the initial quotes give you pause or make you re-think the idea? Especially when you realized it may not actually be any cheaper than starting from scratch?

Most definitely. Even repurposing much of the existing hardware, the project was well into four digits. In the end, I decided it was a worthwhile investment to literally have our name in lights.

What was the most challenging aspect of getting what you had envisioned on paper, or in your mind, created in metal and neon?

Working in three dimensions at a scale this large was pretty daunting for a couple of print designers, but it was also really exciting. The most challenging aspect was sending the artwork off as Illustrator files, and hoping against hope that it’d come back as we expected. I’m happy to report, the final sign is exactly what we’d envisioned.

How long did this project take from beginning to end?

Felt like forever. We spent about two months working up art, collaborating on specs with the sign vendor, and getting everything ready to roll. Then the complete sign refurbishment and re-install on the building took almost two months.

Was there any aspect of this project that actually went easier than you anticipated?

It was certainly serendipitous that the name OXIDE and our logo fit so nicely on the pre-defined space of the existing sign hardware.

What’s been the best response you have received from the sign, other than me talking about it on this blog?

Since we’re located on a pretty significant commuter route, when I talk with people from all over the city, when I tell them I’m the owner of Oxide they say “I know you – the place with the neon sign!”

Did you try different gasses for making the neon? Is there oxide in that thing?

I wish. There’s only a few people left in the region who even bend tubes and make neon lights. You just have to tell them what you want and take what they give you.

What type of office discussions were there on how the letters and the oxide logo would blink, or was this always thought to be always on with just the blinking logo?

We had discussions about whether things should blink at all, and if so, what? In the end, we decided that a little blinking goes a long way, so we left the letters of Oxide steady and just have the logo slowly blink on and off.

Now that Oxide has put their name in lights, and on the side of a bus (that’s a whole other story), what is the next logical step to promote a design firm: A) Private Jet; B) Jello Molds; C) Obelisk; D) Other

Our next plan — which is highly top secret — is to get our logo on the top of a building large enough to be seen on Google Maps.

Any warnings out there for other designers who want to see their name in lights?

Think very carefully about the ROI of putting your name in lights. But also listen carefully to Aaron Draplin: don’t just add another cheap piece of visual junk to the landscape of America.

[Oxide sign design by Drew Davies and Joe Sparano.]

  1. 08

    […] by the office while he was visiting Omaha. While driving down Farnam Street, Gardner recognized Oxide’s neon sign, and stopped in for a visit with Drew Davies and an impromptu book signing. “Thanks for your […]

  2. 10

    great neon post thanks…… for this