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Why people love neon signs nowadays

Neon signs can be amazing. They passed out of favor many decades ago, and are now associated with the "good old days" up through the 1950s. And like everything else that seems to have disappeared from use over the years, it makes a lot of people wonder if there's been some kind of evil conspiracy against neon? Your attitude about neon reveals a lot of what you know about design.

As a Graphic Designer, I'm fascinated with design. I studied it in school, it's what I've done all of my life. I've been paid to combine shapes, colors, and fonts. And beautiful design is one of those strange things that everyone seems to recognize, but very few people know how to do (which is lucky for people like me!).

So there you go: people really don't love neon, they love the cool old designs. That is, they don't just love the light shining through tubing, that's just the closest that most people can come to describing it. And there have been a lot of spectacular designs done in neon. If you just handed some neon to a non-designer and told them to make a sign, they would make a mess. And that's what happened to neon. It's just like anything else, with great design, it's wonderful, with bad design, it's an eyesore. And neon became a serious eyesore, not just because of the spread of bad design (think of the most annoying "pop-up ad" that you can image), but because neon requires upkeep. If you've never been around a neon sign that has seen better days, I gotta tell ya, they're awful. They buzz, and blink, and when they burned out, they were usually just left like that.

Personally, I would be in favor of neon making a comeback. But only in the responsible hands of designers. And that's a tricky thing for cities to regulate. So they just outlaw neon. I wish they could outlaw bad design.

Image at the top of this post: Nighttime view of neon signs for the motels along Van Buren at 26th Street in the 1940s, Phoenix, Arizona.

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