“Colorado Springs…we’ve had a problem!” The non-profit Space Foundation Headquarters and Discovery Center located in this attractive Colorado city was undergoing a complete rebranding and remodeling of their facility. The organization prides itself on “promoting education, information, and collaboration” for space exploration and space-inspired industries, even hosting special exhibits, conferences, camps for kids, etc.
However, with the Space Foundation campus tucked away from the main road, officials there felt the public still didn’t really know what they did or the activities they offered. They knew a brand-new, road-facing pylon sign was needed to get their message(s) out.
Sign Shop Illuminated, LLC, a twenty-five-year-old, high-quality, full-service sign company also located in Colorado Springs, stepped up to the launchpad to help the Space Foundation realize their goal.
The company already had a good working relationship with the Space Foundation, already previously having provided exterior signs (channel letters, directionals, monuments, etc.) and interior graphics for them.
For Sign Shop Illuminated Owner Louis DeSantis, this ended up being a fun project he finds doesn’t come along very often—designing a pylon sign completely from scratch. “They have a defined logo and know what they are as a company and who they represent,” he told the Daktronics Experience podcast, “but they didn’t have an idea what they wanted. They just wanted us to make it special.”
The one stipulation from Space Foundation officials was that the pylon sign had to incorporate a digital marquee. But they didn’t desire the common design trope of a cabinet on top and EMC at the bottom. They wanted something unique. “Our designers, fabricators, and installers get excited about that kind of opportunity, because we get to be as creative as possible,” said DeSantis.
The consensus from the Sign Shop Illuminated crew was to incorporate what the Space Foundation represents into the pylon sign. DeSantis collaborated with his shop director, Wayne Gwin, who had experience on larger projects, and discussed how to incorporate “space” into a standout design.
Teamwork is an important concept at Sign Shop Illuminated. “Invest in your people around you and entrust in them that they will care about it like you will care about it,” advised DeSantis. “Be open to ideas. This helps our creative process continue on instead of stalling.”
Before DeSantis took over the company from his father-in-law, Jack Frost, he knew he needed to learn everything about it from the ground up—design, fabrication, installation, etc. Doing so earned the trust and respect of the people he would be working with and managing. Eventually DeSantis moved into the office to learn how to bid out jobs and work with national and local vendors.
“The sign industry is so unique because we have a fantastic blend of blue collar and white collar,” said DeSantis.
The Space Foundation facility has lots of pieces from space shuttles on display, as well as actual items that had gone into space. This gave Sign Shop Illuminated a lot to get started; they even studied for hours everything NASA had done and SpaceX was doing.
Sign Shop Illuminated drew up a double-sided 16-feet-11-inches-tall-by-9-feet-1-inches-wide pylon sign that would resemble a space shuttle take-off, complete with a launchpad pillar replica hosting LED-backlit Space Foundation channel letters and an 8-by-4-foot 10mm Daktronics EMC display in place of a space shuttle—all with a miniature walkway bridge in-between.
The design process actually proved ever evolving. The Sign Shop Illuminated team held roundtables every day for a couple of weeks, drawing and moving things around on their whiteboard and figuring out how their design idea could be achieved.
They encountered a bit of turbulence at the start, as the Colorado Springs sign code actually did not allow any EMCs at the time. That was a big problem. The Daktronics display is definitely the centerpiece of this pylon sign experience—broadcasting videos and still images of the Space Foundation’s exhibits, events, and space-oriented films and imagery.
The good news is that Sign Shop Illuminated counts permitting specialists amongst their staff of fabricators, painters, and installers. “To have a unique job like a permitting specialist in-house really helps when we run into potential obstacles and overcoming them,” said DeSantis, noting these individuals were instrumental in passing an updated variance that would allow the EMC to go up. “They were on-point with every aspect in convincing the city to allow this change.”
In addition to the EMC and walkway recreation, the pylon sign also features halo-lit pan channel letters backlit with blue LED on the tower, CNC-routed aluminum push-thru acrylic for the logo and lettering, and multi-color LED lighting along the base.
Sign Shop Illuminated kept all the design revisions in-house, only presenting Space Foundation officials with the final product (so as to avoid any second-guessing). “They loved it right from the start!” beamed DeSantis.
“Starting with the foundation, we had to create a custom harness that would allow us to accommodate the handful of poles that would be supporting the structure, due to its setup,” DeSantis explains to us. “From there, with the numerous parts of the sign, the installation occurred in several stages. We installed the sections of the sign one at a time, finalizing the installation in the field.”
DeSantis credits his entire team of twenty employees at Sign Shop Illuminated for this project succeeding.
“It really is a team effort here,” he said. “You can’t sell a sign if you don’t have the crew to build and install it. You can’t build a sign if you don’t have someone to sell and design it. And you can’t install a sign if you don’t have someone who can sell and build it.”
The Space Foundation is the beneficiary of this teamwork with a truly “inter”-stellar pylon sign and EMC display that is getting their universal messaging out to everyone!