Working in Neon: Lighting Up the Tortoise Supper Club Word Mark
Actors say they'll know they've made it when they see their name in lights—and after seeing the neon sign we made for Tortoise Supper Club light up State Street in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, we totally get it. There's nothing more satisfying than seeing a custom logo your studio designed glowing in the nighttime sky.
Tortoise Supper Club engaged the One Design team to take an already successful business to the next level. Rigorous field research and a collaborative strategic positioning effort led us down a path focused on classic dining experiences within a community setting—hallmarks of the “metropolitan supper clubs” of yesterday. Hence, the Tortoise Supper Club name and the “Dine well. Dine together.” tagline was born.
When it came to expressing the brand in a visual way, we looked to the historical roots of supper clubs as well as the classic streetscape of Chicago’s bustling theater district. Neon signage was a constant thread—something that evoked an era while functionally elevating a restaurant's street presence to build pedestrian awareness.
Simply put: Neon signage was a critical part of the brand expression, considering both aesthetics and functionality.
In order to elevate the historical tradition of supper club signage and incorporate it into the new vision for Tortoise Supper Club, we turned to one of the most revered signage shops in the city: Best Neon Sign Company. Building the sign was a highly collaborative process, leveraging design and engineering expertise to translate the identity into the physical world.
Our first task was to adapt the monoline script of the Tortoise Supper Club logo for neon fabrication. With input and guidance from the Best Neon team, we turned our single-stroke script into a double-stroke outline to yield a more legible result. A structural engineer at Best Neon helped us develop precise schematics for the sign while we worked through the details of scale and positioning—designing to maximize street presence without overwhelming the restaurant’s elegant facade. Once the aesthetic details were dialed in (resulting in a sign roughly 9 x 4.5 feet in scale), their team developed technical blueprints that outlined specifications for bending the glass, electrical circuitry, and construction of the metal channel that would ultimately encase the neon tubing.
Building a neon sign is as much an artisanal craft as it is a manufacturing process, and the Best Neon team are masters of their art. We watched in awe as they carefully heated and bent the glass tubes to bring the blueprints to life. Once the metal encasements and lighting hardware were in place it was installation time. We rendezvoused on State Street at 3 a.m. and were mesmerized as the Best Neon team hoisted and fixed the sign atop the Tortoise Supper Club entrance. With a flip of the switch, the sign lit up State Street like Christmas came early.
The new sign does exactly what we hoped, capturing the spirit of the restaurant and the vibrant energy of downtown Chicago while serving as an iconic wayfinder for the public. When you get a minute, check it out for yourselves. The photos don’t quite do it justice.