The 1985 Master Development Plan for the city of Las Vegas included a cover illustration straight out of Tron. It’s unclear who designed it, but if it wasn’t Syd Mead himself, it was someone who clearly took a lot of inspiration from the legendary artist.

You can see the resemblance to Syd Mead’s work instantly. Mead, who worked as a designer on everything from Blade Runner to the first Star Trek movie, has a style that we think of today as quintessentially 1980s, and yet still feels futuristic in many ways. But Mead was around long before the 1980s.

The illustration below was produced by Mead for US Steel in the 1960s. And you’d be forgiven for not being able to tell if it was retro-futuristic or just plain futuristic.

Which brings us back to the cover of the 1985 Master Development Plan for Las Vegas. Does that still look futuristic to you? If you walk The Strip in Vegas these days you’ll see plenty of bright lights and large, Blade Runner-esque video screens. You may even see some people dressed like that woman in yellow.


But the Vegas monorail is practically worthless and nothing quite has that sheen of futuristic brilliance. The year 2000 was 18 years ago—almost a generation, if we count them in 20-year increments. But the future still feels so far away, even with all of the advanced technology we enjoy in the year 2018.

Where did we go wrong? (Aside from politics, of course.)

What put us on a path of such mundane thinking about design? Will generations of the future be able to tell the difference between the iPhone of 2007 and the one that I hold today? I doubt it. And where does that leave our skylines or our most outlandish cities? Will Vegas ever get the Tron treatment it deserves?


Only time will tell. But I’m not holding my breath.