Milton Glaser’s I ♥ NY logo is one of the most iconic symbols in the world. Conceived in the back of a taxi, the original sketch is now held in the Museum of Modern Art. Beyond this iconic campaign, Glaser’s body of work includes a famous 1966 poster of Bob Dylan, album covers for Nina Simone and branding for the winter Olympic Games.
The I ♥ NY campaign originates from the mid-1970s in New York, which was a dark and dangerous period in the city’s history. Crime rates were at an all time high and it was a difficult time economically with bankruptcy looming. To counteract this problematic image, the New York State engaged an advertising agency to come up with a strategy to help drive tourism and raise the morale of residents. Glaser was approached to create a visual identity for the campaign. He submitted an initial concept to the state for approval, but later changed his mind. It was during a taxi ride that he came up with the idea for the I ♥ NY symbol and roughly sketched it onto a torn envelope using a red crayon. The logo, first released in 1977, was an overnight success and has emblazoned merchandise all over the world for decades since.
Despite the millions of dollars in royalties the logo has generated, Glaser has not profited from the campaign’s immense success beyond his modest $2,000 fee for the project. But for him, the slogan was appealing because he saw it as more of an “oath” rather than a sales pitch, aligning with his belief that design could have social impact. Glaser told the New York Times that he knew he was communicating something that “Held people together, that established a way for them to communicate with each other, which was not easily available in most contexts, socially.” He modified the logo following the terrorist attacks of 2001, adding an extra declaration to the slogan when New Yorkers needed it most - “I ♥ NY More Than Ever”.
At the time of the release of the I ♥ NY logo, Glaser had already started his eponymous firm where he would work across all manner of design disciplines. He created rug patterns, book covers, three-dimensional installations, retail environments, numerous logos and redesigns for multiple publications. Before this, he made his name with Push Pin Studios, an agency he founded with university classmates Reynold Ruffins, Seymour Chwast, and Edward Sorel. The studio developed a style that was in stark contrast to what they described as the “numbing rigidity of modernism”, which prevailed at the time.
It was also during this period that Glaser created the famous poster of Bob Dylan. In 1966, Dylan was involved in a serious motorcycle accident and was rumoured to be dead. Following this traumatic event, his management commissioned Glaser to create a poster to build excitement among concerned fans. Released with the singer-songwriter’s new album, the poster depicted his silhouette with saturated colours and high contrast. The artwork captured the mood of the psychedelic era and permeated popular culture. The hard-to-come-by originals are still considered a treasured addition to any serious poster collection.
In 1968, Glaser co-founded New York magazine with editor Cley Felker. This was another passion project reflecting Glaser’s love for his city. Glaser’s crisp and understated, yet bright and poppy design contributed to its success as one of the most popular and progressive magazines in America. The logo, hand-drawn by Glaser, has remained largely unchanged to this day.
From the beginning, Glaser was addicted to the thrill of making something that didn’t exist before. As a young boy growing up in New York, he loved drawing and knew that it was his calling. He believed in the power of original thinking, and drawing provided him with the means to realise a specific idea. There was certainly a freedom in Glaser’s designs, where intuition prevailed over logic. The result was a body of work that resonated with people on a deeper level and across many disciplines.
Glaser’s work has been featured at leading cultural institutions all over the world, including solo exhibitions at the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris and Museum of Modern Art in New York. He was also the first graphic designer to receive the National Medal of Arts in 2009 from the then-President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
Exceptionally prolific, Glaser worked right up until his death at the age of 91 and continued to consistently create work that resonated with a wide audience. He designed the AIDS logo in the late 1980s for the World Health Organization and posters for Vespa’s 50th anniversary in 1996 as well as for the final season of the television series, Mad Men in 2014. In the 2000s, he created a campaign about climate change that attempted to shift the population’s vocabulary with the campaign catch-cry, “it’s not warming, it’s dying”.
Glaser’s work shows that design can have the power to shift the way people think about the world. Whether it was an enduring symbol for New York City at a time of crisis or a pioneering magazine that acted as a vehicle for original thinking, his work has left a mark on the world of design and beyond. Throughout it all, Glaser always loved New York.
Milton Glaser designed a rug pattern for Barcelona-based company Nanimarquina. Discover more here.