Most of us can name a handful of famous scientists, inventors, film directors, maybe even a couple of celebrity hairdressers but who can name a single graphic designer? It’s a surprising fact considering we live in a world surrounded by their work – book covers, ads, magazine layouts and logos (everywhere logos).
A maestro of the art was the 1960s design guru Milton Glaser (and his Push Pin Studio). His name may not be familiar to you but his work is instantly recognisable. In fact, one of his creations is, arguably, the best recognised logo in the world after Apple, Coca-Cola and Shell.
A glorious new book Milton Glaser: POP is a compilation of his best work from the 1960s and 70s which culminated in his 1976 project commissioned by the New York State Department of Commerce. At the time the state and New York City needed all the help they could get to revive their fortunes.
The Big Apple was rotten to the core, down-at-heel and facing bankruptcy. The logo – I ♥ NY – effectively gave a focus to the drive to clean-up and reinvent the Big Apple as a welcoming place to do business and also visit. Cultural writer Adam Gopnik even goes as far as to say that it ‘was the closest thing there has ever been to a logo that changed social history’. The logo was magnificently simple, a typewriter font and a big fat red heart. Glaser invented the first emoji.
New Yorkers took to the logo immediately and it appeared everywhere: badges, fridge magnets, banners, car stickers. The world loved it too and everyone stole it: I [heart] Cupcakes, I [heart] Leith. It must be one of the most copied logos in the world. Even now some 45 years later it remains fresh and still gives a warm fuzzy feeling about New York. In 2001 after 9/11 Glaser revisited his most famous work with I [heart] NY More Than Ever. The heart symbol showing signs of a bruise.
Countries, states and cities all over the world were inspired by the NY logo and wanted a symbol of their own. They soon found it was not nearly as simple as Glaser had made it look. Curiously, one city that worked logo magic was Glasgow. In 1983 the lord provost Michael Kelley commissioned an ad agency to do for the Dear Green Place what Glaser had done for the Big Apple. Glasgow’s Miles Better was born. Instead of a heart symbol there was Roger Hargreaves’s Mr Happy cartoon (an echo of the smiley face symbol that pockmarked the 1970s).
Auld Reekie’s attempts were less than spectacular. Who remembers Edinburgh: Count Me In or the haughty spoof Edinburgh: Slightly Superior? In 2012 city fathers rejected the rather nifty Incredinburgh proving that it’s not just those who create but those who commission design that have to use their imagination.
Glaser and his business partner Seymour Chwast established Push Pin in 1954 and the studio became as famous for its graphic design as it did for its use of illustration. According to the authors of the book they helped ‘reinvent a new visual grammar of editorial and advertising art and typography’.
Push Pin was a world away from the clever-clever, ultra-cool Madison Avenue style exemplified by the iconic ‘Think Small’ ad that introduced the VW Beetle to America in 1959. Glaser was a magpie – he was influenced by woodcuts and ink blots, psychedelia, Pop Art, Aubrey Beardsley, art deco and calligraphy.
What clients liked about Glaser was that he never lost sight of the main job of the designer: that his creativity was there to sell stuff. And communicate. In 1963 his studio was commissioned by US publishers Signet to provide illustrations for the memorable covers of its paperback Shakespeare plays series. Skilful line drawings with splashes of colour made Hamlet and Macbeth sexy and cinematic. The books were often reprinted.
He also designed fonts (most famously one called Baby Teeth) and in 1968 co-founded New York magazine (based for a time at the Push Pin offices) a more street-smart competitor to the New Yorker that featured ground-breaking New Journalism from the likes of Tom Wolfe and Gail Sheehy.
Milton Glaser’s other claim to fame – a lodestone to much of his work – was the poster he did for Bob Dylan’s 1966 greatest hits album. Dylan is seen in silhouette, his hair trailing off in multicoloured whorls, half art nouveau, half acid trip. The image (inspired by homemade screen-printed posters from San Francisco’s hippie underground) helped position the counter culture in the mainstream and was ripped off by innumerable lookalikes.
Glaser’s bright, jarring colour combinations and cartoony outlines became a leitmotif of the 60s, influencing the trippy 1968 Beatles animated film Yellow Submarine. And, coming full circle in 2014, Glaser provided the art used to promote the season finale of the iconic, 60s-set TV drama Mad Men in his signature style. He died in 2020 aged 91. ■
Info: Milton Glaser: POP by Steven Heller, Mirko Ilic and Beth Kleber is published by Monacelli/Phaidon £44.95
Milton Glaser and the ubiquitous American Typewriter logo