The I ♥ New York logo is one of the most ubiquitous symbols in the world – you’ll struggle to find a T-shirt or trinket in New York’s souvenir stalls that doesn’t bear it. But do you know the man behind it? His name is Milton Glaser – and he transformed visual culture during his lifetime.
Aged 91, June 26, 2020 saw his passing, but his artistic contribution continues to be felt with more than 70 years of his work.
Along with fellow Cooper Union graduates Seymour Chwast, Reynold Ruffins and Edward Sorel, Milton founded graphic design and illustration studio Push Pin Studios in 1954. “Their work combined a fascination with the graphic simplicity and directness of comic books with a sophisticated understanding of modern art, especially of surrealism and cubism” notes Britannica, and it could be found everywhere – in magazines and on book jackets and record sleeves.
In 1967, Push Pin Studios was commissioned by Columbia Records to illustrate Bob Dylan‘s Greatest Hits album. It catapulted Glaser into the spotlight. “Taking design cues from a self-portrait by French-American artist Marcel Duchamp, the poster sees Dylan’s side profile illustrated as a black silhouette, providing a stark contrast to the rainbow-coloured, swirling lines designed to represent the singer’s curly locks,” says design magazine Dezeen.
As his career was taking off, come 1968, Glaser teamed up with American editor Clay Felker to found a magazine designed to compete with The New Yorker. Enter New York Magazine. Until 1977, Milton would hold his post as president and design director – creating everything from its iconic curly logo to posters of the Empire State Building.
You know which one we’re talking about. It’s as simple as it gets, but an instantly recognizable logo that gets straight to the point. Indeed, Glaser did love New York – the place of his birth and death – and when New York state approached him to help promote tourism for the city, then plagued by crime and a financial crisis, he jumped at the chance. He produced the logo free of charge.
Over his long career, Glaser’s graphic design prowess was put to the greater good to tackle global issues. In 1987, for instance, he created a poster for the World Health Organization with the message: “Aids: a Worldwide Effort Will Stop It.” Meanwhile, 2014 saw him launch a campaign to raise awareness around climate change. “The campaign’s visual identity features a green disc obscured by black smoke to symbolise ‘the disappearance of light’ from the planet,” says Dezeen.
In 2004, Glaser was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. In 2009, then President Barack Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts.