The We ♥ NYC logo is “not replacing Glaser’s version”

We spoke to Graham Clifford about the purpose and design of his new logo and asked designers about the challenges of city branding.

A new We ♥ NYC logo designed by designer and art director Graham Clifford has been revealed, to mixed reactions from New Yorkers and the design industry.

The logo was designed as part of a new city-wide campaign that urges New Yorkers to contribute to their communities “by lending a helping hand”. Though Clifford’s “We ♥ NYC” design has inevitably been compared to the late Milton Glaser’s well-loved “I ♥ NY” mark, he says that the initial brief “was very explicit that we are not replacing Glaser’s version”.

New York Mayor Eric Adams announced the campaign launch in partnership with Governor Hochul and the Partnership for New York City. The initiative aims to get people living in the five New York boroughs to get together and do something transformative for their communities.

Glaser claimed to have sketched the now widely recognised mark on the back of an envelope while in the back of a cab in 1976. The logo has since become trademarked, owned by the New York State Department of Economic Development and used to attract tourists to the city and more recently to the wider New York State.

Milton Glaser’s design

Clifford confirms that “I ♥ NY” will continue to be used and that his design is for “a completely different initiative”. Because of this, Clifford says it was important to differentiate the “We ♥ NYC” to “avoid confusion between the two marks”. That being said, Clifford explains that the design process was “a delicate balancing act” as he also “needed to pay homage” to Glaser’s logo.

After being approached by Maryam Banikarim – who runs purpose-driven collective MaryamB and has a desire to drive change in New York City – Clifford says he set out to design a mark which could act as “a rallying cry”. The inclusion of “We” in the new campaign logo aims to “bring all New Yorkers together”, he adds.

For the typeface, Clifford opted for an adapted Helvetica font inspired by the lettering on subway signage, offering up a different approach to Glaser’s rounded serif typeface American Typewriter font. The aesthetic of the heart is also very different, as Glaser’s mark uses a flat, 2D image, while the new campaign logo features a 3D, rounded emoji-style heart.

“City branding is challenging,” says Monotype executive creative director Phil Garnham, adding that “changing something that holds so much equity & value is not for the faint of heart”. He believes that logos and icons can embody “the identity, history, connection, and shared experience of a community”.

Garnham says that “type cannot always be judged in isolation”; we must also consider “the client relationship” and whether politics played a role in the design.

Though he recognises the “weight of overwhelming global pressure” placed on any designer with such a task, he feels that more could have been done in this new logo “to celebrate New York’s rich typographic scene”. Garnham adds: “I do expect we’ll see Milton’s logo again before too long”.

Clifford’s use of the emoji heart left Collins senior designer Indgila Samad Ali with the most questions. “Emojis flood our texts, Twitter feeds and even email threads. They’re the most disposable, dismal, ephemeral symbolic language we have”, she says.

Samad Ali thinks that an emoji has no place in this design, which was intended to pay homage to Glaser’s iconic mark and “build on its legacy”. The heart is also interchanged for things like taxi emojis, apples, bagels and pizza in some applications, which Samad Ali suggests “completely weakens and devalues the heart”.

“Glaser’s heart is as simple and timeless as it gets”, she adds, describing it as “a cut-paper, hand-drawn Valentine to all of us”.

Samad Ali adds that she finds the use of Helvetica “amplifies the soullessness that the emoji brought to the party”. Though likened to the NYC subway visual system – “made by another genius mind, Massimo Vignelli” – she says this “doesn’t do the new logo any favours”, as the highly legible, utilitarian font “makes good sense in the subway’s wayfinding but feels cold on our city’s flag”.

While she believes the goal behind the new initiative is well-intentioned, Samad Ali says that “absolutely anything meant to stand next to or reference the original Milton Glaser logo is going to pale in comparison”.

“The original is much more than a brilliant piece of graphic art — it’s now a part of New York itself, if not its very heart. To have done this successfully would have required an impossible amount of good luck.”

In response to the mixed views on his new design, Clifford says: “New Yorkers are an incredibly passionate bunch – that’s why we love them – and the new mark seems to have sparked something inside many of them.” His hope is that they use their passion to respond positively to the campaign, “whether it’s by volunteering, helping a neighbour, supporting a local business or even simply picking up a piece of trash”.

Hide Comments (6)Show Comments (6)
  • Declan Stone March 24, 2023 at 9:16 am

    Does this initiative to “bring all New Yorkers together” include those who chose not to take that experimental injection? Or does NYC still discriminate against these people?

  • mike dempsey March 24, 2023 at 9:39 am

    An example of how graphic design has changed over the past decade. Gone are the solo innovators, enter the world of endless ‘collaborators’. Let’s get everyone involved as here, making earth-shattering design decisions like using Helvetica! (give me a break!) along with all the other post-rationalisation bollocks. Rather than bastardising Milton Glaser’s much-loved logo, far better to have created a stand-alone mark for what is a call for city ‘collaboration’. RIP Milton.

    • George March 27, 2023 at 8:08 pm

      Hear, hear

  • Garech Stone March 24, 2023 at 1:59 pm

    The singular pronoun “I” expresses difference and diversity, whilst use of the collective “We” is as lazy and generic as the emoji heart. In fact, the iconic ‘I Amsterdam’ city branding was also binned due to the same superficial definition of inclusiveness, and the same marketing BS…

  • Aziz Cami March 26, 2023 at 2:48 pm

    Mike’s entirely correct. Absolute BS

  • derek johnston March 28, 2023 at 10:36 am

    The We ♥ NYC logo is “not replacing Glaser’s version”

    Except, it is…like Homer Simpson rewriting the Iliad

    What a load of bollocks. Have some spine DW and call tis out for a travesty.

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