Art critic Alastair Sooke crossed the Atlantic to discover the story behind Milton Glaser’s iconic I love New York logo, for a programme that aired on BBC Radio 4 this morning.
Sooke’s journey started at the city’s Museum of Modern Art, looking at a scrap of paper bearing a doodle – the first plan for Milton’s famous logo – which the museum claims has had greater influence on the rest of the world than anything else in the Moma collection.
The drawing itself was penned – rather aptly – in the back of a yellow New York taxi, in a bleak time in the city’s history. Ravaged by drugs and violent crime, the Big Apple in the 1970s was rotten to the core.
The state turned to design consultancy Madison Avenue, which in turn went to the young Glaser, to create a symbol to rejuvenate the state’s tourist industry.
Milton’s design was immediately popular with the consultancy and client alike. He attributes its success to the brainwork involved, decoding the symbols to solve the puzzle and translate the sentence. He adds, ‘That sense of satisfaction is really a clue as to why people respond to some things and not to others.’
The project started as a small advertising campaign with a tiny budget – Milton only asked for expenses, creating the logo for free – and was not even copyrighted for the first 10 years of its life in attempt to spread it far and wide.
It worked, with the symbol soon popping up on the Wall of China, as well as on hoodies on market stalls the world over. Typesetters even started including the heart shape in their ranges, something the programme appropriates directly to Glaser.
Designer Patrick Argent, who first alerted us to the programme, explains his respect for Glaser, ‘Milton Glaser is one of a rare breed indeed. A highly articulate, intellectual designer-illustrator whose inventiveness and richness of visual language revolutionised American design.
‘His presence and impact internationally is formidable. In creating a range of uniquely personalised and varyingly diverse styles, his work often blurs the distinction between painting and graphic design, defying the rigid constraints of any categorisation. Glaser’s considerable output in type and identity design displays equal inventiveness in purer graphic forms.’
I Heart Milton Glaser is a fascinating programme, packed with insight, cracking interviews – including one with Glaser himself – and genuine enthusiasm for the logo and its story. You can listen to the programme here, but be quick it’ll only be on iPlayer for another seven days.