From the logo for Brooklyn Brewery’s famous beer to the graphic identity of the comic book publisher DC and more recently a poster for the last season of the TV series Mad Men, Milton Glaser is, without a doubt, a giant of American graphics. After founding the Push Pin design studio and New York Magazine dedicated to cultural news in New York City, he became known to a wider audience in 1967 when he imagined the incredible psychedelic hair-do for a promotional poster for Bob Dylan’s ‘best of’ album. The commissions started pouring in for this Bronx native who, slowly but surely, fashioned the visual aesthetic of an era.
But one particular year represented a pivotal moment in Milton Glaser's career: 1977. By that time, the artistic director was so highly regarded that the Pompidou Centre devoted a special exhibition to his oeuvre. In light of his international acclaim, the advertising agency Wells Rich Green, known for its campaigns with Phillip Morris and Alka Seltzer, called on him to revitalise the image of New York City, then on the verge of bankruptcy. After the agency had explained how they wanted the logo’s signature to appear – an understated but effective “I Love New York” – the designer jumped in a cab and headed back to his studio. Inspiration came to him right then in that taxi and on the back of an envelope, Milton Glaser scribbled down an astonishingly simple logo, composed of the three letters I, N and Y and a heart to symbolise “Love”. Presented almost immediately to the agency, the logo underwent a few modifications, notably the choice of American Typewriter for its font and the organisation of the letters over two lines, before reaching its final version. It instantly became one of the most influential graphic creations in American popular culture: emblazoned on everything from t-shirts and bags to mugs and magnets, it is still sold in every souvenir store in the Big Apple. Other metropolises have since appropriated the logo, often playfully adapting it, as Strasburg did by changing the heart into a pretzel. In September 2001, after the attack on the World Trade Centre, Milton Glaser added a special mention to the logo… “more than ever” was added to posters that were distributed for free around the whole city and picked up by several newspapers.
Having never anticipated his creation would encounter such a success, Milton Glaser ceded his copyright to the city of New York. Andrew Cuomo, governor of the American state, made a point of paying tribute to him after his death was announced: “What Milton Glaser gave to New York will long survive him. ‘I Love New York’ was the perfect logo at the time he created it and remains so today. We lost a brilliant designer and great New Yorker.” Today, the envelope on which the logo was first scribbled down is framed and hangs on the walls of MoMA, so it can perpetuate the influence of a visionary designer forever.