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One On 1: The Graphic Designer Behind New York's Most Famous Slogan

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It is perhaps the most famous logo in the history of the state and the city: “I Love New York.”



But it almost didn’t happen.



In 1977, Milton Glaser had already submitted a simpler design and the state Department of Commerce had approved it.

"The next day I was in a taxi and I had a slip of paper, which I try to have with me. And I said, you know, there's a better way to do that. I heart New York,” said Glaser.



Glaser thought the campaign would only last a couple of months and did the work pro bono.



That's right. Millions of sales later, he says he has never made any money off of “I Love New York.”

“I suppose, if I were starving on the street corner I would feel, Îoh God, my one opportunity in life,’” says Glaser. “But I'm not starving on the street corner. I’ve always had enough money to live the life I wanted to lead, so it wasn't the financial thing."

Glaser is renowned in the world of graphic design as an artist who spurred the industry's popularity in the Î50s, and has been creating ever since, with a constant sense of wonder about the process.

"I have always had this experience of not knowing what I’m doing in the middle of doing it and I know that that's the moment to cherish,” says Glaser. “At that moment we are not in control and have abandoned the possibility of success. That's the only time that something extraordinary happens."

He’s created designs for Broadway shows and film festivals, a four-sided vodka bottle for Donald Trump.

One of his latest jobs is designing stationary for his wife of 50 years. How is she as a client?

“Terrible, terrible. She is very fussy, extremely fussy, and easily irritated, and she pays very badly!” says Glaser. “It's a terrible combination."

But Glaser's work has also covered social issues, like the United Nations campaign in Darfur.

“The great difficulty of professional life and I suppose anything else, is penetrating people's immunity,” says Glaser. “There's so much stuff to experience in life that you build up all these barriers to experience, and you stop seeing things."



In the aftermath of September 11th, Glaser brought his most famous design back with one change: a black mark on the bottom left to symbolize the towers, downtown on Manhattan’s West Side.



The Daily News used it as a wrap, and posters were distributed around New York.



One problem: In the interim years, the state had copyrighted the design.



When I love New York More Than Ever came out, Glaser received a cease and desist order from the company overseeing the copyright.

"The idea of earning money this way is reprehensible,” says Glaser. “I certainly wouldn't do it. There isn't any record keeping, because there was nothing for sale. I was so angry at the stupidity and venal quality of it — bureaucratic ignorance."

He wrote a letter to the Times and Governor George Pataki and shortly thereafter, he got a phone call. In light of the tragic circumstances, the company admitted its mistake.

“I’m doing these rugs for a Buddhist community in Katmandu and I want to do metaphysical rugs — rugs that change before your eyes,” says Glaser, holding up a sample. “You look at this, and suddenly this strange thing materializes. Isn't that amazing?"

What’s amazing is how a guy from the Bronx ended up doing metaphysical rugs for a Buddhist community in Katmandu.

Glaser says his inspiration first came when he was eight and confined to his bed for a year with rheumatic fever — a time he calls a period of forced introspection.

“The only thing that kept me alive and engaged was the fact that my mother would bring in a wooden plank and two piles of clay and I would spend the entire day making something. Making an army, making a castle, making a tank,” says Glaser. “And at the end of the day I would smash it, and look forward to the following day."

Glaser attended the high school of music and art, then graduated from Cooper Union in 1951 and studied in Italy on a Fulbright scholarship.



In 1954, he co-founded Pushpin Studios, known in the industry for melding various genres including art, typography, cultural references and visual language.



But in 1967, one of his pieces became famous well beyond the industry.

Inspired by the French painter Marcel Duchamp and other international elements, Glaser created a poster of Bob Dylan that was hung on the walls of Dylan fans around the world.

“At the time I was interested in Islamic painting and so I used these kind of Islamic forms for the hair and my memory of the Duchamp and a piece of lettering that I had found on a wall in Mexico,” says Glaser. “It’s a completely eclectic kind of thing, which is characteristic of the way I work."

The Dylan poster was an instant success.

A year later, the startup of New York magazine was not. Glaser was a co-founder.

"We planned for a long time for the first issue, but we’d forgotten there was gonna be a second issue and I did some very embarrassing things,” says Glaser. “Everybody was looking at us and saying, ÎWhoa! What does he think he's doing?’ It's bad enough to fail, but to fail week after week publicly is really awful."

Glaser started his own company in 1974, and shortly thereafter created his most durable design. In the 30 years since, the heart in "I love New York" has become a global phenomenon.

"I love the fact that something I've done has entered into the consciousness of the public, not only in United States, no matter where you go the world was waiting for ÎI heart something,’ so it's weird,” says Glaser.

Glaser is 79.



He's taught at the school of visual arts since 1961 and is now acting chairman of the board.



At his Kips Bay studio, the concentration is on what's happening now. Only when asked will Glaser reflect on his work in the past.

"It’s entered the culture, but I'm not comparing it to the works that’s being done at the moment or that has been done over the last 50 years,” says Glaser. “I'd rather compare it to Leonardo da Vinci and by that comparison you don't ever do that well."

"I come to work every day with a sense that I have not learned how to do it yet — I still don't know how to do it — and that the possibility for being astonished still exists," he continues. "Wow! How did that happen? That's the great benefit of being in this world of the arts or something, whether it’s writing or theater, is not to lose your capacity for astonishment.”

— Budd 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