Obituary: Milton Glaser, pioneering graphic designer and creator of the I ❤ NY logo
Milton Glaser, one of the world's most influential and pioneering graphic designers, has died on his 91st birthday (26 June). He changed the landscape of American graphic design and illustration, but you probably know him as the creator of one of the world’s best known icons and campaigns in I ❤ NY (though its success 'went beyond any expectations I had of its reach'). The concept has since been used in thousands of campaigns and branding exercises across the globe to this present day.
Glaser was born 26 June 1929 in the South Bronx, to Hungarian immigrants. He studied at the Cooper Union in 1951, then as a Fulbright scholar, the designer studied with the painter Giorgio Morandi in Bologna from 1952-53.
In 1954, together with fellow Cooper Union graduates Seymour Chwast, Reynold Ruffins and Edward Sorel, Glaser co-founded Push Pin Studios, a pioneering New York-based graphic design and illustration studio. To drum up clients and give an outlet to its visual experiments, the group put together a monthly publication called the Push Pin Graphic, launched in 1957.
One of Glaser’s most recognisable works from this era was the poster for Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, showing Dylan in silhouette with psychedelic hair. So influential was the studio that the Louvre staged a retrospective of its work in 1970, marking it the museum’s first graphic design show, which subsequently travelled around Europe.
Glaser co-founded New York Magazine in 1968 with Clay Felker, Glaser serving as design director and columnist from its first issue in April 1968 until 1977.
In 1974, after two decades running Push Pin, Glaser set out on his own. Milton Glaser Inc. remains a formidable force in the graphic design industry today, yet one of its earliest works for New York state will forever be its most impactful and remembered legacy: the I ❤ NY logo. This visual symbol is engrained in the city’s image, easily the most globally successful city tourism campaign, and perpetually described as 'the most frequently imitated logo design in human history,' yet was famously conceived in the back of a cab on the way to the pitch.
In a 2016 interview with Glaser, the designer remembered his surprise at the project’s success. 'It was strange. The slogan went beyond any expectations I had of its reach. For reasons that are not fully understandable, it’s still everywhere. In 1977, people were moving out by the thousands because the city had become unsafe. What the city needed at that time was an affirmation, a restoration of the feeling that New York was an important place to be.'
In 46 years, Glaser’s work has spanned identities, posters and campaigns for innumerable brands, exhibitions, events and institutions, from Brooklyn Brewery to Minneapolis Institute of Arts. In 1987, Glaser designed the World Health Organisation’s International AIDS symbol and poster. His agency also expanded to take on architectural projects, including a 15-year project with The Grand Union Company to redesign everything from its interiors to its packaging.
Many of Glaser’s clients came from his home city, notably the graphics for the restaurants, observation deck and permanent exhibition in the World Trade Center in 1975, and the overall conceptualisation and interior design of New York Unearthed, a museum located in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport; not to mention trippy 60s-inspired ads for the final season of Mad Men in 2014.
Throughout his career, Glaser remained an active educator, a teacher and board member at the School of Visual Arts since 1961, and a member of the board of directors at the Cooper Union. He had solo shows put on at the MoMA and Pompidou Centre. He received the 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, for his 'profound and meaningful long-term contribution to the contemporary practice of design'. In 2009 he was the first graphic designer to receive the National Medal of the Arts award, presented to him by President Obama.