“How you live changes your brain. The world wants us to be specialists, but it is the sense of discovery that brings out the best in us.“
The life of the great designer Milton Glaser came to an end at the start of his 91st trip around the sun; that’s right, Glaser was born and died on the same day, June 26th, in New York City — the city for which he made an icon that will continue forever in the mind of humanity.
Born to Jewish-Hungarian immigrant parents, Glaser is one of the most accomplished and talented designers of all time. Coming from the periphery to the center, he dedicated six decades of his life to design.
His destiny it seems was written, because from the age of five he marveled at how wonderful it can be to create with just a pencil and paper something that did not exist before, except in the imagination. And that is how he realized that art would be his life.
He began his artistic training formally at the Cooper Union Private Art University in New York, then he got a scholarship to continue his career at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, where he learned from Giorgio Morandi. A few years later, in 1954, he founded Push Pin Studios with his training colleagues; a design studio that quickly made an impact on the environment of his time. He always had in mind to expand and redefine the task of both the designer and the illustrator in the field of visual culture. Shortly thereafter, in 1974 he created a studio that would bear his name: Milton Glaser Inc.
As a designer he collaborated with newspapers such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and O Globo, and redesigned publications such as L’ Express Lire and La Vanguardia, the latter in Spain.
In addition, he had a high sense of social responsibility, which was reflected in a controversial film he co-directed in 1968. In the film, entitled Mickey Mouse in Vietnam, the famous Disney character dies from a bullet in the head as a statement denouncing the Vietnam War. More recently, he expressed his ideals against the selfishness and narcissism of President Donald Trump in 2017 by designing posters that were exhibited in New York subway stations.
As for his personal life, he shared 63 years with Shirley Girton, a photographer he met while studying at Cooper Union and with whom he collaborated professionally by publishing children’s stories, including “If Apples Had Teeth,” in which he drew and she wrote.
Some keys to describe and better understand the mind behind this great designer are: complexity mixed with simplicity, as well as a subtle combination of urban art with ArtNouveau that as a whole reflects timelessness. He had the ability to move seamlessly between different styles, yet always prioritized the effective communication of his ideas.
Still, the best way to know Glaser better is through his work? Here is a list of some of his most notable work:
1. The emblematic I ❤️ NY design
In 1977, his hometown of New York City commissioned Glaser to design a new symbol to be used as part of an advertising campaign. The goal of the campaign was to attract tourists and be a symbol of encouragement for New Yorkers after the economic crisis they had experienced at the time. He used the American Typewriter as the typeface because of its informality and reference to literature. In 2001, after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Glaser redesigned the logo to read: “I ♥ NY More Than Ever”.
2. Bob Dylan Greatest Hits album cover
Created in 1967 Glaser used a psychedelic style for which he became known internationally. His inspiration for this work was the artist Marcel Duchamp. You can see the profile of Bob Dylan in a black silhouette that contrasts with the rainbow spirals at the top representing his curly hair.
3. New York magazine’s logo
In 1968, Glaser and Clay Felker founded this magazine to compete with the already recognized New Yorker. In addition to being its president and creative director, he contributed a poster to promote the publication called New York Is About New York, in which he depicted the Empire State Building.
4. Mad Men series poster
Glaser designed posters and animations in Art Nouveau style for the last season of this American series in 2014. The design consists of the silhouette of Don Draper, the protagonist of the series.
5. AIDS: A global effort will stop it.
In 1987, Glaser collaborated with the World Health Organization on a poster focused on the AIDS crises. The design is simple but significant: a red heart joined in the center by a blue skull.
6. It’s not warming, it’s dying
With the intention of raising awareness about the devastating climate change on earth, in 2014 Milton launched a campaign with the slogan “It’s not warming, it’s dying.” The design is a circle in shades of green that darkens at the top, a metaphor for the disappearance of light on the planet.
7. As the cherry on top of the cake, let’s add one of Glaser’s last works, which promoted hope the times of COVID-19
In this piece, Milton Glaser used the word “Together;” adapting all the styles and colors that were characteristic of his work to encourage folks to stay strong and work together in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately he died without showing the world this latest contribution to art, but it came to light posthumously.
Today, the studio he built continues. Among its most frequent clients are The Brooklyn Brewery, Jet Blue, Target, Trump, Eleven Madison Park, Alessi, Juilliard and The Rubin Museum of Art, among others.
Likewise, Glaser was aware of the new digital trends to spread his ideas in art. He made a foray into the digital image when he created a poster for the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg; however, he was aware of the obvious difference between paper and digital. He thought that as less and less designers were drawing by hand that creativity was gradually being lost, and that designers were now only “finding” solutions.
Regardless, Glaser realized that the limits between digital and analog are fading more and more, forming a single reality stating that: “What we call reality is a composite representation inside our brain.”
Milton Glaser’s legacy remains in the memory of all art lovers, all the people who see the “I ❤️ NY” icon, all the viewers of Dylan’s album cover, and all those who have listened to his many lectures. Without a doubt, Glaser is one of the world’s great designers and his work is a pinnacle in the worlds of design and illustration.