‘I ♥ NY’ taught us emoji

Mil­ton Glaser, the de­signer be­hind the famed logo, shaped how we use sym­bols.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Carolina A. Mi­randa

The city: New York. The time: The ’70s. The vibe: Post-white­flight ur­ban de­cay. High crime rates. Graf­fi­ti­drenched sub­ways. Land­lords torch­ing their own build­ings for the in­sur­ance money. Plus, there was the tip­toe to bank­ruptcy in 1975 that left the city hours from in­sol­vency as the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­fused a bailout (gen­er­at­ing the fa­mous New York Daily News cover line “Ford to City: Drop Dead”).

This was fol­lowed two

years later by a black­out that plunged the city into dark­ness for 25 hours. All of it was echoed and ex­ag­ger­ated by Hol­ly­wood, in films about po­lice cor­rup­tion (“Ser­pico”), vig­i­lan­tism (“Death Wish”) and prof­li­gate amoral­ity (“Taxi Driver”).

To all of this, graphic de­signer Mil­ton Glaser re­sponded with four lit­tle pieces of type in 1977 that would help change the way the world saw New York: “I NY.”

Was it read “I Heart New York?” or “I Love New York” or “I Love En Wye”? It didn’t mat­ter. Ev­ery­one knew what it meant. It meant you hadn’t given up on New York, a city that un­der­neath its beat-up ex­te­rior har­bored the words of Amiri Baraka and the jagged vo­cals of Lou Reed and the chopped-up build­ingsculp­tures of Gor­don Mat­taClark and the blaz­ing shows of the Fa­nia All-Stars, which brought 50,000 salsa mu­sic fans to their feet at Yan­kee Sta­dium in 1973.

And Glaser evoked those ideas with ut­most sim­plic­ity: three black let­ters in a chunky type­writer font and a blaz­ing red heart, laid out in a neat square.

As the story goes, the de­signer sketched out the ini­tial con­cept on a torn en­ve­lope in the back of a taxi cab. (That draw­ing now re­sides in the col­lec­tion of the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art.) It was a quick ges­ture that ended up be­com­ing iconic al­most in­stantly, re­lent­lessly copied and pi­rated and spoofed — and re­mains so to this day. A quick scan of Etsy turns up adap­ta­tions of the logo with im­ages of hot dogs, pi­geons and even New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo’s face.

“I’m flab­ber­gasted by what hap­pened to this lit­tle, sim­ple noth­ing of an idea,” Glaser said of the de­sign in a 2011 in­ter­view with the Vil­lage Voice. “It just demon­strates that ev­ery once in a while you do some­thing that can have enor­mous con­se­quences.”

Glaser died Fri­day — his birth­day — at age 91.

He leaves be­hind work of such enor­mous con­se­quence that it has be­come em­bed­ded in our de­sign DNA.

While best known for the “I [Heart] NY” logo, the de­signer had his hand in myr­iad other as­pects of visual cul­ture. He not only helped es­tab­lish New York magazine in 1967 but he also de­signed the magazine’s cov­ers as well as its el­e­gant, swoop­ing logo, the ty­po­graph­i­cal equiv­a­lent of a co­quet­tish so­ci­ety lady re­clin­ing into a chaise longue. (Per­fect for a pub­li­ca­tion ob­sessed with the do­ings of Man­hat­tan’s well-to-do.) The logo, with some tweaks, is still in use to this day.

In ’67, he also cre­ated the poster for Bob Dy­lan’s great­est hits al­bum, fea­tur­ing the mu­si­cian in black sil­hou­ette with stream­ing, psy­che­delic hair. Six mil­lion copies of that de­sign ended up in the hands of Dy­lan fans — one went to MoMA’s col­lec­tion.

Three years later, he was onto film­maker Michelan­gelo An­to­nioni’s coun­ter­cul­ture flick “Zabriskie Point,” for which he de­signed a poster that shows the icons of Amer­i­can cul­ture seem­ingly ca­reen­ing full speed to­ward the Earth. In the ’90s, he cre­ated the winged logo for Tony Kush­ner’s Tony Award-win­ning play “An­gels in Amer­ica.”

There are count­less other achieve­ments: lo­gos for the Brook­lyn Brew­ery and Elek­tra Records, al­bum cov­ers for Columbia, bold book jack­ets, orig­i­nal fonts, and even a fu­tur­is­tic chil­dren’s toy shop called Child­craft that was all pri­mary col­ors and rounded edges. Glaser de­signed the poster for the Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art’s In­ter­na­tional Bud­dhist Film Fes­ti­val in 2003, with its echoes of the Post­mod­ern. A decade later he was help­ing chan­nel a 1960s de­sign zeit­geist for the TV se­ries “Mad Men.”

As writer Christo­pher Bo­nanos writes in his trib­ute to the de­signer in New York magazine: “If they’re tal­ented and they’re lucky, de­signer-artist-cre­ators get to lob an icon out into the larger cul­ture . ... If they’re great, maybe they cre­ate two. Mil­ton Glaser, though, op­er­ated on an­other plane.”

Part of his suc­cess can be at­trib­uted to his world­li­ness and the myr­iad cul­tural fonts from which he drew. The Bronx-born son of Hun­gar­ian im­mi­grants (he was born in 1929), Glaser re­ceived his de­gree at the Cooper Union for the Ad­vance­ment of Science and Art. Other for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ences helped shape his work too: early draw­ing classes with so­cial re­al­ist artists Raphael and Moses Soyer and a Ful­bright to the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, Italy, where he stud­ied with stil­l­life painter Gior­gio Mo­randi.

In the 1950s, when he and some class­mates — a group that in­cluded artists Sey­mour Ch­wast and Edward Sorel — founded a de­sign group called Push Pin Stu­dios, their bright, graphic work, in­spired by sources such as Art Nou­veau and comics, was pre­scient of psy­che­delic art at least a decade be­fore psy­che­delic art was rec­og­nized as a thing. In fact, Glaser was quick to point out that his work was not in­spired by drugs at all.

“I’ve never taken any drugs at any time,” he told NPR’s Terry Gross in 1981. “In fact, I’ve prob­a­bly only taken as­pirin two or three times in my life.”

The poster of Dy­lan drew from the sil­hou­ette self-portraits of Mar­cel Duchamp and the artist’s in­ter­est in Is­lamic pat­tern. Other de­signs were in­spired by sources as di­verse as in­dige­nous art and Ital­ian paint­ing.

As it turns out, the “I [Heart] NY” logo was more a fa­vor than a com­mis­sion.

It was 1976 and the creative team at the Madi­son Av­enue ad­ver­tis­ing firm Wells Rich Greene had coined the phrase for the state of New York’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment agency, which was try­ing to pro­mote tourism to New York as an eco­nomic salve. Glaser fig­ured the cam­paign would last for “two weeks.”

“I did it for free,” he said in the Vil­lage Voice in­ter­view.

By the fol­low­ing year, when the de­sign was re­leased in its fi­nal form, it quickly be­came a mer­chan­dis­ing jug­ger­naut — em­bla­zoned on caps, cof­fee mugs and key chains. A photo from 1977 shows then-New York Gov. Hugh Carey hold­ing up a T-shirt with the de­sign at an “I Love New York” fes­ti­val in Al­bany.

Glaser, who by all ac­counts was rather pro­fes­so­rial in his de­meanor, never re­gret­ted do­ing the work pro bono: “The truth is, I have enough money to live the life I want to live. I don’t think about how it would be if I had an­other cou­ple mil­lion. I have no needs that are not be­ing ful­filled.”

Af­ter the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks on New York City, he re-cre­ated the logo with a bruised heart and a few ex­tra words: “I [Heart] NY More Than Ever.”

Like so much of Glaser’s work, “I NY” be­came part of the pop­u­lar cul­ture be­cause it was so smart, yet so sim­ple. But also be­cause it was so pre­scient.

To­day, we com­mu­ni­cate via emoji pal­ettes that fea­ture hearts not just in red but in a rain­bow of col­ors. Count­less times a day, we blend sym­bols with ty­pog­ra­phy. We may not al­ways know how to ar­tic­u­late th­ese com­mu­niqués ver­bally, but we know what they mean.

And that was some­thing Glaser and his con­tem­po­raries at Push Pin al­ready had a grasp of in the 1950s.

“We es­sen­tially broke down the firm dis­tinc­tions be­tween de­sign, ty­pog­ra­phy and il­lus­tra­tion,” he told NPR. “To a large ex­tent, work had be­come very spe­cial­ized. Il­lus­tra­tors idn’t de­sign and designers didn’t il­lus­trate. At Push Pin, we started to merge the dis­tinc­tion.”

But it was ul­ti­mately his pas­sion that gave the de­sign mean­ing.

Asked how he felt about New York in 2011, he told the Vil­lage Voice: “New York is so mutable and so sur­pris­ing. Even if you don’t love it, it is al­ways com­pelling, al­ways in­ter­est­ing, and never bor­ing . ... I do love New York.”

Raised hands. Red heart. We know what he means.

Neville El­der Corbis via Getty Im­ages

MIL­TON GLASER was as­ton­ished at how “sim­ple noth­ing of an idea” took off.

Vi­viane Moos Corbis via Getty Im­ages

AF­TER Sept. 11, the graphic de­signer re-cre­ated the logo with a bruised heart and a few ex­tra words, as dis­played in New York Daily News.

Charles Dhara­pak As­so­ci­ated Press

MIL­TON GLASER re­ceives a Na­tional Medal of Arts from Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in Fe­bru­ary 2010.

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