Interview: Milton Glaser

Underground Images: School of Visual Arts Subway Poster Exhibition is on display at University of Texas at Arlington until April 27th, 2015. On the occasion of the show’s opening, Milton Glaser was interviewed by UTA Senior Lecturer and AIGA UTA’s faculty advisor, MiHyun Kim. 

MiHyun Kim (MK): When you designed I heart NY, did you think that it would become such a cultural icon?

Milton Glaser (MG): No, of course not.  You never know in your work what is going to endure and what is going to disappear. it is as much miracle to me as it was.

(MK): When I saw I love NY more than ever after nine eleven, I was somewhat sad and assuring and comforting at the same time. I remember thinking wow, one piece of artwork can be really touching.

(MG): The original I love NY symbol was designed in 1977. I did I love NY more than ever right after the bombing, nine eleven. That was done after people in the city was so shocked and realized how much we love the city and the way we realized, when somebody get sick, how much we will miss them when they die. That was an attempt to basically express what people in the city was feeling after nine eleven. The vulnerability and shock, that is why I put little a black mark which is a sort of lower Manhattan where the bombing occurred. What is comforting is the feeling that we share by millions of people. I mean what it articulated was what millions of people were feeling at that time but didn’t know how to express it. It struck that feeling to express the sadness of the city; that is why people respond to it.

(MK): Was ‘I heart NY’ a client work. How were you approached for that work?

(MG): The NY state department of commerce. The city was loosing tourism, there was a high crime rate, the economic conditions of the city had deteriorated. The state felt it needed a campaign to have people come back to New York. They had the phrase, “I Love New York” that come from a song or from somebody else’s work and they came to me asking how do we visualize this statement – so I designed the identity for it.

(MK): Everyone is familiar with you designs. Did you have a desire to become famous or was it simply a byproduct of your hard work?

(MG): Well. I’m not sure exactly what you mean. As a child i love to make things. And i discovered my greatest sense of happiness came when I was drawing and making little solders and I knew I would someone spend my life making things one way or another – painting or sculpting or building. I knew that from a very early age I was just unaware of the way it would manifest through design and typography and architecture.

(MK): When you get a new project, what is your design process like? Do you know what you want to do almost right away, or do you also need time to explore several ideas for a while?

(MG): The work itself creates the process. I will certainly try incorporate the intent of the client after all design is purposeful and what must establish what one wants to accomplish. In the case of I heart NY for instance you want people to feel welcome in the city, so I ask ‘OK – how do I make them feel welcome’, etc. Process is not very complicate. Most of what I do is intuitive. I rely on my objectability to clarify. I resolve most questions artistically, aesthetically, and intuitively.

(MK): You have 6 posters in underground images school of visual art poster exhibition. It looks like you have quite close relationship with SVA. How did it start?

(MG): I’ve been teaching there for about 55 years. I was hired by the founder of the school, a man named Silas Rhodes. He hired me to do any course I want in continuing education, which I did and I continued to teach there and then about 10 or 12 years ago I shifted into the masters program.

(MK): Do you still teach?

(MG): I do. I’m trying a new experiment where i teach collectively. I get the problem and I get everyone in the class to work simultaneously in groups of 2 or 3 or 5 so the intelligence spreads throughout the process together and to stop the idea of the genius designer into the idea of a practitioner within the community. That is what I’ve been doing for the past three years and it is a shift from the way I use to teach. It may have some benefits and some limitations. I am still learning how to do it.

(MK): What is your current project?

(MG): I’m actually designing some socks for children. And some work for a theatre in Brooklyn mailing pieces and promotions. I’m doing some prints which I always try to continue while I do other things. That’s it.

(MK): With all new technologies, what do you think how all the new technologies affect graphic design?

(MG): No one understands the relationship between technology and design. Obviously it has made some things easier and some things worse. It changes your use of time which is the essential. If I was doing a lithograph and it was a five color lithograph it would take me a week just to pull the proofs to understand what the color was doing. I can now do that same amount of investigation of color in ten minutes on the computer. That leaves me with other options how to spend my time. How I choose to do that is another story. But to answer your question – we won’t know. We’ll understand that in 20 to 30 years. We’ll understand the effect of technology on culture in 20 years. A fish in water doesn’t know it is in water.

(MK): There are 6 posters you designed in the show. Would you like to leave a comment to the viewers who are coming to see your works in the exhibition?

(MG): I think it’s an interesting show because you have so many practitioners. There is such a breadth of talent in the community of New York. There are so many different personalities and there is such a high level of performance you realize there is such an abundance of practitioners. The school also devoted itself to producing these high level posters in a way that has seldom been done by any other institution. The school has really committed itself to producing very high level stuff.

(MK): I’ve read lot’s of interviews with you. It is very difficult to come up with questions you haven’t already answered.

(MG): Well. The only answer to any of these questions is do good work. Commit yourself to the work. If you want to succeed and you want to do what you think you are capable of, the only way to accomplish that is consistent work. I think I’ve worked every day of my life in someway related to design or art. And I think that is the only way to accomplish anything. There are no tricks. There is no methodology. Just consistent work developed the quality of what you do.

By MiHyun Kim
Published April 25, 2015