Much More Than a Logo - Milton Glaser’s I Heart NY

Artwork(s) In Focus, Art History

March 28, 2020

New York City. The Big Apple. Perceived as an epicenter of all things relevant, especially when it comes to art, fashion and popular culture. Four decades ago, however, that was not the case. Namely, in the mid-1970s the city was rapidly plunging into poverty, the crime rate went berserk, and the overall atmosphere was scary with various campaigns warning tourists of potential dangers. Nevertheless, an array of artists and other creatives coming from different disciplines rushed there due to low rents and numerous lofts, clubs and other venues where they were able to express themselves freely.

New York City was in a desperate need of a new logo that would change its image and attract new opportunities when it comes to investments and betterment of living conditions. That is how the I Love New York logo by Milton Glaser, also known as I Heart NY and I ❤ NY appeared expressed through an iconic logo and a song both used for the 1977 advertising campaign aimed to promote tourism in the state of New York.

Steve Karmen - I Love New York

The Iconic I Heart NY logo by Milton Glaser

In 1977, graphic designer Milton Glaser was hired alongside advertising agency Wells Rich Greene by the Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Department of Commerce, William S. Doyle, to conceive and release a marketing campaign for New York State. He designed the logo in the back of a taxi by drawing it on a piece of paper with a red crayon that is now held in the Museum of Modern Art. By that time, Glaser was an established practitioner known for a poster produced for Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits in 1966, as well as the co-founder of The New York Magazine two years later.

Since Glaser though the campaign would last only a couple months he produced the work pro bono; however, the innovative pop-style logo quickly turned out to be an enormous success and remained to be sold for years. Initially, it was welcomed with skepticism since the box formation of the logo was perceived as too cryptic. At one point, Doyle decided to test the design by wearing a custom-made T-shirt during a vacation where he was constantly stopped by other tourists inquiring where they could get their own; that is how it became the symbol of the city, although this was not the original intention.

Milton Glaser on I ❤ NY logo

The Simple Yet Memorable Composition

To achieve the immediate and powerful effect of the I Heart NY logo, Glaser positioned the letter I next to a red heart symbol and letters N and Y bellow; the I and the NY letters are capitalized, and set in a bubbly, slab serif typeface in American Typewriter font. The designer later stated he was inspired by the famous pop artwork called LOVE by Robert Indiana. The design credit definitely goes to Glaser, but the simple phrase was actually made by Mary Wells Lawrence and Charlie Moss, the principal and creative director respectively at the Madison Avenue advertising firm Wells Rich Greene.

The I Heart NY logo first appeared in a television commercial in 1977 and included a song of the same title written by Steve Karmen. It was one of the first advertising achievements to use a heart instead of the word love, and ever since, that design trick was used in various industries.

I ❤ New York In The 21st Century

The I Heart NY logo became especially relevant in 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the city; it created a sense of unity among the population, and numerous city visitors following the attacks purchased and wore the I Love New York t-shirts as a sign of their support. Glaser even produced a modified version of the logo to commemorate the tragic events based on the sentence I Love NY More Than Ever with a little black spot on the heart symbolizing the World Trade Center site. The edited logo was printed in the New York Daily News and was a fundraiser for New York organizations supporting those affected by the attacks.

After so many years, the I Heart NY logo remains a fresh and intact symbol of the city and the New York State. Interestingly so, this particular trademark is also owned by the New York State Department of Economic Development, while the logo itself is omnipresent through merchandise, brochures, and advertisements. The state gave its best to keep its trademark, and by 2005, it filed almost three thousand objections against imitators. The father of the iconic design once stated:

I think its most profound effect was inward, which is to say it reminded [New Yorkers themselves] of their own commitment to life in the city. One thing we know is that reality is conditioned by belief.

The popularity of this timeless logo symbolizing creativity and unity transcended the American continent, and became internationalized and was used on every major continent and in every major city to mark practically anything one could love.

  Editors’ Tip: Art is Work: Graphic Design, Interiors, Objects and Illustrations

A lavishly illustrated, oversized retrospective of one of history's most influential figures in international design evaluates the role of art in business today, presenting the author's theories about the trivializing influences of technology and commerce while documenting the creative processes of several of his works.

Featured image: Milton Glaser's I Heart NY logo. Image via Creative Commons.

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