Interview: The Doyen of American Design

23 June 2010
Through a series of video interviews and a written interview, Alex Goh of TAXI: The Global Creative Network brings us into the world of Milton Glaser, one of the most prolific graphic designers around today.
Alex Goh

Famous for his frequently imitated I Love New York logo, Milton Glaser is one of the most prolific graphic designers around today. Born and bred in New York City, he established Push Pin Studios in 1954 and his own studio, Milton Glaser Inc., in 1974. Known for his diverse style, the designer also co-founded New York Magazine in 1968. He is the first graphic designer to be awarded the National Medal of Arts, a prize he picked up in 2009, presented by President Barack Obama himself.

Through the following interview, accompanied by five video interviews, Alex Goh of TAXI: The Global Creative Network brings us into the world of Milton Glaser.





Above: Milton Glaser on young talents, teaching at SVA, and getting fresh ideas from students.

TAXI Hi Mr. Glaser, thank you for taking time to do this interview. We're very grateful to have you on our network. On to the first question. You have one of the most celebrated and successful careers in the creative industry. Countless magazines have written about you and there are numerous biographies on you online. How would you, as Mr Milton Glaser the man, introduce yourself?

Milton Glaser Well, it depends what effect I'd like to produce and the nature of the audience that I'm addressing, but I would introduce myself as being an old geezer who has practised his line for a very long time.

TAXI You have earned the Lifetime Achievement Award given by the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in 2004 and was, more recently, the first designer to have been awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama. So you're looked upon as the hero or icon of American design. Can you share with us what you think best represents design in America and where you think it's headed in the next 10 years?

Milton Glaser I hate questions forecasting where anything is going, because I've learnt that predictions fail more often than they succeed. So much of where design is going depends on the recovery of the world economy; whether we have a war; what social movements occur; what the change of climate is, and so on.

TAXI What do you think about the American design industry right now?

Milton Glaser I think it's a difficult time because the economy is in a difficult place and there's not as much activity; people are more cautious and tend to be more conservative. The desire for innovation is not as demanding as it would be if things were better. So it's a difficult time in terms of both the imagination and the financial aspects of design, but we can assume that that will change.



Above: Milton Glaser on his source of inspiration, and the places close to him.

TAXI With all the national awards that you've accumulated, what would you think best embodies American design, and how does it compare to design from other parts of the world?

Milton Glaser I don't know if it means anything about the difference between design in America and design in any other part of the world. I think one of the things someone once said was, "Fame is merely the misunderstanding that surrounds a person's work."

TAXI On top of the two outstanding accolades that you have received - the National Medal of Arts and the Cooper-Hewitt award - what are some of the proudest moments in your career?

Milton Glaser I think I'm most proud of the fact that I've been practising for over 60 years and I still come to work everyday with the hope that I will do something that I haven't done before.

TAXI Is this something that is still happening today: Always being able to produce something that you really enjoy?

Milton Glaser That's what I'm trying to do. And that's why I'm here [Laughs].



Above: Milton Glaser on regrets, challenges, and dreams.

TAXI How involved are you with the activities and the operation of the SVA?

Milton Glaser I teach regularly, I am the acting chairman of the board, and my special one-week intensive is coming up in a couple of weeks. So, I'm pretty active.

TAXI Do you spend as much time in school as in the studio?

Milton Glaser No, I teach once a week at night. I make a few appearances for other classes and then there's the one-week that I do which is an intensive. Most of my time I spend in my studio, however.

TAXI I'm sure the SVA students are very excited and looking forward to your lectures.

Milton Glaser I have no idea [Laughs]. Some are, some are not.



Above: Milton Glaser on the digital conundrum, and the inevitable demise of print magazines.

TAXI We were talking to designers from all over the world, and everyone is working hard trying to establish their own voice in today's competitive design economy. What advice would you give to these aspiring creative talents?

Milton Glaser You have to first clarify in your own mind what it is you really want. Do you want to make a lot of money? That's one thing. If you want to be a celebrity, that's another thing. If you want to be known by everybody on the street, that's another. If you simply want to do the best work you're capable of, that's also another thing. So you have to clarify your objectives first.

So many people lump together money and success, celebrity and accomplishment. For me, that has not been the criteria. I've always thought that the only thing that mattered, ultimately, was the respect of your peers and the judgment that was made of your work, historically. I've been very lucky that way. I've accomplished everything I have every dreamed of accomplishing.

TAXI Is the industry pushing more boundaries with what it's doing right now as compared to when you first started?

Milton Glaser I don't know which industry does. But I'm not very concerned or interested in 'industry' as such. All I care about is whether the opportunity to do interesting and good work exists. Whether it's limited at this moment, I think, varies from person to person, city to city, community to community, so it's hard to generalise.



Above: Milton Glaser on New York, and the famous 'I LOVE NY' logo.

TAXI What's been keeping you busy lately? Any new projects or activities?

Milton Glaser Yeah, we have a lot of new projects: a new tabletop for Alessi; a new restaurant; a big supermarket project doing all the packaging; several consulting projects on communication for a variety of companies, and so on. We keep busy.

TAXI What is the piece of work that most represents yourself?

Milton Glaser Obviously, I Love New York. It has been around for 35 years and it shows no signs of disappearing. It may not be my best work, it may not be my most imaginative work, it may not be my most complex work, but it certainly will be my most durable work.

TAXI Can you show us around your studio?



TAXI Thank you so much Mr Glaser, it's been a pleasure.

Milton Glaser You're very welcome.

View a collection of his works at: www.designtaxi.com/miltonglaser



This article was originally published on TAXI and has been republished with permission.

About the author

Alex Goh founded TAXI: The Global Creative Network in 2003 and directs strategic partnerships with TAXI's organisational partners, actively represents advertising awards across the globe and produces design events and creative initiatives in North America, Europe, and Asia. Before TAXI, Alex started as freelance designer in 1998 and served professional creative roles in advertising and media agencies.



With Creative Support from Dewi Juliana

Dewi Juliana joined TAXI: The Global Creative Network in 2008. Dewi handles the creative aspects and in charge of media partnership. Before joining TAXI, she worked as a graphic designer and photojournalist.