There’s more to Milton Glaser’s iconic logo than meets the eye.
It’s the most famous Valentine of all time. Milton Glaser’s “I ❤️ NY” logo, comprised of a classic typewriter font and a red heart icon that serves as visual shorthand for “love,” is a perfect amalgam of analog and digital, designed at a time when typewriters were still in use and emojis had not even been imagined. What may seem obvious to a generation to whom emojis are an extension of the alphabet was prescient in 1977, when Glaser was commissioned to design the logo as part of a campaign to kickstart tourism in the midst of New York’s darkest days.
At the time, New York was on the brink of bankruptcy, President Gerald Ford had flatly refused a request for a federal bailout (“Ford to City: Drop Dead” read a legendary NY Daily News headline), the Son of Sam serial killings were horrifying the nation and a 25-hour blackout had sparked rampant looting and arson. Enter Milton Glaser to flip the script.
The rest, as they say, is history, and “I ❤️ NY” has gone on to become one of the most ubiquitous, imitated and instantly recognizable logos in the world. But, just as New York has its share of secrets waiting to be revealed, “I ❤️ NY” has a few of its own. Here are six you probably didn’t know:
1. Milton Glaser designed the logo, but the memorable “I Love New York” slogan was penned by Mary Wells Lawrence and Charlie Moss of powerhouse Madison Avenue ad agency Wells Rich Greene (name-dropped more than once in “Mad Men”) which was recruited, along with Glaser, by the New York State Department of Commerce to create the campaign. Wells Rich Greene’s credits included some of the most successful campaigns of the day, such as “Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz” for Alka-Seltzer and “Flick your Bic” for Bic Lighters. Glaser’s portfolio featured a famous psychedelic portrait of Bob Dylan included as a poster in his 1967 “Greatest Hits” album, the visual identity for the Windows on the World restaurant atop the World Trade Center and the design of New York magazine which he co-founded in 1968 with Clay Felker.
2. Note that the phrase says “NY,” not “NYC.” Though “I ❤️ NY” has come to be associated with New York City, the goal of the campaign was to promote tourism in New York State.
3. The phrase “I Love New York” debuted in a 1977 TV commercial featuring a catchy four-note pop song of the same name composed by famed jingle-writer Steve Karmen, who had written jingles for Budweiser (“When you say bud, you’ve said it all”), Nationwide Insurance (“Nationwide is on your side”) and Beneficial Financial Group (“At Beneficial, doot doot, you’re good for more”). In 1980, New York Governor Hugh Carey named “I Love New York” the state’s first official song. Take a listen and you’ll be singing it all day long.
4. “I ❤️ NY” was actually Glaser’s second design. He described his first concept in an interview with graphic designer Chip Kidd for The Believer: “It was just a little typographical solution with two lozenges and a word in it, two ovals, and the word inside it; it was not in any way distinguished. But I always thought the whole thing was going to be a three-month campaign.” Still, when inspiration struck a week later in the back of a taxi, Glaser took out a red crayon and drew a rough sketch of what would become his masterwork on the back of an envelope. That envelope is now in MoMA’s collection.
5. Glaser received $2,000 to cover the logo’s production costs—execution and mechanical—but he designed the logo pro bono and has never made any money from it. And guess what? No hard feelings. “You get annoyed if something you had done had been exploited by others and they made an insufferable amount of money doing it and you had none,” he told Big Think. “So, under those conditions, I could see someone getting angry… But for me, it’s not the case. First of all, I have enough money and I’ve never worried about it. And just the pervasiveness of it is a great pleasure.”
6. In 2001, in the wake of 9/11, Glaser wanted to do something to boost New York’s collective morale. He designed a new version of the “I ❤️ NY” that said “I ❤️ NY More Than Ever,” with the lower left area of the heart blacked out to represent where the Twin Towers had stood. The poster was distributed by SVA students across the city and then printed as a wrap-around in the NY Daily News. At the bottom of the poster were the words: “Be generous. Your city needs you. This poster is not for sale.”