Yellow cabs, bagels, illuminated skyscrapers, and falling leaves in Central Park. We associate so many things with New York. But the city is more than those things, and it’s not easy to capture the real essence of it. Somehow, though, director Andre Andreev managed to do that in his short film I Heart NY.
The documentary is about the legendary graphic designer, Milton Glaser, and the world-famous logo I ♥ NY®. Andreev always admired Milton’s works and studied him as a graphic design student at the California College of the Arts.
The short film explores Glaser’s love affair with the city, and how it opened a world of possibilities, not just to him, but to anyone who believes that here in New York, everything is possible.
Watch this appealing story narrated by Milton Glaser himself.
You can download the transcript here.
I Love New York Logo
I’m sure you’ve all seen the logo countless times on mugs, T-shirts, and other souvenirs. You might be even thinking that using the symbol of heart for the word love is so straightforward. “I could have come up with this idea myself.” Well, this person, unfortunately, was not you or me, but America’s most celebrated graphic designer, co-founder of New York Magazine, and creator of iconic posters such as the psychedelic Bob Dylan poster.
Glaser scribbled the logo in the back of a taxi cab and used the word I, the heart icon as a visual element and the initials NY referring to New York. It’s so simple; everyone can decipher the meaning immediately. In fact, the logo embodies Glaser’s vision of good graphic design:
“If you have to explain it, it ain’t working.”
It worked. And it worked so well that it became one of the most imitated logos of all time and influenced graphic design worldwide.
“I thought it was going to last two weeks.”
He was wrong. Four decades later, the brand continues to inspire a new generation of artists and generates an astonishing amount of revenue that partially goes to the Empire State Development Corporation, which currently holds the trademark.
Dark Times in New York
The logo worked even because of the historical and cultural context in which Glaser created it. The oil crisis of 1973 affected the city heavily, which was on the brink of bankruptcy. On top of that, the famous blackout in 1977 resulted in chaotic riots, looting, and violence throughout the city. These episodes altered the world’s perception of New York and brought the tourism industry to a grinding halt. Nobody wanted to wander the city’s infamously dangerous streets.
The New York State Department of Commerce was in desperate financial need and decided to promote tourism. It hired the advertising agency Wells Rich Greene, which came up with the slogan I Love New York. Glaser had to create a visual identity for the advertising campaign.
So, the revolutionary logo was born not just from a mere sketch made in a taxi, but also from the ashes of crime and desperation throughout the city. Despite the difficulties of that harrowing era, people wanted to say I love New York. “I’m not gonna leave.”
It was an authentic expression of love. That logo resonated deeply with New Yorkers and people worldwide, because it proved that even in the darkest hours hope can prevail.
Land of Opportunity
The film is not just about the logo’s success. It’s also about what this city means to the people who were born or came here hoping to find freedom and endless possibilities.
Is New York really a land of opportunity? The answer doesn’t really matter. What’s more important how this common feeling shaped people’s lives and Glaser’s career.
The graphic designer said that the communities living in the city felt that, here “You could live a full life and you could raise your children better. Our mother assured me that I could do anything, and I believed it…and because I believed it, I did anything I wished.”
Through this story, we understand better the complicated relationship many of us have with New York and appreciate the great diversity that gives the city its vibrancy.
Main blog post photo by Jonathan Riley.
New York Vocabulary
Shall we learn some words New Yorkers use in their daily lives? The colorful terms come from the many diverse groups that settled here over the years. The words schmear and bodega may puzzle visiting tourists. Let’s see how to face up to some of the city’s linguistic challenges.