Three black letters and a bright red symbol… and somehow the emblem of one of the most exciting and widely loved cities in the world. The I ♥ NY logo was dreamt up 40 years ago this year in the back of a taxi by now 87-year-old Milton Glaser – a graphic designer who is still very much practising. His studio’s extensive portfolio includes the recent branding for Brooklyn Brewery, a 1966 Bob Dylan poster and the poster for the final season of Mad Men. He also co-founded New York Magazine.
Back in 1976 the New York State Department of Economic Development hired an ad agency to come up with a campaign to bring tourism to what had become a grim and dying city. The agency approached Glaser, then a freelancer, and a week later he was scribbling his idea quite literally on the back of an envelope in the aforementioned taxi. The resulting logo was the heart of a campaign that ran the following year in 1977.
Today you can still find Milton’s envelope in the permanent collection of MOMA. You can find the logo everywhere you look in Manhattan (though it represents the whole state of New York) – from tee shirts and caps to key rings and tat – and quite honestly many other locations around the world too. Could it explain why the locals are famously so proud and upbeat about being a New Yorker?
The original taxi sketch, in the Museum of Modern Art archive, photograph Milton Glaser
Glaser, who expected the campaign to last three months before the hype dyed down told High Life magazine recently, “Sometimes when I go to Chinatown, I think it’s an ad for ‘I love New York’ because in some places it literally covers every wall. The mystery of why some things persist in the memory is irrational.”
Typography nerds, the letters in the finished logo are in a slab serif typeface called American Typewriter.
The logo has inspired countless imitations as well as parodies and the State of New York has filed thousands of trademark objections to stop copycatting one of the most enduring designs.