Sponsored by AIGA San Diego Y Design Conference
“I think there is one essential thing. The role of the arts and the role of the communicators, the role of the artists, the role of citizens is all the same. It is to find the mechanisms for being for diminishing rage and envy and encouraging generosity and commonality among everybody. It is a change of sense of what their relationship is to others. In this case it's to the whole world.”—Milton Glaser
If there’s one name that appears on design hero lists, Milton Glaser is right at the top. He’s known as the creator of history’s-most-ripped-off-logo: I ♥ NY. Iconic work such as his Dylan poster, New York magazine, and Angels in America have filled design annuals for the past 60 years. His posters and designs have been featured in one-man shows at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris.
I caught up with Milton a couple of weeks via phone ago on behalf of AIGA San Diego’s Y Design Conference, where Milton will be sharing some thoughts virtually. It was a rare, rainy day in San Diego when I spoke to Milton calling from his studio in Manhattan. Milton spoke with the wisdom that comes from a lifetime in design peppered with a sense of humor (“It’s been a hell of a century,” he quipped.)
THE ROLE OF THE DESIGNER
As designers, we have the ability to use our persuasive skills to accelerate awareness or encourage action. What’s our responsibility as designers to ourselves, our clients and our greater community?
“I define the community of designers as people who are involved in the act of inventing and making things,” Milton began in his thoughtful style. “Our function historically seems to have been to create a relationship between all members of our tribe, our community, our country, or any audience we're talking to in order to bring them together. It’s sort of an antidote to the selfishness, greed and rage that is also characteristic of the human species. We all come from the same stuff. We all ultimately have more in common than we have differences.”
“I would say that the first responsibility that designers have is to not use their skills of persuasion, to endanger the people they're speaking to,” Milton said. “I try to start each project with that ideal. I think that's a good place to start if you are interested in questions of responsibility as a designer. It is not easy. You'll have to find a way of reconciling essentially opposing intentions. The intention of doing no harm and the intention of selling goods and products are very different. Life is all about us reconciling those differences.”
“I daresay this is not what was really on the top of my mind when I went into the design profession. I love making things, but design was another agenda.”
ART VS. DESIGN
Milton’s point about why people choose design as a career—because they love drawing or making things—brings up a good point. What is the difference between art and design?
“It's just such a reoccurring issue and that always seemed to me to be obvious. It comes out of the attempt to lump all activities together,” began Milton. “Design is always about going from an existing one to a preferred condition. Let's just say you have a problem that requires adjustment or change. You figure out logically what has to be done in order to change what exists to make things easier to use, or more efficient with our time. We are more often involved with marketing and selling things. Doing a better book cover so it looks dramatic in order to sell more.
“Art has a different role. It has little to do with functionalism. It has to do with changing one’s experience of what is real. Art transforms the mind. If you visit the Last Supper and you stand in that room for fifteen minutes, when you leave that room you are no longer the same. We are changed after we experience art. We see the world differently.”
BECOMING THOUGHTFULLY ACTIVE
As artists, as designers, as creative people, Milton encourages us to stay engaged as citizens. “Above all you have to participate,” he urged. “As you know there's a whole history of artistic withdrawals because politics are too dirty and life is too dirty and we are going to create an ideal model. Withdrawal is not the answer.”
“Not that our artists have always withdrawn, quite the contrary. Very often the people most active in human culture and most concerned about the good of society are people who are in the arts. I think making things makes you different. It makes you more generous to everybody and you stop thinking only of your own rewards.”
IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP
“It’s obvious to consider your own life and what it is you want and what you are doing,” Milton continued. “I have to say, not a lot of people do that. Most people just go through their daily activity—whatever it is—and put in their eight hours then go home and watch television, go to sleep and then wake up and start again.
“For most of us, that's what life is about. It’s time to wake up”
AMPLIFY YOUR VOICE
As communicators, we can use our knowledge to organize events that draw people and attention to our causes.
“You have to invent these events in the same way that you invent a drawing,” Milton said. “You have to invent an occasion or a reason or a dinner or a march. You have to invent the form because there's little guidance on the area. You have to invent it. You must find all those people who are open to ideas. You've seen it happen. You've seen attitudes change from a little idea that became a big idea simply because it became visible. You have to think strategically if you want this to happen and affect our common culture.
“We have one great benefit which is that we, (in theory at least) know how to communicate. We should be able to invent things and make them clear—showing the benefits of an open and democratic society.”
A CALL TO ACTION
“I think there is one more essential thing,” Milton said in closing. “The role of the arts and the role of the communicators, the role of the artists, the role of citizens is all the same. It is to find a way to diminish our isolation and encouraging generosity and commonality. It is a change of our relationship to others. In this case it's to the whole world.”
You can hear more of what Milton has to say (virtually) on these topics at Y22, AIGA San Diego’s Y Design Conference, March 31–April 1, 2107