In 1977 New York was nearly bankrupt.
The governor decided the best way to raise money was tourism.
He commissioned Wells Rich Greene to do an advertising campaign to change the image of the city.
Away from the crime and violence, the poverty and filth, and to remind everyone what a great city it was.
Wells Rich Greene wanted a jingle.
A jingle is a simple musical mnemonic to stick in people’s heads.
Every time they replay the tune in their head, they replay the message.
So it creates free advertising.
They got an old-fashioned jingle-writer called Steve Karmen.
He’d written advertising jingles for everything from Wrigley’s to Cadillac, from Budweiser to TWA, from Salem Cigarettes to Purina Cat Chow, from Exxon Gasoline to Hush Puppies, from Dial Soap to Chrysler.
And Steve Karmen wrote the simple musical phrase “I love New York”.
The client decided the campaign needed a logo.
Something people would hopefully pick up and use themselves.
On T-shirts, bumper stickers, posters, graffiti, anywhere.
That again would generate more free media.
They asked Milton Glaser to design an “I love New York” logo.
First Glaser had to reduce it to its simplest graphic form.
The fewest elements possible.
He reduced the four words to two oval shapes.
“I love” reversed out of black in one, ”New York” reversed out in the other.
The logo was approved and printing went ahead.
But Glaser wasn’t satisfied, he wanted to reduce it further.
He had to have the letter “I”, and he could reduce New York to the letters “NY”.
But how could he reduce the word “love”?
He was thinking about where the word was used.
The symbol for love used to be a heart carved into a tree.
It had two lovers’ names in it and an arrow through it.
But in Manhattan, concrete had taken the place of trees.
And graffiti had taken the place of carving.
Nowadays it was simply one name scrawled on one side of the heart, and their lover’s name scrawled on the other.
So the equivalent of “Joey loves Tina” would be “Joey (heart) Tina”.
Milton Glaser was thinking this in the back of a taxicab.
He grabbed an envelope out of his pocket.
In pencil on it he wrote “I (heart) NY”.
He decided that was his concept.
He called up the client and persuaded him that he had a better idea and they should stop printing.
The client thought he was mad, but Glaser persisted.
Eventually the client agreed.
Now Glaser had to make it work graphically.
For the most graphic use of four letters, he borrowed from an appropriate work of art: Robert Indiana’s “LOVE”.
The word is formed into a square, the letter “LO” above and the letters “VE” below.
Formed like that, “I (heart)” above and “NY” below would be like a stamp.
A powerful, simple, graphic.
And it was.
Simply by going back to see what people actually do.
What had actually evolved from the way people use language.
Not developing something new.
But looking at what exists, what people have developed for themselves.
That was the genius.
That logo became the biggest, most imitated logo, ever.
Every city in the world copies it.
T-shirts, badges, posters, stickers are printed and sold the world over.
And it’s all free advertising.
Because everyone knows which city the original refers to.
And all because Milton Glaser didn’t stop thinking after the client bought the idea.
He drew something better on the back of an envelope in a taxicab.
That envelope is now in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art.