We The Italians | Italian design: Milton Glaser, an Italian honorary citizen

Italian design: Milton Glaser, an Italian honorary citizen

Italian design: Milton Glaser, an Italian honorary citizen

  • WTI Magazine #129 Jul 19, 2020
  • 83

On June 26, 2020 the world lost one of its brightest mind. Milton Glaser died on his 91st birthday after an incredible and extremely long career in the creative field. But where do I begin to tell what Milton Glaser really represented to the design world? Well, he was a real legend, let’s start from here. 

Born and raised in the Bronx, New York City, he was the son of Jewish immigrants from Hungary. Only a few know that after graduating from Cooper Union, Glaser moved to Italy to study at the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Bologna, where he met Giorgio Morandi, a famous italian artist. Glaser was deeply tied to Italy, a place of great inspiration and training for him.

In fact, what he said about his Fulbright experience in Italy is: “[I went to Italy] at a very appropriate time, 1952, which was a wonderful moment throughout the world but particularly in Italy at that time when it was recovering from a long and oppressive war time experience. You don’t come across those moments very often. […] That experience has served me exceedingly well. The experience of being in Bologna, and being abroad, and being away from everything that I knew was eye opening and transforming in a way that I could not have expected. It challenged every assumption that I had made about what the meaning of life was. […] One of the things that I realized is how little I knew about everything, about architecture, about food, about life itself”. 

His love for the Belpaese lasted an entire lifetime and is well documented throughout his career. 

Beside his most famous logo I ♥ NY commissioned by the New York State (we’ll talk about this later), he worked for many Italian brands such as Olivetti, Sammontana and even the city of Rimini. In 1968, Glaser created a series of iconic posters for Olivetti’s portable typewriters and some of them became a design classic and a favorite among his aficionados. 

He was also commissioned by Marco Bagnoli to redesign the brand identity of Sammontana in 1981. Thanks to him, the iconic halved moon logo became the symbol of the Estate Italiana for many generations. But one of his most interesting work is definitely the poster that Glaser created for the city of Rimini. In 1995 a bunch of top-level executives decided to reposition Rimini as the ultimate touristic destination for the American market. For this reason, they immediately thought about Milton Glaser. They asked him to create a poster that would reflect the city’s essence: the “M” from Rimini looks like is bathing in the sea. The poster was a real hit, but unfortunately the campaign failed for other reasons. 

Between an Italian work and another, Glaser also created one of the most famous logos in the world: I ♥ NY. If you’ve ever visited New York, you've probably seen this logo everywhere around the city: you can find it on coffee mugs and t-shirts in Times Square or JFK Airport, on hats and tote bags in museums and gift shops. In an article by the New York Magazine (by the way, have I already mentioned that he founded this magazine too?!) a journalist told the incredible story about how this logo was born. In 1976 New York City wasn’t safe: for this reasons, many New Yorkers were leaving the city for suburbs. To uplift the city’s reputation, the New York State started to push tourism and asked Glaser to propose a logo. The story goes that he had an epiphany in the New York–iest place on Earth: the backseat of a yellow cab. He had a simple yet effective idea: four characters sketched on a torn envelope, I ♥ N Y. Today, the original sketch is in the permanent collection of MoMA and a sequel, designed after the 9/11 attacks, became as famous as the original one. 

We can all agree that Milton Glaser had an incredible influence on the visual culture of the last 70 years and, rightfully so, became one of the most celebrated graphic designer in the world. 

Thank you, Mr. Glaser. We will miss you.