Milton Glaser’s fascination with art, design and visual communication began when he was 5 years old.
As the legendary designer told ABC News, “My cousin Saul came to the house one day. … He had a brown paper bag and he asked me if I had wanted to see a horse. And I said yes. He went into his bag and pulled out a pencil and drew a horse on the side of the bag, and I realized it was capable of a human being to create life. At that moment … I decided that’s what I was going to spend my time doing.”
And so he did. Over a decades-long career, Glaser designed countless logos, posters and books, helped found New York magazine, and left an indelible mark on post-World War II American design.
Yet, he may be best known for the “I [Heart] NY” logo, an image so ubiquitous, it’s difficult to imagine that someone actually created it.
“[I]had no idea about the extent of the influence [of my designs],” said Glaser, “except for the experience I had with the 'I love New York' symbolism, which was something so persuasive and peculiar that it exists in every country on Earth for reasons I do not fully understand. Obviously, the world was waiting for it.”
Glaser won the bid for a 1977 New York state tourism campaign -- but his initial entry wasn’t the design that would come to be known around the world.
“Two days later in a taxi, I realized that there was another way of doing it,” Glaser said.
The designer called his client, and told them, “Let me just show you this. So I went down and … showed them the 'I love New York' [logo], and they approved that.”
Had it not been for some inspiration in the backseat of a cab, the “I [Heart] NY” logo as we know it “almost never came into existence.”
Glaser mused on the persistence of that particular image.
“There’s something about the voluptuousness of the heart and the sort of the constraint of the letter forms, black against red, that persists neurologically, not intellectually," he said. "You look at it and it’s not a question of analysis.”
Though he accepts the fact of the NY campaign’s success, Glaser said, “I’m sorry that people think that’s the only thing I ever did, because I have a lot of other work, much of which I think is more complex, more interesting and more worth talking about.”
Glaser does not have a favorite design or project, “the same way I don’t have a favorite food. … You just sort of do it, enjoy doing it, the excitement of doing it, and then you are on to the next project. But what I like to do is follow sort of Picasso’s in this regard. … Once you learn something, you can give it up. And I’ve always felt that way about my work.”
Glaser, who turned 84 on June 26, has no desire to stop doing what he’s been doing for decades.
A recent visit to his studio found him at work on a number of projects, guiding his staff of younger designers.
A selection of his drawings and recent carpet designs are on display at the Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati through the end of July.
“If I woke up in the morning and didn’t have some place to go, I really don’t know what I would do,” he said. “It is the only thing I live for.”
ABC News' Andrew Lampard, Arthur Niemynski and Nicole Neidenberg contributed to this episode.
- Milton Glaser