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Place Branding: The Impact I ♥ NY had in Transforming a City

To embark on a trip collectively to improve the condition of everyone. That is the thing that I value most about my life. Milton Glaser

On the eve of graphic designer Milton Glaser's passing, the importance of his work in commercial art is immeasurable. He is perhaps best known for his 1977 "I ♥ NY" logo. 

To fully understand the influence of Mr. Glaser's work and the transformative impact "I ♥ NY" had in New York's rebirth, it's worth visiting the city then.  

New York in the '70s was going through a dark time in its history; the city was bankrupt, crime rates were high, residents were fleeing and as Mr. Glaser asserted "there was a lot of dog sh**! in the streets." New York was a dying entity filled with unhappiness. 

To convince New Yorkers to stay and to promote tourism, the city commissioned the advertising agency, Wells Rich Greene, to create a marketing campaign centered on the the verbal brand slogan 'I Love New York.'  

'I love New York' was seen as a representation of the spirit and passion of New Yorkers.  

The magic came as those words and feelings transformed into a visual narrative. The then deputy commissioner of commerce of New York State, William S. Doyle, approached Mr. Glaser to create a logo.

“What was needed to begin the process was a visual equivalent for the words,” he wrote of the design in his book Art Is Work (The Overlook Press -2000).

His first logo idea gained quick approval by the commission. But, it was in a taxi two days later that Mr. Glaser transformed New York City; sketched on a scrap of paper in red crayon the iconic "I ♥ NY" logo that would soon transform a city and define an era in place branding was born.

Glaser, Milton: I (Heart) NY concept sketch, 1976. New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

What Made the Logo so Impactful?

The original logo was approved, but in Mr. Glaser's mind, it was a banal typographical visual. The new logo was a complex puzzle; it was usual and alluded to something going on: The 'I' was a complete word; the  a feeling; and NY a place - this had never been done before.

Mr. Glaser's graphic logo turned a noun into a verb (which people don't tend to like, for example, Apple's Think different campaign); was open to interpretation (is it I heart or I love); and it moved away from the pedestrian image people have of cities and places (Paris - Eiffel Tower).

On "I ♥ NY" imitations: "I like them all… you do work because you want to affect the world. I did something that a lot of people were affected by." Milton Glaser

The Rules for Developing an Identity?

For Mr. Glaser, identity is imagination, surprise, appropriateness, and intelligence. A logo must go beyond the graphical and verbal elements; it is, in fact, a state of mind, a belief. The "I ♥ NY" logo in his view wasn't a brand but a statement: I love New York. Even as New Yorkers were at a desperate moment, they were committed to their city.

"Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is not its origins, but its persistence.”

Milton Glaser

The Power of a Logo

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Glaser once again brought hope to a city in despair. He designed a modified version with a dark bruise on the heart and appended with 'more than ever.' "I ♥ NY More Than Ever" embodied Mr. Glaser's capacity to use his talents for the common good. The logo symbolized a city hurt but united. 

Mr. Glaser taught us the importance of visual and verbal identity to how we comprehend our world. That how a seemingly simple idea - I Love New York - transformed into a visual identity helped transform a city and would change the way cities would brand themselves in the future.

Milton Glaser jet Blue and I Love NY case study. From the Milton Glaser website:

jetBlue was simply a project intended to integrate the identity of jetBlue with the I Love New York logo we had designed. In this case, the issue was to make these two separate logos look as though they wanted to be together. 


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