What would Milton Glaser, who died in 2020, make of the new version of his iconic I ♥ NY logo? It’s a question that’s been much pondered on Twitter this week – with many witty responses, including the suggestion he would be kerning in his grave – as part of an overwhelmingly negative response to the new symbol.
Created by Graham Clifford, the latest iteration of Glaser’s logo sees it rephrased as We ♥ NYC and forms the basis of a campaign commissioned by the Partnership for New York City supported by Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams.
The ad campaign, by creative agency Founders, aims to act as a “rallying cry to support the post-pandemic resurgence of the city and its neighbourhoods, taking a ‘we’ not ‘me’ stance” according to press information, and will run on TVC, OOH, online and in print across the city. There will be no missing it, essentially.
Regardless of its good intentions, it has been roundly rejected so far across all forms of media, predominantly due to be being seen as a stab in the back to Glaser’s logo.
It is important to note here that it is not replacing Glaser’s work – the copyright to the I ♥ NY logo is owned by the New York State Department of Economic Development and will continue to be a massive moneyspinner for the city through licensing agreements to appear on a multitude of products.
But the We ♥ NYC version is clearly meant to be viewed as a modern update. Changes include a shift from Glaser’s use of American Typewriter to a version of Helvetica – in a reflection of its use on the New York subway – and a distinctly emoji style heart, presumably in an attempt to speak to a younger generation.
There is also a link to the origin story of Glaser’s logo, which was conceived in the 1970s during a period of particular economic and social decline in the city as part of a campaign to raise spirits and lift tourism. Glaser was commissioned to come up with a logo for a campaign conceived by ad agency Wells Rich Greene, which centred on the slogan I Love New York.
Glaser spent a week working on an idea, which was submitted, before inspiration for the version we now love struck while he was doodling in the back of a cab. He admitted later that it was designed in “about ten seconds” and inspired by “my memories of carvings in tree trunks, where the initials of lovers were combined with a heart”.
While less than 50 years old, I ♥ NY is now deeply entwined with the city’s sense of itself, which was particularly evident after 9/11 when the logo was adapted by Glaser to say I ♥ NY More Than Ever.
In an interview with CR in 2019, Glaser acknowledged that at the time he designed the original logo, he had no idea of the impact it would go on to have, commenting “it still surprises me how omnipresent it is”.
As most designers know, you mess with an iconic logo with peril, and it is perhaps better to view the We ♥ NYC version as an advertising campaign rather than a rebranding. Accompanying text-based posters extolling classic New York moments from pizza slices to the Yankees are a series of ‘wild posters’ created by artists from by The Network which feature illustrated interpretations of the theme. Pleasant as some of these are, none of it seems destined to offer any real threat to Glaser’s logo as the design king of New York.
Introducing the new campaign, Kathryn Wylde, president and chief executive of the Partnerhip for New York City, told the New York Times that “we’re hopefully going to be able to cut through divisiveness and negativity” brought on by the pandemic. So far, We ♥ New York does seem to have achieved a kind of unity, though perhaps not quite of the type that was hoped for.