Milton Glaser: Design to be a good citizen

Revered designer Milton Glaser spills design secrets, dispenses advice and explains the relationship between adverts, guns, and soda.

Shot in Milton Glaser’s New York City studio, this interview captures the renowned graphic designer articulating why he designs, what it means to be a good designer and the secret of good communication.

Glaser started drawing in Kindergarten at the age of five, and 81 years later, he still hasn’t lost his taste for art. The idea that one can imagine an idea or image and then translate it into the physical has kept the graphic designer sketching, “I’ve found that to be the single most compelling thing in my life and as it happens the world of design seems to be susceptible to that interest,” he says.

The process, not the product behind Glaser’s celebrated designs is what the designer himself finds to be the most compelling. As opposed to a clinical approach to designing, he prefers a randomness that involves wandering “aimlessly” until the path reveals itself. 

The randomness and the wander have built Glaser a large repertoire, spreading over decades. His portfolio includes designs for book covers, record sleeves and museum insignia, branded a vodka labels, a university, and the Olympic Games. His work is ubiquitous. Even if you’ve never been to New York, you’ve seen his " NY" logo. And even after all of the designs and recognition, he still maintains “all my projects mean something to me personally. ” 

As for communication, Glaser says the key is to create an entity that communicates effectively is to be slightly puzzling, but not so puzzling that the audience can’t solve it.

Now several years after Glaser began designing, he imparts some advice: “The role of the graphic artist today is the role of a good citizen as far as I’m concerned, which is that you participate in the life of your times and try to improve the existing condition.”

 “Don’t exploit anyone, don't force people to do things they don’t want or encourage them to do things that are not good for them.” Glaser has never worked in an advertising agency and he makes no bones about it. “Trying to sell people a bottle of soda is as dangerous as giving them an armed weapon,” he says.