Milton Glaser's Designing Mind

Cover of Art Is Work by Milton Glaser
Milton Glaser
Milton Glaser has designed logos for sweatshirts and mugs, a New York subway station, and even a jar of pickles and beer.

The graphic artist, a dapper uptown New Yorker, is someone you might not have ever heard of. But he has designed a variety of things we see every day, reports CBS News Correspondent Thalia Assuras for CBS News Sunday Morning.

He not only designs magazines and their covers, but also the newsstands from which they are sold. He has designed a tailor shop (his father was a tailor), and he even spruced up a schoolyard fence.

And there are his posters and portraits of such cultural icons as Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, and Bob Dylan. He also has designed CD covers, and books your children use in school.

”Every design that you do,” says Glaser, ”is basically shaped by the nature of the audience. There is no other way to begin. If you don't understand what your audience knows, or what your audience's emphasis is, or what your audience could be motivated by, there is no other way to begin any design.”

At 71, Glaser himself has become an icon. In the design world, despite a career of 50 years, he never stops learning…or teaching, for that matter.

Designing is how Milton Glaser makes his living. But…

"Design is not art," he states. "I mean, one must understand that there is a distinction between design, which has to do with planning and quantifiable results, and art, which has to do with metaphysics and spiritual consequences. You can't get confused between those two ideas, although there are points at which they engage one another."

His philosophy is outlined in his latest book, Art Is Work.

Glaser first studied at Cooper Union in New York and spent two years at an academy in Italy. But his passion for drawing began when he was a little boy.

"I was struck by the idea that I wanted to be an artist without having any idea what that meant," he recalls. "I think all kids want to make things. The most important thing for a child actually, in terms of their development, is making things, because that's the way the mind develops."

And that sounds like Glaser’s mind is still developing and he’s still a kid. He just keeps popping up with new things.

"Well, I hope so," he says. "I think, at a certain point in professional life, the most difficult thing is staying interested, because professionalism drives you in another way. I mean, 'professional' means to me 'not making mistakes.' And as you know, anything that's really good or extraordinary or creative comes out of the possibility of failure. And so when you eliminate the possibility for making mistakes, you eliminate the imagination."

As popular as his designs hve become, he hasn't always played to raves. Glaser says he's been called a misogynist, even a sadist, because of the plaster casts he included in his design of a Manhattan restaurant.

"The critics totally misunderstood my intention, which means I was doing the wrong job," he comments.

Glaser does love to design restaurants, he says, "because as a social institution, they're one of the most interesting and complex of all social forms, and also because I'm very interested in the idea of pleasure and the relationship between art, beauty, aesthetics, and pleasure. And for me, there isn't anything more interesting than the creation of pleasure."

But even in the act of creating pleasure, Glaser will go only so far.

"I have tried to avoid doing things that would be harmful to people, because I believe that 'do no harm' not only applies to doctors, but applies to people who are responsible for transmitting ideas within a culture, which is what you do as a design professional," he explains.

That's why Milton Glaser has established his own ethical standards – warning signs along what he calls a designer's "road to hell."

Among the projects he will not undertake are designing a package for a cereal aimed at children which has low nutritional value and designing an ad for a political candidate whose policies he believes would be harmful to the general public.

He has made a chart with such standards, with the intention of helping "people to…establish the point at which they will descend no further, because everybody has a point where they will descend no further."

But, even on the road to hell, there are stops along the way he considers pure heaven.

"I just love sitting down with a blank piece of paper and making something that seems to have a life of its own," he says. "I mean, it's as close as you can be to God, right?"

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