No matter the context, change is difficult. When it comes to a beloved, well-known, distinguished design, change becomes almost unbearable.
This past week, Milton Glaser’s iconic I ❤️NY logo from 1977 was redesigned and dropped upon the world unexpectedly, and the change felt like a rug was pulled out from under New Yorkers and those who love the city. Glaser is one of the most celebrated designers, whose classic, universally recognized work ranges from the New York Magazine logo to the famous Bob Dylan poster. When designs as adored as his are modernized without warning, it’s easy to feel betrayed.
The new We❤️NYC logo shocked the internet, is the reaction just a sign of the times? Does the new logo better represent New York and its people? Do people dislike it because it’s an unexpected change, or because it actually isn’t a good design?
I had the opportunity to speak with COLLINS Creative Director Joseph Han to learn more about the change and why it’s affecting people so personally. Han was previously at Pentagram and Base Design, leading work for a wide range of organizations including Apple, Google, Facebook, and iconic New York brands like The New York Times, New York Botanical Garden, and Van Leeuwen. His expertise has guided his answers, opening the conversation up to understanding how designing with emotion is just as important as it sometimes is to remove it.
Before we get into it, what are your feelings about the new “I ❤️ NY” logo?
Instead of dropping my thoughts into the ocean of opinions already out there, I’d like to talk about the conversation this new logo has opened up.
People freaked— and are freaking— out. Everyone has a take, and everyone is more than happy to tell you about it. Maybe all the noise is warranted, but that’s not for me to call.
What is warranted is an examination of the response itself, especially for graphic designers. Look at what a logo just did, what a piece of graphic design just did— an entire city of busy, hustling, no-nonsense New Yorkers just threw a tantrum. Not to mention the rest of the world.
Clearly, Milton Glaser’s iconic original logo is embedded in the nerve bundlings and memory banks of this city and people around the globe.
So, we can debate the execution of this new mark, but for me, it is of far more interest and consequence to talk about the unseen and often unfelt role of graphic design in the places we call home.
When something as iconic as Milton Glaser’s “I ❤️ NY” logo is altered, why do you think people initially feel betrayed?
People dislike change in what they are familiar with. That’s no surprise. But what about when change arrives unexpectedly to one of the world’s most iconic symbols, representing one of the world’s most iconic cities, designed by one of the most influential graphic designers in history? That’s an entirely different story, and why I think the pitchforks are out. It’s a shame so many are so angry about this, but designers are a passionate bunch.
First, we need to acknowledge how tricky updating or building on a logo of this stature is— Graham Clifford and co had their hands more than full. There are trap doors and trip wires everywhere. The ambition of this initiative was admirable, but the task they set out to tackle was daunting. Now, some thoughts…
Designers tend to celebrate the work of their heroes, so before getting into it, I made myself step back and ask these questions:
- How does my attachment to Glaser and the original logo impact how I evaluate this?
- If we swapped which logo came first, would I champion the “I ❤️ NY” set in American Typewriter with an awkwardly kerned “N” and “Y”?
Then I looked to the past, because iconic logos and marks of meaning have changed before. Many designers lost sleep when Paul Rand’s delightfully pictorial UPS logo changed in 2003 and when Massimo Vignelli’s perfectly timeless, vivid American Airlines logo changed in 2013. But those redesigns were used to highlight the new qualities those companies wanted to signal to the world: speed and innovation of their evolving technologies and services.
The central issue with the “We ❤️ NYC” logo is that many feel the outcome does not fulfill its intention. If the intention, as announced by the city officials, was to (admirably) counter pessimism, encourage civic engagement and pride, and feel more inclusive, this logo may miss those marks. Milton’s visual love letter to New York, on the other hand, hits them all masterfully:
- The elegantly quirky American Typewriter typeface signals optimism and warmth
- The original logo is easy to recognize in the sea of messy, noisy typography in NY (think street signs, store signage, and other typographic noise)
- The personal resonance of the “I” imbues the mark with pride and encouragement
- The simple, hand crafted heart is genuine and charming
- The simple, stacked composition of “I ❤️ NY” is easy to place in all the channels it needs to live and scale within.
I’ve read that people feel as though this new logo is a cheap knock off of Glaser’s, do you feel this is a fair critique?
It’s no knockoff— knockoffs imitate. Graham himself noted, “The brief was very explicit that we are not replacing Glaser’s version” and that he aimed to balance differentiating the marks with paying homage to Glaser. That’s a thin wire to walk. So thank you, Graham, for opening this conversation and standing in the line of fire.
If you were asked to update Milton Glaser’s “I ❤️ NY” logo, what would you do and why?
I would start with a simple question: “What is the intention and the objective behind changing such an iconic and beloved logo?”
My plan would depend completely on that response.