Milton Glaser On The Act Of Making Things

I saw a BIG film this week. A film that keeps unfolding in my mind a number of days after my initial viewing.

To Inform & Delight is a documentary about legendary designer Milton Glaser. The title is a reference to the Horace quote: “The purpose of art is to inform and delight.” It’s a powerful thought (and call to action), particularly for those working in marketing communications.

Glaser, who has run his own design shop in New York City since 1974, may be best known for co-founding New York Magazine and for creating the enduring I ♥ NY campaign. But he’s a prolific designer who also designs restaurants, books and provides design for advertising, among other things.

There are several themes in the documentary that deserve deeper exploration. For one, Glaser explains how he doesn’t want to be defined by a style. It’s a topic he has discussed before. As part of his “Ten Things I Have Learned” talk at AIGA London in 2001, Glaser said, “It’s absurd to be loyal to a style. It does not deserve your loyalty.”

Discussing his monoprints and the surprises that can come from purposefully working in a limiting form, Glaser says, “Works that are too preconceived tend to go dead, become inert and less lively. Work that responds to the peculiarities of the moment tend to be more energized.”

Think for a minute about how many preconceptions we bring to our work every day. In advertising preconceptions are fundamental to the business. Notions like “you can’t measure TV’s effectiveness” or “of course, the customer wants to hear from us again” are starting points in many a misguided journey.

Glaser’s declaration about “peculiarities of the moment” makes me think of theater, and how the best design is like live theater in that it creates an inviting experience. Factor in “the energized moment” and you have improvisational theater, and therein lies the new model.

Marketing is a real time activity today. Brands no longer need agencies who know well their lines, brands need actors who can stand and deliver, no matter where the story goes or how fast it travels.

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