New Yorkers are famously belligerent when it comes to changes made to their beloved institutions. So when it came to something as timelessly iconic as Milton Glaser’s I ❤️NY logo from 1977, arguably the most recognizable and most-copied logo in the world, the reactions were predictably vicious. If I were the brand designer who released the “We ❤️NYC” logo introduced by Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul this week, I’d dread getting out of bed on this beautiful morning.
This is not the first time a logo revision has triggered fierce protest by loyal consumers (remember Coke? The Gap? Tropicana?). The logo designer’s rule of thumb for such a project is to make only changes that are modest, nuanced, and incrementally revealed to the public to avoid causing confusion and shock.
But the “We ❤️ NYC” logo was introduced as a full-page advertisement in Monday’s New York Times and then at a press conference in Times Square, a full-blown assault on our senses. The version that appeared in the newspaper, which lays out the logo on one line, is not as unappealing as the two-line version, which sticks the balloon heart in the upper right corner next to the “We.” At best, it reads as a poor knockoff, and at worst as a disrespectful spin on the original Glaser concept.
As an art director, I see two main elements in this logo. One is impossible to consider without the other. First, the type. This year’s iteration is not meant to replace Glaser’s original — “We ❤️NYC” is attached to a marketing campaign for the city, while Glaser’s was for the state of New York decades ago. But its typographic vocabulary, which attempts to be current and contemporary, does not complement the original. The typeface Glaser used, a serif typewriter typeface, seems effortless and friendly. The bold gothic type (which looks like Franklin Gothic) of the new logo is a workhorse face. When stacked, its horizontals and verticals fit nicely together. But in this context, staggered or lined up, it is too bold and too mechanical. Inviting? No! It doesn’t say “welcome,” but rather, “STOP.” This text is then inharmoniously stuck to the logo’s second element, its bulbous emoji heart, which clearly references the more delicate symbol of Glaser’s original, which uses the heart as a shorthand for love. The new version is a heavy-handed, sensationalized variation that cartoonishly beats like the actual organ on digital ads as you wait for the bus. Granted, people are accustomed to encountering emoji even in their dreams, but in this instance, I see the heart as blowing a valve. Is that any way to represent New York?
Paul Rand, one of America’s most esteemed mark makers (the designer behind IBM, Westinghouse, ABC, and UPS), asserted that a logo is more or less 20 percent idea and 80 percent refinement. This new iteration turns the equation upside down. Even the original that Glaser roughly sketched on a napkin was better defined — and more eloquent. A better homage to his design would have been to leave it alone. Ultimately, if the goal of this campaign is to evoke the fact that NYC is back from the abyss, then it should suggest something other than a sign for a cardiac-care unit.