Today's Magazine Covers: "A Wasteland of Creativity"

George Lois is a pioneering advertising executive and designer best known for a series of covers he created for Esquire magazine between 1962 and 1972 (some of which were featured in an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 2008). He coined the phrase "I want my MTV!" created a new gourmet frozen foods marketing category with Lean Cuisine, and has devised memorable ads for companies ranging from Jiffy Lube to USA Today to Tommy Hilfiger. He is also the author of nine books about advertising and design, including "George, Be Careful," "$ellebrity," and "Iconic America."
  • Transcript


Question:  What do you think of magazine covers today?

George Lois:
Look at the newsstand, you know?  I mean, it's a cacophony of famous people or people who want to be famous with blurbs all around it, and it's supposed to be, you know, that's supposed to be creativity in journalism.  My God, it's unbelievable. It's shocking.  I mean, how can 200 magazines, you know, do the same cover, you know?  That's always there.  And advertising, go home and watch advertising.  You watch commercials on TV and I don't, really, I'm not kidding, I don't really understand what the hell, I mean, half of them, I don't understand what they're talking about, you know.  And most people don't understand, even if they see something that they kind of enjoy, they don't remember the name of the product.  So, I mean, think, I don't see, I mean, these people who keep talking about we're on the advent of coming up with the creative revolution, I don't see it, you know.  I don't.  At the same time, I know there's got to be talent out there, I'm not sure who's telling them what to do.

You have to have an understanding that everything, go back to what I said before, everything you do, you have to have a [...]. If you come up with an idea, a big idea, if you show it to somebody, your wife, or friend, or a client, they should go, "Holy shit." Your head shouldn't go back and forth, you know?  It should be such, it should be such a surprising idea, the only chance you have to do anything that's memorable, is it has to be a shock when you first see it, you know?  And what people do is they, they just show the, the work is so unambitious, you know?  I mean, television commercials are little films, you know, something's going on and you don't quite know what's going on and you say, "Well, what is it about?"  And then you're looking for the, who the client is, and then when you see it, you say, "I don't get it," you know.

So, I find it's a wasteland of creativity, unfortunately.  And I can't believe there isn't talent out there, because I, you know, people, I have fans who confess, you know, a love of my work, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, there's got to be something they got to learn from it.  What they got to be learning from it is that when you do something, it should be a knockout idea, you know?  And in most cases, certainly, certainly in, which I only did for 10 years for Esquire and, you know, and then in the Museum of Modern Art.

But you have to, you know, when you, every cover is, when it was on the newsstand, some people went, I mean, the culture went ape shit on some of them.  They looked at it and went, "Whoa!"  You know, go to a newsstand today, there's not a memorable, forget about something being culturally... being a culture buster, there's nothing there that you can possibly remember.  There's an ad today about, a Hearst ad today, but with three magazines, they talk about they're getting awards, et cetera, et cetera, and you look at the covers and, I don't know, they're nothing, you know, they're all the same cover, you know. 

Do designers have less creative freedom today than in the 60's?

George Lois:  Oh, no, that's the big problem.  You know, I mean, I'm talking about people, about young designers not being ambitious enough, etc., etc.  One of the problems is that, you know, certainly in magazine design there's a lot of terrific talent doing editorial.  I mean, when you get the, Society of Publication Designers sends me their awards every year, a book, you know, and you look through it and there's a lot of terrific spreads in it and a lot of exciting stuff going on.  You know there's talent there, and then they show the best covers of the year and they're nothing, you know?

Recorded April 5, 2010