What's the "Big Idea?"

Inspiration isn't a bolt of lightening—it comes out of your own sensibilities and understanding of the world.
  • Transcript


Question: What is your concept of "The Big Idea?"

George Lois:
Well, you know, to oversimplify, the "big idea" is a concept that takes the unique selling... the unique virtues of a product and searing it into somebody's, into people's minds that somehow forces a extraordinary sales increase in whatever you're talking about.  But, you know, and I always talk about the big idea, I'm kind of called the Mr. Big Idea.  You know, but what I'm really talking about is true creativity.  And I say creativity, you know, can solve almost any problem. The creative act, you know, the defeat of habit by originality can overcome everything.

But at the same time that I talk about the creative act, I really tell people who are trying to do creative work that creativity isn't really a creative act, it's an act of discovery.  And they look at you like, "Huh?"  You know?  And I did a book called "George Lois on His Creation of the Big Idea," you know, where I show 100 things I did on the right-hand page and on the left-hand page, before I show something in my DNA, something in my understanding of 7,000 of art, something in my understanding of movies, of ballet, of sports, of humor, of dirty jokes, whatever it is, something in there that inspired what I did.  And I tell the young people especially, you know, that that background, of high art and pop art and intellectual background of understanding the world around you, and especially, you know, the 7,000 years of art, is essential to doing creative work, and that once you have that understanding, you know, and that ethos of trying to understand everything, when you have any kind of a problem, if you then look at the problem and look at the competitor, and et cetera, and get your basic information... once you really understand the problem, the answer is, the answer it there.  It's like floating by and all you got to do is grab it.  It really isn't an act of creativity, it's an act of discovery.  I sound very mystical talking about it, but I absolutely, that's absolutely what creativity is to me.  If I learn all that there is to learn about something and I know I'm ready to come up with an answer, it's there.  And it's not a bolt of lightening, what it is, is coming out of your own, out of your own sensibilities and your own understanding of the world.

  Is it a methodical process or is it organic?

George Lois: The method is to be interested in everything and the organic part of it is a passion for everything around you, the passion for, you know.  I mean, you know, I, when I teach a class at the School of Visual Arts as a favor to somebody, and I'll say to a class of 25, once the, once, "Have any of you been to the Museum of, Metropolitan Museum of Art this year?"  Okay.  "Have any of you been to MOMA this year?"  One hand.  "Have any of you never been to the Museum of Modern Art?"  You know, five people, eight people, you know.  I'm astounded, you know, I'm just truly astounded, you know.  Talking to design students and people who are supposed to be communicators, you don't, so, you know, that total, that's why when people say today, how, they say, when is the second creative revolution going to come?  I said, "No."  I said, "I mean, you got the Internet and you got Google and you got all the information at your fingertips and they don't know shit, nobody knows shit."  You know?

  What’s the worst design advice you’ve ever heard?

George Lois: One of the great books in advertising, "The Confessions of an Ad Man," you know, by David Ogilvy. Every word in there is the wrong, absolutely wrong.  Every wrong.  And when I was working at Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1959, I got conned by his copy chief into coming to see Ogilvy and I, you know, I said, "Well, you're talking to the wrong guy," and they begged me to come and I went and Ogilvy is trying to hire me as their head art director, you know.  I think at one point I said I'd be the head art director if I could become the creative chief.  He was the creative chief, you know.  If I was the creative chief, I could do great advertising here.  You know, but, and I told him, "Mr. Ogilvy, I don't know why you're trying to hire me, because I don't understand one word, I don't believe, I don't agree with one word in your book."  I mean, he had, you know, he had the rules of this and your logo's got to be here, and he's got, I mean, he's got rules.  There are no rules in advertising, it's impossible, you know?  I mean, the only rule in advertising is there are no rules, you know?

Question:  What’s the best design advice you’ve ever heard?

George Lois:  The best?  What I'm saying to you now.

Recorded April 5, 2010