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A Designer Who Gets "Ideas" Could Change the World With a Magazine

Question:  Has the digital age made design better or worse?

George\r\n Lois:  No, it's changed it, oh, for worse, because somehow, you \r\nknow, growing up with the Internet and growing up with stuff on the \r\nscreen and filling it, filling the page with information, look at, look \r\nat most magazines today.  Look at even the great magazines today, you \r\nknow, like a Vanity Fair, it's just jammed with, and New Yorker, it's \r\njust jammed with information and copy, et cetera, it's almost like it's \r\nan extension of the TV, of what people are used to. When you talk about \r\n"white space," which used to be a big thing in school, in graphic art \r\nschool, you know, when you talked how to, should have white space, but \r\nthey knew what they were talking about.  They were talking about gee, \r\nsometimes when there's an idea that you, that you need the expanse, you \r\nneed to, you know, the great pioneers in advertising, in editorial \r\ndesign in the '20s and '30s was a guy by the name of Dr. Oger and Alexi \r\nBrodovich for Vogue magazine and, you know, the Irving Penns and the \r\nAvedons, and all graphic designers learn somehow from that kind of \r\nexperience of a spread that had some kind of vitality to it.  And when \r\nyou look at the Internet, there's a load of information, but there's no \r\ndesign vitality and there's no attempt for design vitality.  I mean, \r\neven most people's Web sites, where you have a chance to do something, \r\nto express something, you know.

What \r\ndo you think of Apple's new iPad?

It's not so much, you know,\r\n I'm not down on the iPad or whatever they do. But I'm for the magazine,\r\n I'm for the visceral excitement of a magazine.  I mean, to this day, \r\nyou know, when I get magazines, and they don't have to even be a great \r\nmagazine, you know, you turn the page and, you know, when you lay it on \r\nyour knees, it's like a lap dance, you know?  I mean, it's a visceral \r\nthing, you know?  And I can't see, you know, if I was a really young, a \r\nyoung man today, to say what would you be doing... I'd create a \r\nmagazine.  You know, I'd create a magazine and have people say, "Holy \r\nshit, did you see that cover?"  Then open it, "Wow, did you see that \r\nthere?  Nothing like it.  It's a revolution in journalism."  You know?  A\r\n graphic designer, you know, who understands ideas and understands that \r\nideas are what makes the world go round, could change the world with a \r\nmagazine.  If one talent could do it right now, and everybody would stop\r\n saying it's the death of magazines.

 \r\n So why don’t you?

George Lois:  Oh, I'm trying, I'm \r\ntrying.  No, it's funny because people said, well, you know, were you \r\never sorry you weren't a movie director or this or that and I say, yeah,\r\n when I've able to be, to work on being a graphic designer and being in \r\nadvertising, etc., was I, I'd done hundreds, thousands of commercials, \r\nyou know, the music video--best music video ever done to this day, [Bob \r\nDylan's] "Jokerman."  Kurt Loder still says it's the best music video \r\never.  You know, I've done, you know, sales films that would knock you \r\ndown they were so exciting.  You know, I designed logos, I designed \r\npackages, you know, I designed an ad agency, I designed space, you \r\nknow?  You know, I mean, every part of, you know, I could be a \r\nRenaissance man, in a sense, doing all of those things... including the \r\nconcept for New York magazine, actually the first design for it, the \r\nfirst logo for New York magazine, I did as a supplement for the Harold \r\nTribune in 1962 or 1963.  And in fact, Harold Hays was at my office one \r\nday, I think it was '63, might have been '62, and he saw me working on a\r\n magazine and he said, "What are you doing?"  I said, "Well, I'm doing \r\nthe, I do the advertising for the New York Herald Tribune," and he knew \r\nthat because I was doing a very exciting campaign: "Who Says The \r\nNewspaper Has To Be Dull?"  In fact, I was producing a commercial for \r\nthe Tribune.  Every night, I would get the front page and write a script\r\n and a shooting script in a cab and produce a commercial every night \r\nthat would go on every night, you know.

In any case, and it was a\r\n big success, and I said, "Well, I'm selling the hell out of the \r\nnewspaper, daily paper, I can't, Sunday paper can't do anything with it,\r\n because you can't compete with the Times...  So I'm doing a supplement,\r\n I'm trying to get them to understand that they can do a supplement \r\ncalled "New York" and if you did it right, you do it beautifully \r\ndesigned, you get terrific writing, et cetera, et cetera, and it could \r\nbe a combination of," I said, "Of the New Yorker and Q Magazine, you \r\nknow, telling you about specific things to do, and if you did that, you \r\nknow, you could sell another 200, 300,000, 400,000 copies just because \r\nof that terrific supplement."  And Harold's looking at it, and this was \r\nonly, I've only been, I was only doing covers for him for half a year or\r\n so, and he said, "George, if you, if I left Esquire right now and you \r\nleft your agency, we should do this magazine and we should do magazines \r\nbecause it's a city magazine," he said, "And we could do a city \r\nmagazine, or seven or eight magazines currently," and I remember for a \r\nsecond saying, "Holy shit, that's a real big idea, that's big think."  \r\nBut of course, he didn't do it because I had an ad agency and he was \r\ndoing, but when you say why didn't, why didn't I do it now?  I say, \r\nwell... it's not that I'm old and tired... I supposedly retired in the \r\nyear 2000, my wife says I'm not retired, I'm just tired.  But I'm not, \r\nbecause I work all the time, I work with my son, Luke, and we do stuff \r\nall the time, we're doing advertising, you know, we're working on a \r\nscript and shooting script for a TV special, et cetera, et cetera, et \r\ncetera. 

But, you know, you never can tell, I might do a \r\nmagazine. 

What would you need to get back \r\ninto magazines?

George Lois:
I would have to work with\r\n an editor who basically treated me the way Harold did and treated me as\r\n a big talent.  He should treat me at least as good as he treated Gay \r\nTalese, and that's what he did with me.  He said, "You know, I deal with\r\n the Taleses and the Mailers and the Loises, and they do their thing.  \r\nThat doesn't mean he didn't edit those guys, you know, which he \r\nabsolutely did, you know?  Because even a great writer needs editing.  \r\nBut he didn’t edit, he didn’t edit or change one thing on anything I \r\never did.  I mean, when I did something, he was like, “Holy shit, wow!” \r\n You know?  “I love it,” you know, or “Wow, am I going to be in \r\ntrouble?”  You know?  And of course he loved the whole concept of being \r\nin trouble because being in trouble meant... he knew that a magazine had\r\n to be dynamic and had to have ideas and he also understood something \r\nthat noone who works there understands today.  And that is you don’t \r\nwrite... you don’t create a magazine for your readers.  You don’t do a \r\npick up, you don’t take a poll, you know, like the politicians do and \r\nfind out what they’re thinking and what they want.  What do you mean \r\nwhat they want?  What the hell, what do you mean what they want?  \r\nThey’re supposed to be above and beyond, you know, the culture.  You’re \r\nsupposed to be leading the culture, you’re supposed to be ahead of the \r\nculture, you’re supposed to be telling people what the hell you think is\r\n exciting and dynamic and thought provoking and do it, and do it your \r\nway.  And that’s the way you create a great magazine.  And then if you \r\ndo it that way, with all that kind of passion and talent, you’ll get an \r\naudience.  You know, we got our audience, and basically, at Esquire in \r\nthe ‘60s, the audience basically, I’m not, I never found out what the \r\nreal numbers were, but I think a tremendous, a half of the \r\ncirculation—I’m making it up—was college, was college students.  You \r\nknow, I run into people all the time, to this day, who, you know, who \r\nwere in their 20’s when I was doing covers in the ‘60s.  And now they’re\r\n 60, 60 years old, and they, boy, they know every cover, they can tell \r\nyou how covers change their lives!  They can tell you, people tell me \r\nwhere they were when they saw the Ali cover as St. Sebastian.  They can \r\ntell, they tell me where they were when they saw the cover!  That’s the \r\nkind of, Harold called them pictorial Zolas, you know.  What’s funny is I\r\n said pictorial Zolas to somebody a couple of months ago when they said,\r\n “What’s a pictorial Zola?”  Duh.  You know, when I explained "J'accuse"\r\n they still didn’t get it. 

But in any case, and I call myself a\r\n cultural provocateur, and I call myself a cultural provocateur in my \r\nadvertising, too.  Because when you create advertising, it’s not just to\r\n sell a product or a person or an idea. It should go beyond that.  It \r\nshould touch, sometimes very dynamically on the culture and there’s no \r\nway, you can’t do great advertising unless you understand that you \r\nshouldn’t just be selling the product, you should be talking about, and \r\nencompassing the culture or where the culture should be headed.  I \r\ntalked to that about, I tell students that, the young people that, young\r\n people in advertising that, and they don’t know what the fuck I’m \r\ntalking about.  They don’t get it until I show them examples, you know.

Recorded April 5, 2010

Magazines are supposed to be leading the culture by "telling people what the hell you think is exciting and dynamic and thought provoking."

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