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Who's in the Video
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[…]

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

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

Georgern Lois:  No, it's changed it, oh, for worse, because somehow, you rnknow, growing up with the Internet and growing up with stuff on the rnscreen and filling it, filling the page with information, look at, look rnat most magazines today.  Look at even the great magazines today, you rnknow, like a Vanity Fair, it's just jammed with, and New Yorker, it's rnjust jammed with information and copy, et cetera, it's almost like it's rnan extension of the TV, of what people are used to. When you talk about rn"white space," which used to be a big thing in school, in graphic art rnschool, you know, when you talked how to, should have white space, but rnthey knew what they were talking about.  They were talking about gee, rnsometimes when there's an idea that you, that you need the expanse, you rnneed to, you know, the great pioneers in advertising, in editorial rndesign in the '20s and '30s was a guy by the name of Dr. Oger and Alexi rnBrodovich for Vogue magazine and, you know, the Irving Penns and the rnAvedons, and all graphic designers learn somehow from that kind of rnexperience of a spread that had some kind of vitality to it.  And when rnyou look at the Internet, there's a load of information, but there's no rndesign vitality and there's no attempt for design vitality.  I mean, rneven most people's Web sites, where you have a chance to do something, rnto express something, you know.

What rndo you think of Apple's new iPad?

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

 rn So why don’t you?

George Lois:  Oh, I'm trying, I'm rntrying.  No, it's funny because people said, well, you know, were you rnever sorry you weren't a movie director or this or that and I say, yeah,rn when I've able to be, to work on being a graphic designer and being in rnadvertising, etc., was I, I'd done hundreds, thousands of commercials, rnyou know, the music video--best music video ever done to this day, [Bob rnDylan's] "Jokerman."  Kurt Loder still says it's the best music video rnever.  You know, I've done, you know, sales films that would knock you rndown they were so exciting.  You know, I designed logos, I designed rnpackages, you know, I designed an ad agency, I designed space, you rnknow?  You know, I mean, every part of, you know, I could be a rnRenaissance man, in a sense, doing all of those things... including the rnconcept for New York magazine, actually the first design for it, the rnfirst logo for New York magazine, I did as a supplement for the Harold rnTribune in 1962 or 1963.  And in fact, Harold Hays was at my office one rnday, I think it was '63, might have been '62, and he saw me working on arn magazine and he said, "What are you doing?"  I said, "Well, I'm doing rnthe, I do the advertising for the New York Herald Tribune," and he knew rnthat because I was doing a very exciting campaign: "Who Says The rnNewspaper Has To Be Dull?"  In fact, I was producing a commercial for rnthe Tribune.  Every night, I would get the front page and write a scriptrn and a shooting script in a cab and produce a commercial every night rnthat would go on every night, you know.

In any case, and it was arn big success, and I said, "Well, I'm selling the hell out of the rnnewspaper, daily paper, I can't, Sunday paper can't do anything with it,rn because you can't compete with the Times...  So I'm doing a supplement,rn I'm trying to get them to understand that they can do a supplement rncalled "New York" and if you did it right, you do it beautifully rndesigned, you get terrific writing, et cetera, et cetera, and it could rnbe a combination of," I said, "Of the New Yorker and Q Magazine, you rnknow, telling you about specific things to do, and if you did that, you rnknow, you could sell another 200, 300,000, 400,000 copies just because rnof that terrific supplement."  And Harold's looking at it, and this was rnonly, I've only been, I was only doing covers for him for half a year orrn so, and he said, "George, if you, if I left Esquire right now and you rnleft your agency, we should do this magazine and we should do magazines rnbecause it's a city magazine," he said, "And we could do a city rnmagazine, or seven or eight magazines currently," and I remember for a rnsecond saying, "Holy shit, that's a real big idea, that's big think."  rnBut of course, he didn't do it because I had an ad agency and he was rndoing, but when you say why didn't, why didn't I do it now?  I say, rnwell... it's not that I'm old and tired... I supposedly retired in the rnyear 2000, my wife says I'm not retired, I'm just tired.  But I'm not, rnbecause I work all the time, I work with my son, Luke, and we do stuff rnall the time, we're doing advertising, you know, we're working on a rnscript and shooting script for a TV special, et cetera, et cetera, et rncetera. 

But, you know, you never can tell, I might do a rnmagazine. 

What would you need to get back rninto magazines?

George Lois:
I would have to work withrn an editor who basically treated me the way Harold did and treated me asrn a big talent.  He should treat me at least as good as he treated Gay rnTalese, and that's what he did with me.  He said, "You know, I deal withrn the Taleses and the Mailers and the Loises, and they do their thing.  rnThat doesn't mean he didn't edit those guys, you know, which he rnabsolutely did, you know?  Because even a great writer needs editing.  rnBut he didn’t edit, he didn’t edit or change one thing on anything I rnever did.  I mean, when I did something, he was like, “Holy shit, wow!” rn You know?  “I love it,” you know, or “Wow, am I going to be in rntrouble?”  You know?  And of course he loved the whole concept of being rnin trouble because being in trouble meant... he knew that a magazine hadrn to be dynamic and had to have ideas and he also understood something rnthat noone who works there understands today.  And that is you don’t rnwrite... you don’t create a magazine for your readers.  You don’t do a rnpick up, you don’t take a poll, you know, like the politicians do and rnfind out what they’re thinking and what they want.  What do you mean rnwhat they want?  What the hell, what do you mean what they want?  rnThey’re supposed to be above and beyond, you know, the culture.  You’re rnsupposed to be leading the culture, you’re supposed to be ahead of the rnculture, you’re supposed to be telling people what the hell you think isrn exciting and dynamic and thought provoking and do it, and do it your rnway.  And that’s the way you create a great magazine.  And then if you rndo it that way, with all that kind of passion and talent, you’ll get an rnaudience.  You know, we got our audience, and basically, at Esquire in rnthe ‘60s, the audience basically, I’m not, I never found out what the rnreal numbers were, but I think a tremendous, a half of the rncirculation—I’m making it up—was college, was college students.  You rnknow, I run into people all the time, to this day, who, you know, who rnwere in their 20’s when I was doing covers in the ‘60s.  And now they’rern 60, 60 years old, and they, boy, they know every cover, they can tell rnyou how covers change their lives!  They can tell you, people tell me rnwhere they were when they saw the Ali cover as St. Sebastian.  They can rntell, they tell me where they were when they saw the cover!  That’s the rnkind of, Harold called them pictorial Zolas, you know.  What’s funny is Irn said pictorial Zolas to somebody a couple of months ago when they said,rn “What’s a pictorial Zola?”  Duh.  You know, when I explained "J'accuse"rn they still didn’t get it. 

But in any case, and I call myself arn cultural provocateur, and I call myself a cultural provocateur in my rnadvertising, too.  Because when you create advertising, it’s not just torn sell a product or a person or an idea. It should go beyond that.  It rnshould touch, sometimes very dynamically on the culture and there’s no rnway, you can’t do great advertising unless you understand that you rnshouldn’t just be selling the product, you should be talking about, and rnencompassing the culture or where the culture should be headed.  I rntalked to that about, I tell students that, the young people that, youngrn people in advertising that, and they don’t know what the fuck I’m rntalking about.  They don’t get it until I show them examples, you know.

Recorded April 5, 2010