Skip to content
Who's in the Video

George Lois

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[…]

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

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

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

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

Question:
 rn Is it a methodical process or is it organic?

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

Question:
  What’s the worst design advice you’ve everrn heard?

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

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

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

Recorded April 5, 2010