INTERVIEW : GEORGE LOIS

We had the incredible pleasure of visiting iconic designer George Lois, pictured below with his son Luke, in his studio for an interview in anticipation of his book release party at the Art Director’s Club down the street from Ace Hotel New York on March 14. Lois’ new tome Damn Good Advice! is out this month from Phaidon. If you’d like to attend the release, let ‘em know at dga@phaidon.com or 212-652-5217.

You didn’t have Photoshop when you were designing the iconic covers for Esquire. The raw cut and paste look of say, the Warhol in the soup can cover fit well with the times and conveyed a sense of urgency. Is there a point where technology’s obliteration of traditional limits for design becomes constrictive in its own way?

These days it’s so easy for anybody, with talent or not, to pack and overlay images with multiple ideas -– so that there’s not a chance in hell that one, simple Big Idea can shine through. My images are understood in a nanosecond, precise visual statements that you instantly understand, but make you think long and hard about what I am saying.

Are there any publications now — paper or online — that, for you, consistently have a kind of visual impact that moves you?   

No. That’s why I wrote DAMN GOOD ADVICE — trying to teach talented people how to unleash their creative potential. I’ve got plenty to teach them if they’re smart enough to take my advice.

Much has been said about how those covers had very spare text. Browsing a magazine stand today, on the other hand, you’ll often find the images overrun by rogue text. If pictures are worth a thousand words, why is it so hard to trust the images to speak for themselves? What made you uniquely able to do so?

Those dozen cutie pie content blurbs on most magazines in America prove that none of them believe in their brand! I am called a cultural provocateur because my Esquire covers were powerful, jarring and prescient monthly statements on a mass magazine that became essential to the iconography of American Culture. People literally bought them for the power of the covers, understanding that a magazine with such a uniquely uncompromising point of view would certainly offer an exciting read each and every month. No story blurbs were necessary on the front cover! One of the reasons I was uniquely able to make those visual statements was that Esquire’s great editor, Harold Hayes, allowed me — indeed, begged me — to fire away! (And he took most of the heat.)

When you started in the creative business, network television and radio meant there was an almost universal frame of reference. With the proliferation of choices it’s more splintered now. Can a slogan or a “big idea” be identified with on the mass level that it could in the days of “I Want My MTV?” Should it?

Of course it can, and why not? It just takes a big, bold, courageous talent.

Why does America love Don Draper?

Don Draper is a talentless hack who dwells in a glamorous office where stylish fools hump their appreciative secretaries, suck up martinis and smoke themselves to death as they produce dumb, lifeless advertising, oblivious to the inspiring Civil Rights movement, the evil Vietnam War, the Women’s Liberation movement, and other seismic changes during the turbulent 1960s. So you tell me why America should love Don fucking Draper!


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    damn i love george lois.
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