December 1, 2007
George Lois answers a few questions on graphic design, inspiration, and process—using his thumbs.
JOB DESCRIPTION: I’m an advertising legend, whatever that means. I was one of the two or three guys credited with the advertising revolution of the late-’50s and ’60s. Today I’m continuing the same thing, except I’m doing it with my son and without 100 people around me.
CURRENT PROJECTS: I just did an ad campaign for AmericanLife TV. They have a baby-boomer demographic, so people like Joe Namath’s daughter come on and say, “I’m the baby of a baby boomer,” and it pulls back and you see Joe. I just did a book, Iconic America. I’m doing another one with at least 100 of my images, and I show them right next to something that influenced me.
FIRST STEP ON A PROJECT: If it’s a product, you have to understand its competitors, what it’s all about; you have to understand the culture and world history. Then you’ve got to create a big idea.
LAST STEP ON A PROJECT: To make sure that it runs properly, that the media plan is right—I get into the nitty-gritty of all of that stuff.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO? I don’t know how to stop working.
EDUCATION: I drew from the time I was three years old, and by the time I was seven or eight I could draw like a motherfucker. I went to the High School of Music & Art. It was really Bauhaus-inspired. It was the greatest institution of learning since Alexander sat at the foot of Aristotle.
MENTOR: Paul Rand. What inspired me about him was the fact that here was a young guy who didn’t take any shit from anybody, who did his own thing, who obviously had talent and a real personality—and his design work had personality.
FIRST ACT AS “DESIGN CZAR”: They’ve put new signage up in my building. I feel like Howard Roark, in The Fountainhead—I feel like taking a screwdriver one night and destroying it all.
DREAM TEAM: Nobody’s going to outwrite me or outhink me. It’s much easier working by myself.
OFFICE CHAIR: The Mies van der Rohe Brno chair. I bought it when I went to work for CBS. I had just come out of the Army, and I was 21.
OFFICE SOUND TRACK: You put opera on, and I’m dead in the water. It keeps you from thinking about other things.
FAVORITE TCHOTCHKE: I have a Buck Rogers gun from 1932. I got it mounted like a piece of art.
MOST USEFUL TOOL: A single-edge razor blade. From 1950 until 15 years ago, I would spend hours cutting the type apart, letter by letter, and spacing it.
BEST PLACE TO THINK: I don’t think there is a single place, a think seat. You do it in the cab.
SOMETHING OLD: I have a Macedonian spear point from Alexander the Great. It’s vicious, and at the same time it’s so goddamned sexy.
FAVORITE SPACE: The Four Seasons Restaurant, designed by Philip Johnson. I’m partial to it because from 1960 to 2000 I did all their advertising.
GUILTY PLEASURE: Being married 56 years to the same incredible woman. That’s a guilty pleasure every second.
UNDERRATED: My wife’s a terrific painter. When we’re all gone, somebody’s going to discover her.
OVERRATED: That terrible building—I can’t even remember his name I hate him so much. The building on the West Side, the Gehry building. Jesus Christ! This melting piece of shit! The Richard Meier buildings ain’t the greatest buildings in the world, but it’s a pleasure seeing a neat, clean building after that Gehry building. I hate everything—I hate the texture on it, I hate the shape of it, et cetera, et cetera. When you go inside, there’s some stuff that’s OK. That’s like having an ugly human being and going in and saying, “What a nice, beautiful liver that person’s got.”
LEARNED THE HARD WAY: I could write a book called No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. I’m supposed to be a hard-ass motherfucker, but I think sometimes I’m a soft touch.
COMMAND-Z (UNDO): You cannot think about your mistakes. It turns you into a coward.
DREAM JOB: I’d like to be the arbiter of taste in design for the whole world.