The “I Love New York” logo design is so ubiquitous that many believe that it resides squarely in the public domain for any/all to use. This is, of course, not the case. In fact, the logo – which was designed by Milton Glaser, a legendary graphic designer, in the late 1970s – is a registered trademark (for use on things like apparel, footwear, and bags) owned by the New York State Department of Economic Development. In 1977, William S. Doyle, the New York Deputy Commissioner enlisted a team of advertisers to help rebrand the state, and in particular, the city, in light of enduring strife. Among that group was Mr. Glaser, who – making use of the slogan created by advertising executives Mary Wells Lawrence and Charlie Moss, who were behind the overarching “I Love New York” campaign – came up with the now-widely-famous “I Love New York” logo.
In the early 1970s, New York was in a deep state of decline. The state was virtually bankrupt, resulting in the disruption of a number of services in New York City, including school closures and cuts to the police force. Crime was on a steady rise, and widespread usage of crack – the less expensive and more addictive derivative of cocaine – began to spread, resulting in an epidemic within the city and beyond. The Son of Sam murders were splashed across national headlines, and the city was largely viewed as a corrupt and unsafe place. Even President Gerald Ford seemed to wash his hands of New York, vowing to veto any bailout approved by Congress. To make matters even worse, New York garbage collectors went on strike in 1975, so trashed piled up and the air began to smell.
New York was in dire need of a sweeping makeover and increased tourism seemed like the most reasonable way to get there. With nowhere else to turn, New York city officials hired an advertising agency, the Madison Avenue-based Well Rich Greene, which, in turn, enlisted Glaser to come up with a visual representation of Moss and Lawrence’s catchy little slogan.
As the story goes, Glaser – who, in 1977 was best known for designing the Barron’s Books logo, the iconic D.C. Comics graphic, and the famous 1966 psychedelic silhouette of Bob Dylan that appeared on promotional posters for the songwriter/singer’s album, among many other graphic works – sketched the “I Love New York” logo on the back of an envelope while in a taxi on his way to the design meeting with Well Rich Greene. In line with his larger mission of supplementing his paid-for jobs with philanthropic design projects, Glaser opted to work on the design process for the state’s logo in a pro bono capacity. At the time, he though the project would be a small-scale thing, a campaign that would last all of “two weeks.”
That would turn out to be anything by accurate, and the “I Love New York” design would become one of the most famous logos in the world.
Once the “I Love New York” branding was finalized, it was splashed all over various mediums in the late 1970s and early 80s, including no shortage of televisions commercials, which beckoned individuals across the U.S. to visit New York. And to a large extent, the push to attract tourists worked. In seemingly no time at all, people from all over the country would make their way to New York City. As one local newspaper put it in 1978, New York City was “quietly becoming [a] world tourist haven,” a trend that only increased throughout the 1980s, as business travelers and international tourists began to flock to the city en masse, and a slew of newly-built luxury hotels and tourism-centric businesses were there to meet them.
So, what is the state of the ubiquitous “I Love New York” logo more than 40 years later? Well, it remains the property of the New York State Department of Economic Development, which maintains an arsenal of federal trademark registrations for the logo for use of a sweeping array of goods and services, and for various iterations of the original design. Such trademark rights are enduring, as the logo remains in use by New York State and the city to promote tourism and events, while also being licensed to third parties for related uses and in connection with numerous products, such as t-shirts and coffee mugs.
Reflecting on the logo, itself, in an interview in 2008, Glaser said that the design “certainly changed things,” noting that even 30 years after its creation, it “appears every day with great frequency, and it has been used to fulfill its original intention to make the city attractive; to make people feel good about being here; or attract people from overseas and generate a sense of commitment and morale to the people who live here.” As for the sheer amount of “knockoffs” that have been created based on Glaser’s initial design, such as one that reads, “I ‘heart’ my Chihuahua,” Glaser “guesses” that those instances are “an indication that [the original logo] found an audience.”
UPDATED (Mar. 20, 2023): A coalition of elected officials and “community partners” in New York City have launched a new ad campaign called “We ♥ NYC” that is aimed at “counter[ing] pessimism about the city’s future and encourage civic engagement and pride among residents,” the Gothamist reported, noting that “the initial reaction” – namely, among social media users – “was marked more by disdain and ridicule.”
In a statement made in conjunction with the launch of the campaign – which comes with a new, more “modern” logo created by designer and art director Graham Clifford (and corresponding trademark applications for registration) – Kathryn Wylde, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, said, “We’re hopefully going to be able to cut through divisiveness and negativity” that accompanied the pandemic. Gov. Kathy Hochul echoed in a statement of her own on Monday, saying, “This We ♥ NYC campaign will help to capture that energy and preserve the city’s spirit by encouraging New Yorkers of every background to come together, get involved and make a positive change in their community.”
This article was originally published in March 2016, and has been updated to note the introduction of a new campaign featuring a “modernized” logo.