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Graphic Design God Milton Glaser On Creating An Ad For Mad Men

Glaser talks to Co.Design about developing promotional material for Mad Men, the lasting appeal of Art Nouveau, and what it's really like working with Matthew Weiner.

Matthew Weiner is a master at slipping historical details into his show Mad Men, which comes back for its final season on April 13. Take for instance, the Young & Rubicam water bombs from season five, or the ominous choice to don Megan Draper in the same Bloomingdale’s T-shirt that Sharon Tate once wore.

So it's perfectly in keeping with his taste for history that Weiner tapped the talents of legendary New York graphic designer Milton Glaser for the seventh and final season’s promotional ads. Glaser's most famous work is his iconic I ♥ NY logo, but he also actually worked in advertising in the late 1960s—the same period that the show's antihero Don Draper and Roger Sterling are grappling to come to terms with.

Glaser illustrates that theme—Don’s ongoing wrestle with 1960s counterculture—with a swirling, technicolor burst of flowers, booze, and a woman's portrait set against Don Draper's silhouette. According to The New York Times, Weiner and his team at Mad Men co-opted that aesthetic from Glaser’s classic 1966 Bob Dylan poster. Co.Design spoke with Mr. Glaser about the new work and the show:

Co.Design: The New York Times piece says Matthew Weiner deferred to you. How did you arrive at this design?

Milton Glaser: This was all pre-ordained. We knew we were deliberately replicating something that had already been done, a spirit of another moment in time: the spirit of the '60s. Originally I think the client wanted an abstraction, which was to say non-identifiable things. They didn’t want a narrative to it, but when I started, the general narrative came to me—a narrative to many things in life, I suppose—of a woman, drinking, wine, and if you look there’s a floating shoe coming off the right hand side. The narrative is simple-minded for the time, but the producer said they in fact reflect what’s coming up in the show.

Why do you think Matthew Weiner and his team gravitated towards the Bob Dylan poster as inspiration?

I think it just came to hand because it was one of the most popular things in that style. They had seen it earlier in their lives. In much of my personal experience, people like the styling of Art Nouveau, of turn-of-the-century France. It’s a kind of composite, naturalistic observation. There’s a logic that derived from oriental woodcuts that were entering into Paris at the time. All of that trickled down into a usable graphic form that had some recognition.

Do you watch Mad Men?

I do. It’s beautifully conceived, and [Matthew Weiner] is a terrifically nice man...[the characters in the show] are the ad people I knew, though I’ve done less and less of that over the years. In those days, I would go up to those offices to see those guys. I was always outside the agency as a freelancer but feels very real to me. Then again, we all know that memory is treacherous.

This is not the first time Weiner has enlisted the help of artists from that era. For season six's promotional poster, which pictured two Don Drapers, almost in a Jekyll-and-Hyde scenario, Weiner sought out Brian Sanders, an artist whose work on mid-century promotional ads was relatively unknown, but remembered by Weiner from his childhood. Glaser's ads will start popping up in public spaces next week.

Read more about Glaser's work for Mad Men's season seven at The New York Times.

[Image: Courtesy of AMC]

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  • Richard Mosher

    Thank you for this interview. I saw a poster on the New York Subway, and was amazed at how strongly it cut through the visual clutter. I knew it looked familiar, and when I saw the signature it all fell into place. I appreciate you publishing the image, as I've been excitedly telling everyone who will listen to keep an eye out for the new Milton Glaser graphic, and I'm glad to have a place where I can show it to them.

  • I've occasionally been inspired by the work of Milton Glaser, but on average I've found his work veers toward "pretty pictures" versus concept.

    I favor work by Seymour Chwast, Paul Rand, Saul Bass or others representing the same time period first.

  • I have to disagree with Bongbong, and as everyone needs to know, Glaser's work is always deep and rich. That he's a graphic design "God" probably explains why I was shy when talking to him on the phone, back in the day when I called on him from Indiana to create a cover for Notre Dame Magazine. His Thomas Merton portrait drawing worked uniquely for our magazine . It was my first time talking to the worlds greatest graphic designer, one, whose excellence so many of us aspired to emulate, when "print" was primary. Don Nelson

  • Sounds more like you want everyone to know you've spoken to Milton Glaser, rather than have any valid point on why his pictures do in fact have concept...