September 30, 2008

A Man of Letters

View a sampling of Golf Digest covers over 58 years including the first from spring 1950.

View a sampling of Golf Digest covers over 58 years including the first from spring 1950.

There have been 10 versions of the Golf Digest logo since the magazine launched in 1950. The current iteration is 10 years old this year. To mark the occasion for this month's design section, John Barton, Editor-in-Chief of Golf Digest International, chatted with its creator, 79-year-old design legend Milton Glaser.

Golf Digest: The logo you designed in 1998 was radically different from the old one, which had been in use for almost a decade. What was your goal?

Milton Glaser: The old logo had long since stopped looking contemporary. It looked like a creation of the 1970s. So we changed it. It seemed immediately apparent that what was required was equal emphasis of the words "Golf" and "Digest." That's how the logo was when the magazine started, but over time the word "Golf" had become overemphasized.

The old logo looks horribly dated now, but it didn't necessarily at the time. It takes a special skill to recognize when something is out of date. Yes, hindsight is easy. There's a marvelous quote from Marshall McLuhan that I use all the time, which is that the fish in water doesn't know it's in water.

Of all the different versions of the logo in the magazine's history, are there any that stand out, for better or worse?

I actually like the first logo, from 1950. It's not unrelated stylistically to what we did. The logos that take the form of a golf ball, I don't care for. To be blunt, the logos are generally pedestrian. The distortions of the letter forms are not very beautiful. For the most part the logos are utilitarian, but perhaps for your magazine that's what they're supposed to be.

What major changes have you seen in design since Golf Digest launched in 1950?

Most of design consists merely of changing one thing and then changing it back again 10 years later. It's a fashion issue -- things change, and then they change back again, although we men somehow get away with wearing the same jacket for 40 years. In magazine design, which is a different thing from design in the world at large, there have been changes between legibility and clarity at one end of the spectrum, and expressive, decorative work on the other. Golf Digest should primarily be the former. It needs to be utilitarian -- the editorial must be legible and clear. But you still need some expression, too, some variety of scale, some surprises, some beautiful photography and illustration and so forth.

You've done so much over the years, but you're still best known for the "INY" logo that you created as part of a campaign to promote tourism in New York state.

Sadly or happily, that is a fact.

It's everywhere. Just today I saw a girl in the street wearing an "INY" T-shirt. So which is it: Does it make you sad or happy?

Well, I guess it's sad that people don't know I've ever done anything else. But I'm happy that I've contributed something to the culture that is still highly visible all over the world. After more than 30 years, I just don't understand why it doesn't go away.