Happy birthday Milton Glaser

US design legend Milton Glaser was just five years old when he realised the power of the pencil and his own imagination, turning that revelation into a startling career that has encompassed everything from magazine covers to advertising, art to the classic I Heart New York logo.

In November 2009, Milton Glaser took time out to talk extensively to Computer Arts about his life, work and design philosophy. What follows is just a taster:

Computer Arts: Did you have a 'eureka' moment in terms of wanting to draw for a living?

Milton Glaser: "I did. In fact, it's something I try to elicit from my classes because it's important to understand, if you're a practitioner, what it is that brought you to that perception and why it remains in your consciousness afterwards.

"When I was five years old, a cousin of mine came to take care of me, and he had a paper bag with him and he said, "Would you like to see a horse?" I said, "Yes," so he reached into the paper bag, pulled out a pencil and drew a picture of a horse on the side of the bag. Now, I'd never seen anyone actually draw anything resembling what was being talked about, because I'd only seen drawings being done by kids my own age.

"I remember this: as he drew this picture, I was so astonished that I nearly fainted. In that moment, I realised you could create life through the vehicle of a pencil, and that sense of the miraculous has never left me."

CA: When you look back at your body of work, what are the pieces that stand out for you - is there anything you particularly enjoyed?

MG: "Be clear on this: enjoyment has nothing to do with accomplishment or level of performance. Enjoying it is one thing, and I have to say that most of the things in my life I have enjoyed. But I also think what is so significant about my life is that I've been able to sustain my interest over such a long period of time. I've never got bored with most of what I've done."

CA: How do you feel about being featured as a 'design icon'?

MG: "The most important thing in design, it seems to me, is the consequence of your action, and whether you're interested, fundamentally, in persuading people to do things that are in their interests.

"The fundamental question I always ask is: has the accumulated work actually added to the health of the culture or have you been harmful? It's a question I ask my students. A week or two ago, I gave a class of 28 the question of whether they would be willing to do something that would ultimately cause the user's death, referring, among other things, to cigarettes. I was surprised that five were willing to do that.

"On the other hand, no one in the class was willing to work for a company that employed child labour, so you realise that the ethical nature of the field is very peculiar. Sometimes ethics are entirely based on status or what's hot at the moment.

"I think one of the things you use to evaluate the meaning of your work is whether you have obeyed the Hippocratic injunction 'Do no harm.' I think that's a very desirable description of an attitude that would be beneficial."

Milton Glaser was born on 26 June 1929.

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