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Milton Glaser (RIP) Presents 10 Rules for Life & Work: Wisdom from the Celebrated Designer

Milton Glaser (RIP) Presents 10 Rules for Life & Work: Wisdom from the Celebrated Designer

“None of us has really the ability to understand our path until it’s over,” the celebrated graphic designer Milton Glaser (RIP) muses less than a minute into the above video.

Glaser’s many contributions to pop culture—the  I ❤ NY logo, the psychedelic portrait of a rainbow-haired Bob Dylan, DC Comics’ classic bullet logo—confer undeniable authority. To the outside eye, he seems to have had a pretty firm handle on the path he traveled for lo these many decades. Aspirant designers would do well to give extra consideration to any advice he might share.

As would the rest of us.

His “Ten Things I Have Learned,” originally delivered as part of a talk to the AIGA—a venerable membership organization for design professionals—qualifies as solid life advice of general interest.

Yes, the Internet spawns bullet-pointed tips for better living the way spring rains yield mushrooms, but Glaser, a self-described “child of modernism” who’s still a contender, does not truck in pithy Instagram-friendly aphorisms. Instead, his list is born of reflection on the various turns of a long and mostly satisfying creative career.

We’ve excerpted some of his most essential points below, and suggest that those readers who are still in training give special emphasis to number seven. Don’t place too much weight on number nine until you’ve established a solid work ethic. (See number four for more on that.)

MILTON GLASER”S TEN RULES FOR WORK AND LIFE (& A BONUS JOKE ABOUT A RABBIT).

1. YOU CAN ONLY WORK FOR PEOPLE THAT YOU LIKE

Some years ago I realized that… all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of an affectionate relationship with a client.

2. IF YOU HAVE A CHOICE NEVER HAVE A JOB

Here, Glaser quotes composer John CageNever have a job, because if you have a job someday someone will take it away from you and then you will be unprepared for your old age. 

3. SOME PEOPLE ARE TOXIC AVOID THEM.

Glaser recommends putting a questionable companion to a gestalt therapy test. If, after spending time with that person “you are more tired, then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy, you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.”

4. PROFESSIONALISM IS NOT ENOUGH (or THE GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF THE GREAT)

Glaser concedes that a record of dependable excellence is something to look for in a brain surgeon or auto mechanic, but for those in the arts, “continuous transgression” is the quality to cultivate. Professionalism does not allow for that because transgression has to encompass the possibility of failure and if you are professional your instinct is not to fail, it is to repeat success. 

5. LESS IS NOT NECESSARILY MORE

I have an alternative to the proposition that I believe is more appropriate. ‘Just enough is more.’

6. STYLE IS NOT TO BE TRUSTED

Style change is usually linked to economic factors, as all of you know who have read Marx. Also fatigue occurs when people see too much of the same thing too often.

7. HOW YOU LIVE CHANGES YOUR BRAIN

The brain is the most responsive organ of the body…. Thought changes our life and our behavior. I also believe that drawing works in the same way…. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.

8. DOUBT IS BETTER THAN CERTAINTY

One of the signs of a damaged ego is absolute certainty. Schools encourage the idea of not compromising and defending your work at all costs. Well, the issue at work is usually all about the nature of compromise…. Ideally, making everyone win through acts of accommodation is desirable.

9. IT DOESN’T MATTER

Glaser credits essayist Roger Rosenblatt’s Rules for Aging (misidentifying the title as Aging Gracefully) with helping him articulate his philosophy here.  It doesn’t matter what you think. It does not matter if you are late or early, if you are here or there, if you said it or didn’t say it, if you are clever or if you were stupid. If you were having a bad hair day or a no hair day or if your boss looks at you cockeyed or your boyfriend or girlfriend looks at you cockeyed, if you are cockeyed. If you don’t get that promotion or prize or house or if you do – it doesn’t matter.

10. TELL THE TRUTH

It’s interesting to observe that in the new AIGA’s code of ethics there is a significant amount of useful information about appropriate behavior towards clients and other designers, but not a word about a designer’s relationship to the public. If we were licensed, telling the truth might become more central to what we do.

BONUS JOKE

A butcher was opening his market one morning and as he did a rabbit popped his head through the door. The butcher was surprised when the rabbit inquired ‘Got any cabbage?’ The butcher said ‘This is a meat market – we sell meat, not vegetables.’ The rabbit hopped off. The next day the butcher is opening the shop and sure enough the rabbit pops his head round and says ‘You got any cabbage?’ The butcher now irritated says ‘Listen you little rodent, I told you yesterday we sell meat, we do not sell vegetables and the next time you come here I am going to grab you by the throat and nail those floppy ears to the floor.’ The rabbit disappeared hastily and nothing happened for a week. Then one morning the rabbit popped his head around the corner and said ‘Got any nails?’ The butcher said ‘No.’ The rabbit said ‘Ok. Got any cabbage?’’

Read Milton Glaser’s “Ten Things I Have Learned” in its entirety here.

Note: This post originally appeared on our site in April 2017.

Related Content:

Milton Glaser Draws Shakespeare & Explains Why Drawing is the Key to Understanding Life

Mickey Mouse In Vietnam: The Underground Anti-War Animation from 1968, Co-Created by Milton Glaser

Dieter Rams Lists the 10 Timeless Principles of Good Design–Backed by Music by Brian Eno

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the 21st Century

Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the 21st Century

Politics Without Politicians – “The political scientist Hélène Landemore asks, If government is for the people, why can’t the people do the governing?” (via)

Her forthcoming book, due out next year and currently titled “Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the 21st Century,” envisions what true government by mass leadership could look like. Her model is based on the simple idea that, if government by the people is a goal, the people ought to do the governing.

“Open democracy,” Landemore’s coinage, does not center on elections of professional politicians into representative roles. Leadership is instead determined by a method roughly akin to jury duty (not jury selection): every now and then, your number comes up, and you’re obliged to do your civic duty—in this case, to take a seat on a legislative body. For a fixed period, it is your job to work with the other people in the unit to solve problems and direct the nation. When your term is up, you leave office and go back to your normal life and work. “It’s the idea of putting randomly selected citizens into political power, or giving them some sort of political role on a consultative body or a citizens’ assembly,” said Alexander Guerrero, a professor of philosophy at Rutgers who, in 2014, published an influential paper arguing for random selection in place of elections—a system with some precedents in ancient Athens and Renaissance Italy which he dubbed “lottocracy.” (It’s the basis for his own forthcoming book.) In open democracy, Landemore imagines lottocratic rule combined with crowdsourced feedback channels and other measures; the goal is to shift power from the few back to the many.

To many Americans, such a system will seem viscerally alarming—the political equivalent of lending your fragile vintage convertible to the red-eyed, rager-throwing seventeen-year-old down the block. Yet many immediate objections fall away on reflection. Training and qualification: Well, what about them? Backgrounds among American legislators are varied, and members seem to learn well enough on the job. The belief that elections are a skills-proving format? This, too, cancels out, since none of the skills tested in campaigning (fund-raising, glad-handing, ground-gaming, speechmaking) are necessary in a government that fills its ranks by lottery.

Landemore was taken with the unorthodox idea that normal people, in a group, could be trusted with big, scary decisions.

Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the 21st Century with Hélène Landemore – “Hélène’s third book–Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the 21st Century (under contract with Princeton University Press)–develops a new paradigm of democracy in which the exercise of power is as little gated as possible, even as it depends on representative structures to make it possible. In this version of popular rule, power is equally open to all, as opposed to just those who happen to stand out in the eyes of others (as in electoral democracies). The book centrally defends the use of non-electoral yet democratic forms of representation, including ‘lottocratic’, ‘self-selected’, and ‘liquid’ representation.”

also btw…

Continuous elections – “For a variety of reasons, I think it a good idea that we introduce into our voting system a greater element of stochasticism, of structured, intentional randomness.”[1]

We select juries largely by lottery, on the theory that this is a good way to get a representative sample of ones “peers”. There have been a variety of democratic experiments with sortition, simply choosing by lot, picking random names from the phone book. Perhaps overcynically, many of us might consider that an improvement over our present, professional political representation.

I do not favor sortition for the constitution of our legislatures. There is a lot to be said for choosing among representatives who express an interest in and commit to doing the work, and to some kind of voting process that ideally filters for quality. What I do favor is an idea called “lottery voting” or “random ballot”. I really encourage you to read the first link, a very readable academic note by Akhil Reed Amar which introduced the idea. You should also read this essay by David MacIver (ht Bill Mill). In a nutshell, everybody votes in the way they currently do for their preferred candidate. Then we throw the ballots in a big hat, and draw the winner like a bingo hall door prize.[2] You’d never want to use lottery voting to elect a President. Who knows who you might pick? It’d be totally random. But for a large legislature, lottery voting will predictably yield proportional representation along whatever axes or characteristics are salient to voters, not just formal political parties. Further, lottery voting is immune to gerrymandering, and every vote always has equal influence. (This is decidedly untrue of conventional “first-past-the-vote” voting, where the statistical effect of a vote — the difference in the probability of a candidate winning with and without an additional vote — depends very much on the closeness of the election.) There are lots of reasons to love lottery voting, including the conventional case for proportional representation, which I very desperately endorse. (See Matt Yglesias and Lee Drutman.) Not to let the best be the enemy of the good, Id favor American experiments in more common forms of proportional representation (multimember districts, party lists), but lottery voting really is the gold standard. It is simple, effective, resistant to entrenchment of incumbents or capture by political parties. The US House of Representatives should be selected by lottery voting today. At the very least, we should start experimenting in some state houses.