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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.

This 103-year-old philosopher’s to-do list will get you through self-isolation

This 103-year-old philosopher’s to-do list will get you through self-isolation

  • Like everybody else, Romanian philosopher Mihai Sora is stuck inside.
  • He is keeping busy for a 103-year-old man, and keeping the world up to date on his indoor adventures with Facebook.
  • His to-do list is impressive, but not so impressive it can’t be used by most people.

The social isolation necessitated by COVID-19 is difficult for a lot of people. Between being mostly stuck inside, having reduced contact with other people, and the creeping boredom that comes after you’ve done everything on your to-do list, it’s little wonder that people are getting stressed out about it.

However, there are ways to make it a little more tolerable. A few good ideas for what do at home these days come from the Romanian philosopher Mihai Sora who, at 103 years old, is keeping the world posted on his social isolation practices via Facebook. According to the Calvert Journal, some of the items on his to-do list include:

  • Solving a Rubik’s Cube
  • Painting his white fridge (inside and out)
  • Reading Proust
  • Starting to learn Swedish
  • Improving his Japanese
  • Writing in his “little Facebook notebook”
  • Drawing a flock of sheep
  • Clearing out his study
  • Learning how to use the washing machine
  • “Stoically” listening to French composer Pierre Boulez
  • Checking out planets discovered by NASA
  • “Training in general,” as well as reading and using his exercise bike.

Meet Mihai Sora, one of the most interesting men in the world

Born in 1916 in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Mihai went to France for his PhD in philosophy as a young man. When the Nazis invaded, he joined the French Resistance. After the war, he was offered French citizenship but declined to return to his homeland, newly communist Romania. Unable to leave Romania after 1948 because of the aforementioned communism, he was unable to publish his work again for 20 years due to government censorship. To make ends meet, he worked day jobs, often getting fired for insubordination, and translated classic literature into Romanian.

After the fall of Romanian Communism, he served as the Minister of Education for a brief period. He resigned in protest against street violence between miners and anti-communist protesters. Now, in his golden years, he remains an activist. He even found the time to go to a few street protests at the age of 101.

His philosophy is also nothing to sneeze at—his first major essay, “On Interior Dialogue. Fragment from a Metaphysical Anthropology” was well received in postwar France, and his political philosophy has attracted a fair amount of attention.

How he is keeping sane during social isolation

In addition to accomplishing all this, Dr. Sora is keeping the world up to date on his isolation through Facebook posts. The posts include his observations of how nice the night sky is:

Musings on how weird it would be for aliens who show up when the streets are empty:

Notes on how to entertain children:

Mihai ȘORA

Updates on his art projects:

And reminders that this, too, shall pass and afterwards we should go for a nice walk in nature:

This might be the kind of social media influencer the world doesn’t deserve but actually needs.

His posts and to-do list are particularly brilliant in that they are not fundamentally difficult or too foreign for most people to emulate. His to-do list includes chores, learning things he always wanted to but lacked time for, and doing things he already enjoys.

If you’re stuck at home too, perhaps you should borrow a few of these ideas. Ever wanted to start learning a new language? You’ve got time for it now. Ever want to read the classics? Project Guttenberg is online, has thousands of books to choose from, and your schedule is clear. More creatively minded? That’s fine; there are plenty of Bob Ross videos on YouTube to get you started in painting. There aren’t a ton of great online resources for helping you clean out your study, but that’s also a good idea of Dr. Sora’s you should steal.

And don’t forget to take his advice to look up at the sun, moon, and stars every once in a while. Just because you’re stuck inside doesn’t mean you can’t wonder at the scope of the cosmos. Just because we’re all a bit anxious lately doesn’t mean we have to lose our sense of awe.

So, try some of his ideas for yourself. After all, if they are keeping a person with as exciting a life as Mihai Sora occupied, it should be enough to keep most people busy for a few more weeks.