Success Ideas from the Dean of Graphic Designers, Milton Glaser


Success Secrets from Milton Glaser:

  • You have to work your ass off. You have to think about [work] as being the primary issue in your life. You have to pursue whatever talent you have and develop it.
  • I think entering award shows can be questionable because very often you don’t understand the vested interest that’s involved in putting them together. And they become a kind of trick of magazines and institutions to support their own efforts.
  • I’ve never had a new business development plan of any kind in place.


What does it take to succeed?

That is one of those cosmic questions that have absolutely no answer. And I’m going to be very evasive about general questions because I don’t believe many of them are answerable. They end up in jargon. They say, yes, hard work, conscientiousness, early talent, good luck, support of the mother, and all the rest of it. But it’s so rarely informative that I have to admit that I truly don’t know. The only thing I can think of was an illness in early childhood that forced me to become introspective. I rheumatic fever when I was a kid, about 8 years old. That kept me bedridden for about a year. It seems to me that there are trials that occur early, that provoke introspection, and that may be responsible for the commitment to your own invention.


Of all your work, what are you most gratified to have done?

I can’t say I am most gratified by anything. I think the issue for old-time professionals is sustaining. Right? What you want to do is keep working until you die. My great hope, and I’ve said this before, comes from an essay that I think is by, T.S. Eliot on the subject, where he says: “ The greatest blessing in life would be to die in the midst of work.”



Would you do anything differently?

Glaser: Oh, Probably thousands of things.

Sherwood: (Laugher) Anything that stands out?

Glaser: Not really. It’s so hard. As the Buddha says: “ Good yields evil. Evil yields good.” So it’s impossible to understand the consequence of any single action. As Groucho Marks said, “If I’d known I would live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” But, outside of that, I don’t know if I could have done anything else.


Views on business development:

Sherwood: Do you have a new business development program in place?

Glaser: I do not. I’ve never had a new business development plan of any kind in place.

Sherwood: Really? How do you get clients? By meeting people and networking?

Glaser: Stumbling into people. Doing work that people noticed.

Sherwood: I recall the coffee table book, “Milton Glaser: Graphic Design.” Do you think that helped you to become recognized? Perhaps award shows?

Glaser: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t even know how to answer that. I think people seeing your work helps your business.



On entering award shows:

I think entering award shows can be questionable because very often you don’t understand the vested interest that’s involved in putting them together. And they become a kind of trick of magazines and institutions to support their own efforts. And you have to be wary about it, although it is the way that people get noticed. It indicates that somebody approves of your work, and therefore it must have some credibility. But I haven’t done very much of it in recent years because I became well known enough without it.



Ongoing training:

Sherwood: Do you attend workshops or seminars? I know you give those on occasion. However, have you ever taken those to improve your skills?

Glaser: The only one I can think of recently was about 10 yrs ago. I took a workshop on how to make monoprints. And, I used the information that I learned to produce a series of drawings to illustrate Dante’s “The Divine Comedy.” That particular workshop was exceedingly useful to me.



On building and sustaining a career:

Sherwood: If someone new to our industry were to ask you how build and sustain a carrier, what would you say?

Glaser: (Laughter) Well, you have to work your ass off. You have to think about that as being the primary issue in your life. You have to pursue whatever talent you have and develop it. Oh, I don’t know. All of the banal things that people will tell you about your own energy and desire are true, but you simply have to work hard. I don’t think of work as my job. I think of it as my life. The engine of desire is what drives the accomplishment.


Additional thoughts:

Sherwood: Is there any additional advice you might give to someone just starting out?

Glaser: Not outside of working hard. I mean what else is there to do? And it’s probably very good from a business point of view to be nice to people to people that you meet because they may re-enter your life. And is suppose networking for business is an important part to sustaining a livelihood. I’ve never done it, but I suppose from a business point of view it’s an essential part of building your career.



About Milton Glaser:

Milton Glaser (b. 1929) is among the most celebrated graphic designers in the United States. He has had the distinction of one-man-shows at the Museum of Modern Art and the Georges Pompidou Center. In 2004 he was selected for the lifetime achievement award of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. As a Fulbright scholar, Glaser studied with the painter, Giorgio Morandi in Bologna, and is an articulate spokesman for the ethical practice of design. He cofounded Push Pin Studios in 1954 and founded Milton Glaser, Inc. in 1974, and continues to produce an astounding amount of work in many fields of design to this day.

This article is published by Will Sherwood | The Sherwood Group |Website Design | Graphic Design | Marketing Communications: The Sherwood Group has over 30 years of experience working with all sorts of companies, small and large. Our clients range from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 firms, in nearly every business sector, from across the street to around the world (and yes, even Europe, China, and South America). Our goal is to create advertising,  graphic design, website design, and marketing communication that still looks fresh and relevant 10-15 years later. Our mission is to stir your imagination and leave your competition shaken and wondering,  Now what do we do?”  We are located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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  • By Melina Perez 02 Mar 2008

    Hello webmaster…I Googled for melina perez, but found your page about Interview with Milton Glaser…and have to say thanks. nice read. Melina Perez

  • By Jack_J 09 Jul 2010

    Will, what a useful interview and some interesting follow-on comments too.

    There is a practical basis behind Milton’s words, and I have sympathies – although not total agreement – with ‘a girl named fred’.

    There is a modern tendency for some of the practical elements of success to be minimised in popular commentaries. In short, it isn’t currently popular to promote the idea that success comes from hard work, it’s not generally an easy idea to have people accept. On the other hand, promoting the idea that ‘just’ thinking of success will get you everything that you want is popular, and there is a spread of this idea in contemporary guides and literature.

    In practice, my experience is that it takes plenty of thinking, focussing and ‘hard’ work to move toward successful outcomes. I highlight the word ‘hard’ because it can mean different things to different people, and may mean high exertion of energy, often resented; or it may mean a continuous or relentless exertion of energy, again sometimes resented. I think what I am getting at here is that work can generally be a neutral concept, but ‘hard’ work is generally seen as a negative concept.

    I’d be interested to know if Milton’s initial comment that “you have to work your ass off” has these negative connotations either when experienced at the time or seen in retrospect.

    What does it take to succeed? A cosmic question with no answers? Maybe, although I personally think people often have cosmic answers that they are unwilling to share. I can understand the reticence though, I tend to think that with 6.7 billion people on the planet that there are 6.7 billion variations of success! It’s not always easy to pull out generalities.

    Oh! ..and I loved the quotable quote too: ‘The engine of desire is what drives the accomplishment.’

    Thanks and regards



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      Hello Joanne. I’m not sure when it was originally posted since I’ve reposted it a couple of times, but if memory serves it was in December, 2007.

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