Legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser designed a new campaign to fight climate change.

"It's the most important issue on Earth--the end of the Earth," Glaser, 85, says.

Instead of creating a campaign with complex messages, Glaser decided to make a simple symbol that people could wear to acknowledge the fact that climate change is happening.

As more people don the image--a green dot that's almost covered in black, designed to be worn as a button--he hopes that it will serve as a recognizable symbol that climate deniers and policymakers will notice.

2014-08-08

Co.Exist

The Climate Movement Needs Rebranding, But These Milton Glaser Buttons Won't Do It

The creator of the "I Love NY" symbol is trying his hand at a climate change campaign.

When legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser created the "I Love NY" symbol in 1977 for a government ad campaign, he didn't know it would be a ubiquitous icon nearly 40 years later. Now, at the age of 85, Glaser is hoping to recreate some of that viral success for an issue he's personally most passionate about: fighting climate change.

"It's the most important issue on Earth--the end of the Earth," Glaser says. "At a certain point you say, why are people not paying attention to this? Partially, it's that people are cynical about anything they hear after being subjected to advertising and persuasion their whole lives. You cannot affect people through persuasion anymore."

Instead of creating a campaign with complex messages, Glaser decided to make a simple symbol that people could wear to acknowledge the fact that climate change is happening. As more people don the image--a green dot that's almost covered in black, designed to be worn as a button--he hopes that it will serve as a recognizable symbol that climate deniers and policymakers will notice.

"By wearing it, you simply say this is happening," Glaser says. "The acknowledgment itself produces change. For instance, once politicians see this, they know it's going affect reelection if they vote against climate issues. That moves you from the fact of acknowledgment to action."

The campaign's slogan is "It's not warming, it's dying." Glaser wanted to change the language around climate change. "The words 'global warming' can't provide a sense of desire to act, but rather sound sort of reassuring, like a warm fireplace in the wintertime," he says. "The phrase itself is the beginning of misunderstanding."

Glaser chose to make '60s-style buttons, rather than only having a social media campaign. People can order five buttons for $5, which covers the cost of making and shipping them, and then give the extras to friends.

"The idea of making the button is so that you materialize or visualize a person's commitment," Glaser explains. "You look at a guy, you don't know what they believe. They put on a button, you know what they believe."

The concept of a simple, universal symbol of support is smart. But will anyone actually want to wear the buttons? Arguably, the symbol is a little ugly. And unlike the wildly popular "I [Heart] NY" symbol, which is positive--and united people around their love for New York City at a time when the city was at its lowest point--the message here is completely negative.

It seems like the sort of old-school "save the Earth" environmental message that instantly divides an audience. The slogan also isn't exactly right; the Earth is warming (the campaign's URL sounds like a denial website), and the planet itself isn't dying--it's just that humanity and most of the other living species on it might, eventually, if things don't quickly change.

Even if this isn't necessarily the campaign that will end up shifting views on climate, it makes an important point: We need more brilliant designers and marketers tackling the messaging about climate change in different ways--especially in the U.S., which leads the world in climate denial.

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23 Comments

  • Nicholas Pattison

    I am a designer who worked for Milton for nearly a decade, so perhaps Im a bit biased when I hear debates about his thinking about projects like this and what he is attempting to do. The truth is that design is all about clear and simple communication—you are successful with a design if it is memorable, captures attention, sparks conversation, and moves the needle in a new direction. Although I understand the controversy about this graphic (the literal interpretation specifically, as well as the social campaign flaws), I feel differently about the potential of this image and its potential to engage. There isn't room to post it all here, but we have written our perspective in defense of this graphic here: https://www.purible.com/stories/miltonglaser

  • brubrown

    The slogan “It's not warming, it's dying" is just plain wrong and it won’t do anything but make the deniers go, “Pffft. Yeah. Right.” The truth is yes, the Earth IS warming; and no, it’s NOT dying. We’re NOT killing the planet. We're merely - piece by piece - making the Earth unfit for human habitation. It's not Earthicide. It's humanicide.

  • Jeremy S. Slavin

    "Global warming" and "climate change" aren't about saving the planet. The planet isn't dying. Earth is billions of years old, and has seen countless species come and go. It's also seen more than its fair share of fluctuations in temperature, so to suggest that in all of Earth's history, the warming is unprecedented, is disingenuous.

    The only things climate change - natural and not - really threatens is humanity itself. Warming is a natural part of Earth's history. The dinosaurs lived in an age far more hot and humid than we have ever had to deal with, and the previous ice age ended without our help. I once read that this warm age of ours is less common than ice ages.

    Looking at current events, we pose a greater threat to ourselves - in terms of human-on-human violence - than we do to the environments we inhabit. Those will adapt and endure long after our societies have crumbled and buildings crumbled. It's time to stop scaring us into saving that which doesn't need saving.

  • brubrown

    Nailed it, Jeremy S. Slavin!

    The slogan “It's not warming, it's dying" is just plain wrong and it won’t do anything but make the deniers go, “Pffft. Yeah. Right.” The truth is yes, the Earth IS warming; and no, it’s NOT dying. We’re NOT killing the planet. We're merely - piece by piece - making the Earth unfit for human habitation. It's not Earthicide. It's Humanicide.

  • It's funny how you don't come across any evidence with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears. There is an abundance of evidence, so let's move on from this childishness and all get behind working out what we are going to do about it.

  • I went to school with these artists, 90% of them are activists. They gobble up propaganda that comes from corrupt political machine, and they spit it out as an art project to "raise awareness" and such.

    Milton is partially right that it is "not warming", and the alarmists who believed the lie, have now retracted back from global warming, but they have quickly reincorporated the message as climate change, or in Milton's case "a dying planet".

    These clueless freaks need to know one thing, that if the WWIII breaks out, as we see the signs of it in Ukraine, Middle East, and parts of Africa, say goodbye to your environment as the bombs start flying.

  • We have a brilliant designer, Luba Lukova, who has been doing environmental designs for over a decade. See www.theaterthreecollaborative.org for her design for our new play "Extreme Whether" about climate science and denial in the USA

  • Bun Thomas

    Hey Adele, once again you show your Berserkley (sic) background. Maybe the US isn't in denial; maybe the masses are simply more intelligent and able to make rational decisions about the environment. Take your baseless argument to China and India. You destroyed an otherwise decent article about design and how to profiteer from hot social causes by (in your last sentence) accusing the US of causing all the world's problems. Please leave that discussion to someone more balanced and knowledgeable. Do you think you are smart? I wouldn't wear a green button; it makes to easy of a target. Best regards--- your silliness always makes my day.

  • Kevin Hurley

    Ummm...the planet isn't dying. It has been through FAR worse than this many times. And will go through far worse than this many more times after we are gone.

  • Citizen Right

    The Climate movement needs proof. Not projections, not rhetoric, but proof. There is none. Keep looking. In the mean time leave us the fk alone.

  • Sunny Hernandez

    First of all, the Earth is not dying; your brain is, if you believe the propaganda.

  • Jacob Szypka

    In college we tried tackling this issue. We came up with an idea of saving ourselves and almost put earth second behind Humans. We figured if we can't get the everyday person to change their habits for the life of the planet, maybe we can get people to act for the survival of the race.