More Damn Good Advice from George Lois
Upon the ibook publication of his guide to creative success, we get extra advice from the maven of Madison Ave
Over the past six decades the New York creative director George Lois has popularised and transformed brands such as MTV, Tommy Hilfiger and USA Today, with his witty and inventive campaigns. He remains the only person ever to be inducted into The Art Directors Hall of Fame, The One Club Creative Hall of Fame, and was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and the Society of Publication Designers. To mark the ibook publication of his book Damn Good Advice (For People With Talent!), we caught up with George, a few extra lessons in successful creativity. This is what he said.
Don't expect an idea to pop out of a computer screen. There's a line in Damn Good Advice pretty much saying that. It occurred to me while talking to students at the School of Visual Arts in New York. After my talk, all the kids got to work at their work stations. I sat down with one of them, and asked him what he was doing? 'I'm looking for an idea' he said. I said 'What are you looking at? There's nothing there!'
Once you've got an idea – that's a different story . You can dig into a computer and find out much stuff. I'm working with my son Luke at the moment, we're looking for a specific picture, of a dog with a Russian name. I have an idea of how I want to use a Russian dog who wants to be alone. Once that would have taken hours. Throughout my career I would spend an afternoon – often Thursdays – doing my own research at a public library. I could have sent someone else to do it, but with research finding out about one thing leads to another; when your mind is cooking, it's a great. Now I can do hours of work in seconds.
Advertising is so far from a science it isn't funny. Which is a pity, because big agencies put in a lot of research and don't talk about creativity. None of them have worked on a miraculous ad campaign that changed the world immediately, like I did. MTV was dead in the water – it didn't have one cable operator. Within months of our I Want My MTV campaign, it was the biggest thing in television. Today, 95% of the advertising is being done by five or six conglomerates. When a young group starts up, they get bought out. The only thing that gets better when it gets bigger is a penis. The minute the big agency gobbles up the smaller, talented agencies, the work gets mediocre.
You have to love theatre, film and art to do good work. I've got 12,000 art books in my collection. I remember lecturing a group of students in Manhattan, and asking them, “how many of you have been the Met this year?” Not one hand went up. When you get to Paris, you go to the Louvre; the first thing you do when you get to Madrid is you go to the Prado. I spend my life going to theatre and film and going to the opera. I just saw my wife's grand daughter Sabrina Palladino, sing in Pagliacci. There's nothing better than a great opera.
And this isn't just for ad men. I get emails all the time from young people who write to say they've had a life-changing experience reading my book. 'I don't get this attitude and passion anywhere else' they say. I give talks all the time, and at the end I look at the audience and say 'who here is going to do what I did? Say fuck everything else, and do it on my own terms?' You should hear them stand up and applaud, four or five times during my lectures. Check out the ibook of Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!) here.