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Culture & Religion

What’s the Big Idea, George Lois?

Magazine covers are “a wasteland of creativity” these days. Or so says legendary advertising and design guru George Lois. “Go to a newsstand today, there’s not a memorable—forget about something being culturally, being a culture-buster—there’s nothing there that you can possibly remember. … They’re all the same cover.” says Lois. In his Big Think interview, Lois asserts that today’s magazine designers aren’t ambitious enough, and aren’t going after “big ideas” that will shock the public.

To make a memorable design, you need “true creativity”, Lois says. You need a concept that takes the unique virtues of a product and sears your message into people’s minds. “Creativity, you know, can solve almost any problem,” he asserts. “The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, can overcome everything.”

The problem with today’s magazines is one of mission, says Lois. Rather than setting the tone for the culture, too many magazines try to follow it. “You don’t create a magazine for your readers,” he says. “You don’t take a poll, you know, like the politicians do, and find out what they’re thinking and what they want.  … You’re supposed to be telling people what the hell you think is exciting and dynamic and thought-provoking and do it, and do it your way.”

Lois also says he hates the popular AMC show “Mad Men” because it doesn’t accurately depict Madison Avenue in the ’60s, which he calls “the most heroic age in media communications since the twelve apostles.” This was the era when Lois produced the 92 eye-popping covers for Esquire magazine that, along with the phrase “I want my MTV,” remain his best-known accomplishments. Lois says that running those covers “took balls” on the part of magazine’s editor, Harold Hayes, who would receive angry letters from congressmen—and sometimes death threats—in response.


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