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.