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Quick Design History: George Lois #ThrowbackThursday


George Lois (b. 1931)

As stated on his own website ‘The legendary George Lois is the most creative, prolific advertising communicator of our time.’ Modest he is not, but brilliant he is. In fact Lois was an extremely polarizing figure but produced some undeniably important and pioneering work.

I first discovered George Lois via his book ‘Damn Good Advice (for people with talent)’, which is an essential read for any creative communicator. So as well as being a master designer and art director, he’s also a pretty good author.

Lois was one of those lucky people that knew what he wanted to do from a young age. After attending the High School of Music and Art, he turned down a basketball scholarship and chose to attend Pratt Institute. But his college career was short lived when he left to work full-time and was soon after drafted by the Army to fight in the Korean War.

In 1960, Lois joined Fred Papert and Julian Koenig to form Papert Koenig Lois, the first advertising agency to go public. He started a few more agencies throughout his career and worked on some incredibly memorable projects.

He’s most famous for nearly 100 cover designs for Esquire magazine during the 60s and early 70s. The covers were often controversial, and one even cost the magazine $750,000 in dropped advertising! But his work was important—it set the visual tone for Esquire that lives on today. In 2009, a collection of his best covers were featured in a MoMa exhibition.

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Lois is well-known for the innovative “When You Got It, Flaunt It” campaign for Braniff International Airways. It’s said that the campaign created an 80% increase in business. Now that’s results! The campaign included unexpected television commercials (featuring Andy Warhol!) and bold designs for the planes themselves.


“I’ve always been about the big idea, the big idea. I never had any trouble going into a new area. It’s all a matter of creativity.”

Lois’s other noteworthy clients include VH1, Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine, Jiffy Lube, Tommy Hilfiger, Xerox, Aunt Jemima, ESPN and several US senators.


He also co-directed Bob Dylan’s music video Jokerman, which won the MTV Music Video of the Year Award in 1983.

I love Lois’s work because it pushed boundaries. He often achieved the holy grail of having an amazing concept executed brilliantly. His work was bold, ballsy, powerful and pioneering. At a time when ads were all about using image and photography George had the audacity to pitch only two small body’s of white text on a black page depicting a conversation in the night, to sell Coldene cough syrup—no image, no logo, nothing. It was original and revolutionary. He had a passion to make the best work he could and settle for nothing less. Anybody that lives life by the anti-slogan ‘Be careful!’ is alright by me.

Want to learn more about George Lois? He’s depicted in the film Art & Copy.

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