Author Q&A with George Lois: Damn Good Advice

By Steve Kroeter May 3, 2012

George Lois

Graphic designer George Lois: Good Karma Creative (New York)

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Award-winning advertising designer and “master communicator” George Lois talks about his latest book, Damn Good Advice (Phaidon Press, March 2012).

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Updated November 21, 2011. We’re re-posting this conversation with the inimitable George Lois (d. November 18, 2022).

Designers & Books: This is your tenth book. What’s new that particularly excites you in this one?

George Lois: It’s a $10 book that anyone can afford. Instead of an unhealthy Big Mac and a totally terrible Coke, a student can buy mentoring that could be life-changing.

Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!), 2012 (Phaidon Press)

D&B: Your vantage point is mainly the world of advertising, but the book’s subtitle is “for people with talent!” Do you feel that the advice you give is applicable to the general world of business? Are you also speaking to “bright and industrious” account executives and lawyers, for example?

GL: Definitely. Many of the “lessons” reveal to entrepreneurs, CEOs, account executives, and lawyers what they don’t know, and have never understood, about the essential need to go to a pro who can create branding and advertising that can go far above and beyond their wildest expectations of success! A creative thinker is capable of looking at any business venture and creating a Big Idea that infinitely surpasses the vision of even the “brightest and most industrious” businessperson!

D&B: You include 120 numbered pieces of advice in the book. Any particular reason why you didn’t go beyond that number—or why you didn’t stop at 100?

GL: I fit the most lessons I could (with each powerfully expressing my point) into a book that would cost no more than $10! (Indeed, I wrote and designed over 200 lessons—many of which I sadly had to eliminate.)

D&B: Was “Damn Good Advice” your idea for the title—or did someone else suggest it?

GL: I received some damn good advice from the editors at Phaidon, and one beaut was to strongly recommend “Damn Good Advice” out of the three titles I was considering.

D&B: #23 says, “Never listen to music when you’re trying go come up with a Big Idea.” How does that work with the iPod generation?

Points 23 and 24, from Damn Good Advice

GL: The more you love music, the more reason to not listen to it when you’re trying to create the Big Idea. Creativity demands total, tunnel-vision concentration (and screw the iPod).

D&B: #65 says that every Sunday you go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to seek out inspiration. Would MoMA be just as good a destination?

Point 65, from Damn Good Advice

GL: The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses 7,000 years of the greatest visual creativity in the civilization of mankind. I go to MoMA a dozen times a year, but for the shock of the old, the epiphanies overflow at the Met.

D&B: In #92 you talk about the AMC Mad Men television series, and you’ve talked about it a lot elsewhere, too. Where do you think the writers get it wrong?

Point 92, from Damn Good Advice

GL: Since the debut of Mad Men, I have been called the Real Mad Man, with Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) thought of as my alter ego. Mad Men misrepresents the advertising industry of the 1960s by ignoring the dynamics of the breakthrough Creative Revolution that solidified the power of the art director and verified the pioneering of Big Idea advertising expressed with words and visual imagery working in perfect synergy. I, and the other real mad men (and mad women) of that heroic period, bear no resemblance to the lineup of talentless hacks who carouse the halls of the fictitious Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad agency.

D&B: #100 talks about the importance of the New York Times to you. Paper or digital—does it matter?

Point 100, from Damn Good Advice

GL: I love the smell of newsprint and licking my thumb and turning and folding pages. Case closed.

D&B: If you had to boil it all down to just one piece of advice, which one of the 120 would it be?

GL: You can be cautious or you can be creative, but there’s no such thing as a Cautious Creative. A Cautious Creative is an oxymoron.

D&B: In the book list that you submitted to Designers & Books you included 14 titles that inspire you—and you mention that you own over 7,000 books. Is there one book that you find yourself going back to consistently—reading and re-reading?

GL: Homer’s Iliad overwhelms me every time I read it (and every new translation thrills me). The eloquence, grandeur, and pathos encompassing that cataclysmic last month of the Trojan War (and the rage of Achilles) is timeless. In entailing the horror and heroism of men and gods, the violence is grim and relentless, and yet the powerful poem bristles with a poignant yearning for peace.

D&B: Are you working on book number 11?

GL: Lois, my family name, has been traced back to the year 265 BC, when it was originally “Logos.” In ancient Greek, “logos” meant “word, reason, speech—an actively expressed creative thought.” My next book will be a book of over 200 of my logotypes. Its title will be “Lois Logos.”

Images courtesy of Phaidon Press.

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