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I Love New York T-Shirts – A Triumph of Simple Design

I Love New York T-Shirts – A Triumph of Simple Design

It’s hard to understate the increasing popularity of Simple Design. The most popular electronics brand in the world is Apple, the first company to realize that ‘sleek’ means ‘missing any feature that isn’t crucial’. Meanwhile, advertising increasingly eschews long presentations and complex diagrams for simple slogans and diagrams. But the trend is much older than the iPod, and nearly as old as Apple itself: The I Love New York ad campaign, exemplified by the ubiquitous I Love New York T-Shirts, is a perfect example of how simple slogans and pictures can inspire brand loyalty.

It is hard to imagine that someone can make a new brand by taking an obvious statement that everyone agrees with, and making it shorter. The I Love New York t-shirts don’t just do that, though: they make it punchier, more memorable, more repeatable, and unqiue enough to be referenced in other situations. I Love New York is a slogan that gets seen and repeated by nearly everyone — and when it’s that common, it’s easy for people to treat it as a viable trend.

For a trend to really catch on, several things need to be true: it has to be distinct (it can’t look like a reference to something else); it needs to be brief enough to spread (a novel can catch on as a trend, but only if people recognize the title and the cover — if it takes five minutes of explanation to know what someone’s reading, it’s unlikely for many more people to stick around long enough to know they want the book — nor is it likely for the owner to bother explaining); and it needs to say something people really want to hear. I Love New York t-shirts match all of these criteria perfectly: I Love New York is unique (no other cities use a similar slogan), it’s extremely brief (three letters and a picture), and it’s an upbeat slogan about a popular place.

Unlike other city-wide marketing campaigns, I love New York t-shirts don’t go into specifics, and for a simple reason: they don’t need to. Some tourists love New York because of the musical performances, some for the plays, some for the shopping, and some for the sights; many residents love those things about the city, too, and might add the individual character of each neighborhood, and the many unique ways to succeed in the city. Many ad campaigns need to tell people specifics, but I Love New York t-shirts can let them fill in the blanks.

When looking into the I Love New York t-shirt phenomenon, the idea of Simple Design jumps out: surely, a clever designer could come up with something that was just as delightful, or just as fun to repeat, or just as good a graphic. But only when the design is boiled down to its simplest possible form can you combine all of these factors into a single package. The I Love New York t-shirts are proof of Saint-Exupery’s dictum: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”