Real-Life ‘Mad Men’ Figure Donates Archive to RIT

Designer George Lois lends life work to Vignelli Center for Design Studies

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A. Sue Weisler

George Lois has donated his archive, including his Esquire Magazine covers, to Rochester Institute of Technology’s Vignelli Center for Design Studies. The legendary designer hopes to broaden the visual communication archive beyond graphic and product design with the donation.

George Lois, a leader in the “Creative Revolution” in advertising during the 1960s, on which the popular TV show Mad Men is based, is donating a majority of his archive to Rochester Institute of Technology.

Lois’ archive will be accessible to design scholars and RIT students. The collection, which will be housed in the Vignelli Center for Design Studies, is made up of his extensive career work in advertising and editorial design, including the provocative covers from Esquire Magazine, done in the 1960s.

“Universities throughout the land have desired my archives. But I was always very uncomfortable that my work would be seen in the proximity of archive collections featuring traditional work of the ad agencies of the past,” says Lois. “But with the founding of the Vignelli Center for Design Studies and its ongoing acquisition of the archives of the modern masters of graphic design, including Lester Beall, Will Burtin, Cipe Pineles, William Golden, Alvin Lustig, Leo Lionni and of course, Massimo Vignelli, I knew that the Vignelli Center and I were made for each other.”

The collection is expected to be moved into the Vignelli Center for Design Studies as early as this summer and will be catalogued and rehoused in proper archival form. The center also plans to digitized the catalogue for online use as well.

“The gift of George Lois’ professional archive is a tremendous addition to the collection of modernists designers archives,” says designer Vignelli. “It complements the visually oriented collections with one whose strength relies more on powerful ideas than sheer graphics, although the totality of expression is memorably reached. I am proud of having this collection at the Vignelli Center for Design Studies.”

Lois is the former art director of an advertising agency that designed the cover of Esquire Magazine from 1962-1972. He is also famous for coining the term “I want my MTV!”

“The George Lois Collection brings the archival resources of the Vignelli Center for Design Studies and the Cary Graphic Design Archive to a new high point,” says R. Roger Remington, RIT’s Vignelli Distinguished Professor. “Lois’ work in prestigious advertising and editorial design is unique in our collections and greatly expands the range of our holdings. We are very appreciative of George for honoring us with his work.”

The Vignelli Center for Design Studies opened its doors in 2010 and is named after iconic international designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli. The Vignellis’ work is now a permanent archive at the new design center on the campus of RIT. The center’s goals are to advocate design excellence at RIT and beyond through innovative programming, supported by extensive archival holdings of design exemplars.

The Vignelli Center for Design Studies is a place for design education, research and critical examination. The key concept in all areas of the center’s work is the rigorous reflection of Modernism—the discourse of Modernism, which forms a bridge between the history of design and the Vignelli design tradition. The center’s aims therefore are to conserve, research and extend this cultural heritage and, at the same time, investigate current design issues.