George Lois speaks on stage at a podium, with one hand raised.

The original Mad Man: reflections on the life of George Lois

Context Creative
3 min readNov 29, 2022

George Lois died on November 18th in New York City, and tributes have poured in to celebrate the life of one of history’s most influential art directors.

A trailblazer for advertisers and graphic designers, Lois is remembered for being charismatic, uncompromising and visionary. The “original Mad Man” is even said to have inspired the iconic Don Draper character.

At Context, dog-eared copies of Lois’ The Big Idea and Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!) sit on our studio shelves, holding their place among iconic design classics for the next generation of designers.

Context’s Lionel Gadoury reflects on George Lois’ legendary career.

I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Lois, ever so briefly, introducing him on the stage of the 2011 DesignThinkers conference in Toronto. My recollections are of a designer and typographer, advertiser and provocateur, who loved to make people think and to change people’s minds.

George Lois hugs Lionel Gadoury, on stage at a podium.
Lionel and George Lois stand at a podium on stage.
George Lois and Lionel Gadoury at the 2011 DesignThinkers conference

A driver of the ‘‘creative revolution’’ of the 1950s, and one of the authors of the ‘‘Big Idea’’ in advertising during the 1960s, he had powers and insights that made a lasting difference to iconic brands, including CBS, MTV, American Airlines and Xerox.

Brightly coloured three-dimensional M and hand-drawn letters that spell TV. On the M, shiny red lips and tongue stick out.
MTV campaign (via

Even though I was only a child in 1968, I still recall the revelation of Lois’ depiction of Ali as martyr Saint Sebastian on the cover of Esquire magazine—ingenious, bold and simple, yet simultaneously nuanced and provocative. His Andy Warhol cover from 1969, along with so many others, are inspiring examples of his ability to push boundaries.

Esquire magazine cover with naked woman in old garbage can, legs sticking out. The caption reads The new american woman: through at 21.
Esquire cover featuring Muhammed Ali in boxing shorts with arrows piercing his flesh, in a similar pose to Saint Sebastian.
Andy warhol drowning in an open can of Campbell’s tomato soup, with caption reading: “The final decline and total collapse of the american avant-garde.”
Esquire covers, art directed by George Lois (via

I particularly like how George Lois was not caught up in narrow mindsets; he was expansive in his thinking, yet focused on doing things that work, getting the job done, and connecting with hearts and minds in any available medium.

Farewell, George. May your inspiration, courage and creativity live on.

Lionel Gadoury RGD

“Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.”

–George Lois