"It all must start with an inspired, spontaneous idea."
Most people of earlier generations are quickly forgotten. Almost all of us currently living will be. Only a few gain such recognition that our knowledge about them and their deeds are preserved through time.
Today I visited an exhibition about architectural design in Villa Sauber by the seaside in Monaco. The visit made me think of a very innovative man who died not far from the location where I was. The man I thought of was immensely influential during his lifetime and he deserves to be remembered. His name was Raymond Loewy, born in France 120 years ago and diseased in 1986 in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Loewy spent most of his life working with industrial design for Fortune 500 corporations, and he designed major things like the look of the Boeing 747 that is still used by the American President as Air Force One, the Air France Concorde interior, train stations, trains, cars, and also the design for consumer products such as the Lucky Strikes cigarette package, classic Coca-Cola appliances, pencil sharpeners and razors, as well as logos for Shell and Exxon. During an active working life spanning 55 years the man basically created Americana. However his design was not only about form, it was maybe even more about combining aesthetic appeal and functionality and he was the first person to understand design as a marketing factor.
“If you have two products which do not differ in terms of price, function and quality, it is the product´s attractive external appearance which wins the race.”
On October 31, 1949 he was featured on TIME magazines’ cover. In the main article Time wrote: “Loewy talks in a subdued voice that is, at the same time, apologetic and compelling. His face is reposed, gentle, sad, and as inscrutable as that of a Monte Carlo croupier. Obsessively shy, he is always ‘Mr Loewy’ even to his longtime associates. Even to those who know him well he is something of an enigma. Said one longtime acquaintance: ‘After all these years, I’m not even sure that I like him!’ Everything he does calls attention,-with skilled showmanship, to his work, so that observers at times get the strange feeling that he too is a design−by Loewy, of course.”
The Italian designer Massimo Vignelli once said, “A good designer must be able to design anything from a spoon to a city”, meaning that the principles of good design are universal, and that these same principles must be applied to everything from logos to websites, to packaging, to planets. Raymond Loewy was perhaps the most influential designer of the 20th century, having designed nearly everything in our modern world. His life and work spanned all changes in style and technology as modern society developed.
"I can claim to have made the daily life of the 20th Century more beautiful."
In the middle of the 20th century United States was the dominant super power and American consumer brands became the symbol of the good life, a nod to technological advancement and peace between years of conflict. Smart branding and new products found a permanent home in consumer history, and they were all designed by Raymond Loewy.
"I believe one should design for the advantage of the largest mass of people, first and always. That takes care of ideologies and sociologies. I think one also should try to elevate the aesthetic level of society. And to watch quality control always, while insisting others do, too."
He was behind the Greyhound Scenic Cruiser, the Studebaker Champion and Avanti, and designed four Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives at the height of train travel, and he was often said to be the father to the concepts of industrial design. Since Loewy, industrial design is seen as a combination of applied art and applied science, made to improve the aesthetics, ergonomics, and usability of a product, with a purpose to improve the product’s marketability and production.
While Loewy established his reputation as a designer, he boosted his profession by showing the practical benefits to be derived from the application of functional styling. In the book Industrial Design, Loewy notes, "Success finally came when we were able to convince some creative men that good appearance was a salable commodity, that it often cut costs, enhanced a product’s prestige, raised corporate profits, benefited the customer and increased employment."
Loewy redefined the role of an industrial designer as an innovator; who reduces complexity and creates and executes design solutions for problems of form, usability, physical ergonomics, marketing, brand development, and sales.
"I waited for the S-1 to pass through at full speed. I stood on the platform and saw it coming from the distance at 120 miles per hour. It flashed by me like a steel thunderbolt, the ground shaking under me, in a blast of air that almost sucked me into its whirlwind. Approximately a million pounds of locomotive were crashing through near me. I felt shaken and overwhelmed by an unforgettable feeling of power, by a sense of pride at what I had helped to create. I had, after all, contributed something to a great nation that had taken me in and that I loved so deeply. And I had come a long, happy way myself from my start in fashion advertising. I had found my way of life."
Loewy also designed brand and company logos. Below are some of his most famous ones.
Loewy’s designs even accompanied Americans out of this world. From 1967 to 1973 he consulted for NASA’s Saturn-Apollo and Skylab projects, pioneering a porthole that looked toward Earth and designs that simulated gravity.
Below is a public domain film from the Library of Congress Archive. It was made in 1958 and is about 20 minutes display and discussion on American industrial design during the peak of American society’s most creative and optimistic period.