Raymond Loewy, the pioneer of industrial design
France can be proud to have had two major figures who gave 20th century industrial design its letters of nobility. The first, Roger Tallon, accompanied the economic take-off of post-war French industry. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris is about to devote a retrospective tribute to him – Roger Tallon, le design en mouvement, 8 September 2016 to 8 January 2017 – and his work is closely linked to the development of the image of the SNCF, in particular the TGV. The second, Raymond Loewy, born at the very end of the 19th century, embodied more than any other designer the triumphant American Way of Life of the 20th century.
Although Raymond Loewy was born in Paris, France in 1893, he spent most of his career in the United States. This is why in France, he is perceived as the great American pioneer, the French emigrant who went to try his luck, with an amazing success story in the USA. 30 years after his death, he remains an icon on the other side of the Atlantic. In 1949, he was even featured on the cover of Time magazine His creations have flooded and continue to flood the world. He designed the Shell logo and the petrol station concept, as well as the Lucky Strike cigarette pack, and the L’Oréal, Air France and Monoprix brands!
Raised in a bourgeois and intellectual environment, Raymond Loewyquickly showed above-average abilities in drawing and mathematics. In 1919, after theFirst World War, he left to try his luck in the United States, following in the footsteps of his two other brothers. Loewy’ s first job was as a fashion designer and he gradually integrated into the New York high society of the time. His career really took off in 1929, when he became artistic director of Westinghouse. Then, very quickly, he opened his own design agency under his own name. The first successes followed, with the new Coldpsot refrigerator line for Sears Roebuck in 1934 being a notable achievement. At the time, the Sears Roebuck Company of Chicago was a mail order company. Thanks to Loewy‘s ingenuity, the new fridge had a cutting-edge design. The designer created an outer shell made of painted plasticine and equipped with fake handles, hubcaps and badges. For practicality, a foot pedal that the housewife operates allows the fridge to be opened with her foot or elbow. The modern style of the household product was a hit: in one year, sales exploded by 300%, the 275,000 copies ordered were quickly reached and Raymond Loewyincreased his fees proportionally.
Other creations confirmed Loewy ‘s talent for boosting sales of household appliances. The designer began to gain a certain notoriety and it was only natural that the Metropolitan Museum of New York called on him to create an ideal version of its design desks for the 1934 Annual Exhibition of American Industrial Art. Working with interior designer Lee Simonson, Loewy created a design desk that was very modern for its time. The wall clock, for example, has no numbers, and the furniture is largely made of metal tubing
In 1935, Loewy expanded his office by adding a specialised architecture department. He entrusted the management to William Snaith, a brilliant New York architect, with whom he formed an efficient business duo. While Loewy understood that in order to succeed in the United States, design had to sell products, William Snaith understood very early on the future success of large commercial surfaces, temples of mass consumption. The Loewy-Snaith tandem therefore designed supermarkets and department stores for decades, as well as public buildings such as railway stations. Their thinking also extended to interior design: reception halls and offices. Loewywas often consulted by the largest American firms to help them design their gigantic stands at trade fairs and shows. The powerful American companies, which prospered rapidly after the end of the Second World War, now sought out the services of the “French designer”. Loewy invented an efficient and aesthetic design, serving the distribution of products of the American Way of Life..
Raymond Loewy owes his fame to achievements that symbolise the American dream and marketing. In the autumn of 1940, George Washington Hill, the president of American Tobacco, the king of tobacco, came in person to meet Loewy and asked him to design a new packaging for the Lucky Strike brand, for $20,000 in advance and an additional $30,000 if the project was accepted. Loewy agreed, and very cleverly modernised Lucky’s image without distorting the brand. Loewy proposed to dress the pack in a shiny white, whereas at the time the big American cigarette manufacturers were content with a very masculine brown kraft paper, in reference to tobacco. The famous red target that characterises the brand is retained. He also planned to have the logo printed on both sides of the pack, a free advertisement for the brand because, according to the marketing strategist: “The brand is mathematically twice as likely to be read”. Later, Loewy designed an additional accessory to the packaging of the box: a cellophane film that can be torn off by pulling on a discreet red thread, an invention that is still in use today! Loewy’ s rejuvenation of the Lucky case works formidably well. The brand with the white glossy paper distinguishes itself from its competitors and since then, not a single wise marketer has had the idea to touch up the famous red circle on a white background!
Loewy‘s career was punctuated by other masterpieces of logo and brand identity work. In 1971, for example, he designed the famous Shell brand’s geometric shell logo, which has remained unchanged ever since. Simple, easy to remember and elegant, it is still the same today. Earlier, in 1957, Loewy had already made his mark with the creation of the logo for the biscuit brand Lu. In 1969, he also designed the logo for the French men’s ready-to-wear brand New Man, which has the particularity of being read in both directions. Loewy also worked for two other major oil companies for which he designed logos: British Petroleum (BP) and EXXON.To these we can add the logos of L’Oréal, Monoprix and Spar. In a way, a Who’s Who of world and French brands..
Surrounded by competent teams, Raymond Loewy even acted as a visionary when, with his French company C.E.I. (Compagnie d’Esthétique Industrielle, the French counterpart of his American agency), he suggested to the directors of Shell that the service station should enter a new era. He thought of the design of petrol pumps that would allow customers to serve themselves at the pump, without the hose touching the ground
But Raymond Loewyshowed a great passion for means of locomotion very early on, whether they be wheeled or aerial. Three great passions would thus illuminate the designer’s career: trains, the automobile and aviation.
As a pre-teen, Raymond Loewy was already fascinated by modern locomotion devices. He went to see steam locomotives at the Chemins de Fer depot and in 1904 he witnessed the take-off of a “Demoiselle” on the Bagatelle lawn in the Bois de Boulogne. A few years later, on the other side of the Atlantic, Loewy fulfilled a dream: to work on the aerodynamics of the Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives. The designer conceived a new envelope for the company’s GG-1 locomotive. Loewy demonstrated his ability to propose a pragmatic and rational design and, for the first time at the time, simplified the design of the bodywork of a 600 horsepower monster. Loewy proposed to weld the body panels together into a single element assembled on the ground, as was already done in the automobile industry. Another novelty: Loewy had large gold stripes installed on the vehicle’s bodywork to give maintenance teams a visual cue before the locomotive passed. Loewy‘s initiatives proved to be a great success: the simplified bodywork was cheaper to maintain and manufacturing costs were lowered. This success marked the beginning of a long collaboration between Raymond Loewy ‘s American design agency and the Pennsylvania Railroad, from 1934 to 1959 .
In 1937, Raymond Loewy was awarded the Gold Medal for Transport for his work on the GG-1 locomotive and entered into negotiations with the American manufacturer Studebaker, who asked him to work on one of its models, the Champion
A year later, in 1938, Loewyhad hisfirst success for the Indiana firm with the Président sedan, which was voted “Most Beautiful Car of the Year“. In 1939, he became general design director for all Studebaker cars. As with his work on the GG-1 locomotive, Loewy stripped the Studebaker models of unnecessary excess bodywork and developed modern body concepts. Loewy designed vehicles that were aerodynamic for the time, with a shape that seemed to “leap forward”. In the early 1950s, Loewy perfected and definitively designed a front-end style that the Americans called “Bullet Nose”. The line becomes aggressive, in the middle of the front is a round with two chrome parts in the shape of a propeller on each side. Two imposing air intakes appeared and divided the front bodywork in two. In the end, Loewyreigned supreme over Studebaker design from 1938 to 1962, producing avant-garde models for the time, such as the Avanti model that would not be denied by its Italian counterparts, before the group’s automotive branch closed in 1966.
Raymond Loewy, now established as THE successful industrial designer – in 1955 the American agency Raymond Loewy employed 250 people with an annual turnover of 3 billion dollars – met the greatest celebrities of his time. During an official visit to Palm Springs by US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Loewy confided to his friend Godfrey McHugh, “the President’s air force attaché”, that the presidential plane was decidedly lacking in status with its sick bay red colours. Loewy, without knowing it, hits the nail on the head once again. JFK himself received him for a few work sessions and Loewytotally modified the exterior of Air Force One. Gone is the garish red, replaced by noble colours, the fuselage is now an elegant pale blue. Later, the President commissioned him to design the interior of Air Force One.
Still in the aeronautical industry, Loewy was entrusted by Air France with the interior design of the Concorde and its meal trays in 1976. Then Loewy exercised his talent for NASA, with his head in the stars, to design the interior of the Skylab space station, the first space station launched by the American space agency. Almost 75 years old, the great designer is passionate about an ambitious project: to open the era of manned space flight by offering real working conditions and comfort to astronauts in flight. In the end, all of Loewy ‘s proposals for Skylab’s design resulted in small improvements to the interior of the space station, but considerably advanced thinking on the living environment and well-being during manned space flight. Raymond Loewy, in close collaboration with William Snaith, worked on a wide range of subjects: from the astronauts’ spacesuits to the models of the hygienic equipment on the orbital station and the design of the Skylab dining room
Raymond Loewy ‘s ingenuity and marketing skills were a major influence on 20th century American industrial design. It is no coincidence that he was the only “foreigner” on a list published by Life magazine in 1969 of the 100 most important events in American history since 1767. In particular, he was the first to understand that design had an impact on the commercial success of a product. He played a perfect role in getting captains of industry and other engineers to understand that industrial products sell better if they are aesthetically pleasing, leading to reductions in manufacturing costs through simplifying design
Raymond Loewy expressed this thought in a book that has become a cult classic: ” Ugly sells badly“First published in 1953. In this book, Loewy created the profession of industrial beautician. His credo: to give a perfect harmony to the object, whether it is a locomotive, a car, a dustbin, a hoover… 30 years after his death, Loewy ‘s discourse and his imprint on the contemporary industrial world are still relevant today..
In addition, a very short audio tape in which Raymond Loewy expresses his conception of design http://www.rediscoveredpaper.com/audio/good_design2_low.wav
Written by François Boutard