Raymond Loewy began his career as a fashion illustrator but soon found his calling in the field of industrial design. The turning point came in 1928 when he was approached by Sigmund Gestetner, a British industrialist and producer of duplicating machines. Gestetner commissioned him to improve the look of a mimeograph machine. In a short span of just 3 days, Loewy was ready with an improved casing for the machine. Gestetner was so impressed with 28-year old Loewy’s design that he used the designed shell for housing Gestetner duplicators for the next 40 years! Loewy singlehandedly kick-started the field of industrial design which would eventually revolutionize America.
Loewy was nothing short of a genius. His incredible talent transformed the industry. He provided consultancy services to over 200 companies and thus designed a wide plethora of products as diverse as refrigerators, cigarette packs, cars and even space-crafts. He based his designs on his famous MAYA principle – Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. In his own words, "The adult public's taste is not necessarily ready to accept the logical solutions to their requirements if the solution implies too vast a departure from what they have been conditioned into accepting as the norm”.
Following the success of the Gestetner duplicator, Raymond began to apply his technique of streamlining to a number of different products. He named his theory ‘beauty through function and simplification’. For the next 50 years Raymond applied this principle. Some of his popular designs were the slender Coca Cola bottles, the Lucky Strike cigarette pack, the John F Kennedy Memorial Stamp, the Greyhound bus and its logo, logos for Shell International and Exxon Services, the GG1 and S1 locomotives, the interior design for space vehicles like Skylab, Saturn I and Saturn V, the emblem for the US postal service, Frigidaire refrigerators and freezers, and cars like Studebaker Avanti, Champion and Starliner.
Raymond designed so many diverse products that he could claim without exaggeration that “the average person, leading a normal life, whether in the country, a village, a city, or a metropolis, is bound to be in daily contact with some of the things, services, or structures in which R.L.A [Raymond Loewy Associates] was a party during the design or planning stage”.
Loewy transformed the industry and made industrialists realise the importance of functional design. Time and again he proved the profession’s worth by demonstrating the practical uses of efficient design. To quote from his book Industrial Design, “Success finally came when we were able to convince some creative men that good appearance was a saleable commodity, that it often cut costs, enhanced a product's prestige, raised corporate profits, benefited the customer and increased employment”.
He exemplified these words with the design of the Coldspot Refrigerator manufactured by Sears Roebuck and Company. Raymond streamlined the refrigerator and designed its novel rust-free aluminium shelves. The Coldspot refrigerator became wildly popular and the Sears sales rose from 60,000 units to 2,75,000 units in a span of two years. Raymond’s next success story was the GG1 locomotive, which he designed for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1936. It was the first locomotive to utilize the welding process. The welded shell of the GG1 removed the need of thousands of rivets, in turn making the design more attractive while also reducing manufacturing and maintenance costs substantially. The GG1 proved the effectiveness of industrial design on a large scale. It also made popular the use of welding techniques in locomotives.
In the year 1930, Raymond began providing consultancy services to the Hupp Motor Company. With this began his association with motor and automobile industry and led the way into a new epoch. Raymond said that it was the first time that a large corporation had accepted the idea of receiving outside advice in the development of their products. He also found that this step signified "the beginning of industrial design as a legitimate profession".
Loewy made a number of improvements to the design of automobiles but he was not always met with full support. He brought out slanted windshields, built-in headlights and wheel covers, which were well appreciated. However when he tried to design automobiles which were leaner, more streamlined and more fuel efficient than their counterparts, Loewy had to confront many roadblocks. He did not agree with the extravagant designs of Detroit stylists. While he managed to streamline and give a better look to production-line cars, he was not able to change the outlook of the car industry. Gas-guzzling automobiles continued to guzzle gas, in spite of Loewy’s insistence.
When Loewy designed the Avanti in 1961, he advocated the removal of the grill. He posted signs saying ‘Weight is the enemy’. He likened car grills to sewer grills and moved for the elimination of extra weight on cars. A number of Raymond’s car designs are considered classic today. His most popular cars include the 1963 Avanti, and the 1953 Studebaker Starliner Coupe. His designs have been voted as the industry best in a poll held by the Big Three Automakers.
Raymond Loewy also made a name for himself in the area of commercial design. He has designed a number of popular logos and packaging. He propounded the importance of visual retention in commercial packaging. In his own words, “ I'm looking for a very high index of visual retention," We want anyone who has seen the logotype even fleetingly to never forget it”. In the year 1940, George Washington Hill who was the President of the American Tobacco Company, placed a bet with Loewy. He offered a stake of $50,000 to Raymond, if he could improve the design of the Lucky Strike cigarette package. The green and red packaging and logo of Lucky Strike was already well-known to customers. Raymond however changed the green background to white and displayed the red Lucky Strike logo on either side of the package. The elimination of the green background, reduced the cost by removing the need for green dye, and the Lucky Strike logo received better visibility by being displayed on both sides of the package. Sales shot up and Hill was only too pleased to pay off the debt.
Raymond Loewy also contributed significantly to the field of store design. His first popular store design was that of a windowless, climate-controlled departmental store. This design was so well-applauded that Loewy started an independent division of his company to cater to store designing. Raymond Loewy’s partner William Snaith helmed this division and secured many important store design contracts for stores like J.L Hudson’s, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, J.C Penney, and Lord & Taylor.
Soon the company was almost entirely busy with store design. At this point, Raymond sold off the New-York store-design outlet and shifted focus to Europe. He also established a new company in Friebourg in Switzerland, under the name Raymond Loewy International, while also focussing on Paris and London. Raymond felt that store-designing was not his calling. He further found that Europe provided a more conducive environment for industrial design. He said that "industrial design in Europe is where it was in the United States 25 years ago.". In a short span of time, the company achieved massive success. Now called the Loewy Group, it still is the largest company of its kind in Europe.
According to Loewy, his most important and gratifying assignment was the work that he did for NASA. Between the years 1967 to 1973, he worked on the Saturn-Apollo and Skylab projects as a habitability consultant for NASA. He was hired to insure the psycho-physiological well-being and comfort of astronauts under zero gravity conditions. Raymond Loewy contributed majorly to the project and brought in a number of innovations. They include simulating gravity conditions accurately and a porthole for visual contact with earth. His designing allowed 3 men to live for three comfortable days in a space capsule.
Loewy was highly regarded by Nasa’s deputy administrator for manned space flight- George Mueller, who wrote the following in a letter to Loewy, "I do not believe that it would have been possible for the Skylab crews to have lived in relative comfort, excellent spirits and outstanding efficiency had it not been for your creative design, based on a deep understanding of human needs”. Mueller said that Loewy had “provided the foundation for man's next great step - an expedition to the planets”. Raymond Loewy’s work with NASA opened up more avenues and opportunities for him. In his varied career, Raymond Loewy has often donned the lecturer’s hat. He has delivered lectures at renowned institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Leningrad, and the Columbia University. He has also penned a number of books including ‘The Locomotive: Its Aesthetics’ in 1937, ‘Industrial Design’ in 1951 and his autobiographical work ‘Never Leave Well Enough Alone’ in 1951.
Known as the ‘Father of Streamlining’, he also worked on the Air Force One design for President Kennedy. The story is an urban legend in its own right. Accounts say that Jackie Kennedy asked Loewy to design a graphical identity for the Boeing 707, which was then President Kennedy’s personal plane. Raymond came up with a design consisting of a white top, a polished metal bottom, sandwiching two shades of blue between them. The aeroplane also has the president’s seal on both sides and the words ‘United States of America’ in the upper case. The American flag is imprinted on its tail. The design is still in use on the current Boeing 747.
As with most of Loewy’s designs, accounts vary as to the origin of the Air Force One design. In his book Industrial Design, Loewy recounts going over the design, in a three-hour long session in the Oval Office with President Kennedy and even working with rubber cement and scissors. Loewy first saw the Boeing 707 at Palm Springs in March 1962, where the President had come for a visit. Loewy, who was known for his networking skills, had known Gen. Godfrey T. McHugh for a long time. Gen. McHugh was the Air Force in charge who looked after the president’s trips. Loewy mentioned to McHugh that the colours on the plane were “rather gaudy”. He also criticised the sloppy manner in which the plane had been painted. Feeling that the Air Force One aircraft should be representative of the American government and thus impeccable in appearance, he offered them his services.
Thus Raymond Loewy was offered the opportunity to design the Air Force One graphics and logo. By the month of May, Raymond’s firm was ready with 4 graphic designs and five types of lettering. Raymond assigns credit to the head of his graphics department Roy Larsen for coming up with the lettering. Raymond and Roy presented their designs to the President in the White House and the President immediately selected one of them. Coincidentally, the design chosen by the President was the one Raymond Loewy had personally favoured. The original designs were based on a red background, which was the colour of the Air Force standard.
Wikipedia differs slightly in its version of the story. As per the information on Wikipedia, the Presidential administration purchased a Boeing C -137 Stratoliner in October 1962. Initially Air Force One was asked to design their own logo for the Presidential plane. They designed a graphic in red and gold, with the words ;United States of America’ in capital block letters. President Kennedy found the design a little too royal. It was then that Jackie Kennedy suggested they hire the French-born American designer Raymond Loewy. As part of his research, Loewy came across the first print of the American Declaration of Independence in the National Archives. In the document, the name of the country was typed in a bold, widely-spaced font called Caslon. It was this typeface that made its way into the Air Force One graphic. Loewy decided to uncover the bright aluminium fuselage of the aircraft, and added two strips of different shades of blue. He chose a state blue colour representing the Presidency and the early government of America and a fresher cyan colour to depict the future and present. He then added an American flag to the tail and the Presidential seal on both sides. Loewy won much praise for his design and the work was appreciated by the President.
Raymond Loewy has many other feathers in his cap! He has been commemorated by the Smithsonian Institution through a four-month long exhibit titled ‘The Designs of Raymond Loewy’, as a tribute to the ‘man who changed the face of design’. Loewy has been an industrial designer, a writer, businessman, illustrator and lecturer. He has become one of the world’s most respected designers and earned the epithet of ‘Father of Industrial Design’.
On his retirement he moved to France along with his wife Viola and spent his days at a more relaxed leisurely pace. Raymond Loewe died in Monte Carlo Monaco, on July 14, 1986, at the age of 92. His death was widely publicised and as New York Times reporter Susan Heller wrote, "One can hardly open a beer or a soft drink, fix breakfast, board a plane, buy gas, mail a letter or shop for an appliance without encountering a Loewy creation."