Raymond Loewy and the Creation of a Beautiful Life

Long before any of us had heard the name Steve Jobs, or that of Apple designer Jony Ives, there was Raymond Loewy. Considered by many to be the father of modern industrial design Loewy was referred to in the press as “The Man Who Shaped America.”

portrait of Raymond Loewy

corporate logos designer by Raymond Loewy

Born in France in 1893, Loewy spent most of his career in the United States. During his lifetime he built one of the largest industrial design firms in the world. He was the man behind the design of such recognizable icons as the coca-cola glass bottle, the Frigidaire refrigerator, the first streamlined Greyhound buses, classic Studebaker cars, welded locomotives, Nasa’s Saturn 1, Saturn V, and the Skylab spacecraft, Air Force One, logos and packaging for Lucky Strike cigarettes, BP, Shell, and Exxon…the list goes on.

From just this small and partial list of his accomplishments it’s easy to see how Loewy could indeed be seen as the person who shaped America. Speaking of the America he found when he first arrived in the country he said that “American products are marvels of production and functionality, but were unnecessarily and unbearably ugly, noisy, smelly and offensive.” Loewy changed this by introducing a new “streamline” aesthetic into American design, a style of simplicity and sleek speed that implied technological innovation, and that emphasized America’s new role as a world leader and style setter. Today we’d say he “rebranded America.”

Studebaker car designer by Raymond Loewy

Loewy was known not only for the specific designs he created but also for a larger design philosophy that took in to consideration marketing, economics, usability, and the relationship between form and function. In a recent post I mentioned his theory of “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable (maya),” a concept that utilizes the contradiction between a consumer’s love of the new and fear of the new. His answer to this contradiction was “to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.

Unlike many designers of his time Loewy understood the link between design and marketing, positing that “Between two products equal in price, function, and quality, the better looking will outsell the other.” Today we take this idea for granted but at the time it was a revolutionary idea. Here are a few more quotes of Loewy’s that I find revealing:

I can claim to have made the daily life of the 20th Century more beautiful.

Good design keeps the user happy, the manufacturer in the black and the aesthete unoffended.”

It’s a simple exercise; a little logic, a little taste, and the will to cooperate.”

The most beautiful curve is a rising sales graph.

Good design is not an applied veneer.

It would seem that more than function itself, simplicity is the deciding factor in the aesthetic equation. One might call the process beauty through function and simplification.

A designer must always think about the unfortunate production engineer who will have to manufacture what you have designed; try to understand his problems.

There is a frantic race to merchandise tinsel and trash under the guise of ‘modernism.’

Never leave well enough alone.”

Now, let’s look at a few of Loewy’s designs:

Raymond Loewy designs for Greyhound bus and locomotive

objects designed by Raymond Loewy

Airforce One designed by Raymond Loewy

Skylab Spacecraft designed by Raymond Loewy

This entry was posted in Artists and Designers, Design in the World and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *