Raymond Loewy. At first I thought I wanted to focus on a single design item that he was responsible for, such as the Lucky Strike logo, the coke bottle design or the shell icon for shell gasoline, or the minimalistic Loewy clock. However, I realized that primarily it would be difficult to find a single item that spoke to me more strongly than others: it would simply be impossible to choose, given how prolific Loewy was. However, it also became apparent that I wanted to focus on his unique design style that became as original as his fingerprint. While Loewy's design work was famous for a variety of reasons and was truly multifaceted, it's more interesting and complex to examine it as a body of work.
"After a brief but promising career as a fashion illustrator, Raymond Loewy dedicated his talent to the field of industrial design. Loewy's creative genius was innate, and his effect on the industry was immediate. He literally revolutionized the industry, working as a consultant for more than 200 companies and creating product designs for everything from cigarette packs and refrigerators, to cars and space craft."
This excerpt along describes a genius that simply couldn't be stifled. Loewy's work was boundless and truly multi-faceted, and yet it was clearly guided by a uniting principle. Loewy's clocks, steam engines, soda dispensers, spaceships and cigarette packs were all united by a single design concept, and in spite of this unification, they were all dramatically different and distinct, reveling in their amount of individuality and uniqueness. "Loewy lived by his own famous MAYA principle - Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. He believed that, '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.'"
This demonstrates an important aspect of Loewy's design principle and also illuminates why he was so successful in his career and why so many of his designs have truly worn out time and remained eternal parts of American life: Loewy didn't believe in assaulting the public with radical notions of design. Certain designers throughout the 20th and 21st century have been hailed as geniuses, but their work simply has not garnered the same level of acclaim, largely because of the fact that they push the boundaries of what the public is willing to accept. These designers might think of themselves as bold pioneers or even explorers, but lots of other people think of them as simply too wild or too avant-garde. Their products might be seen as things which are fascinating to look at, but which are simply too different to live their lives with.
Loewy's genius of design remained in the fact that he was continually able to bring something new to his pieces but that he was also always able to stay within a realm of what people wanted to see and use within their daily lives. That factor is largely responsible for why his designs have stayed quite so memorable and lasting. "Massimo Vignelli once said, 'A good designer must be able to design anything from a spoon to a city." This means 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."
It is this element, along with Loewy's ability to constantly be aware of the preferences and needs of his public that meant his designs would forever be appreciated. Loewy was able to zero in on the elements of what good design were made up of and replicate them over and over again, in enduring and distinctive manners.
Another reason why the Loewy's designs have long been so well accepted by the public is because his design work was introduced to the American people in a way that demonstrated he understood the nature of the time. Loewy arrived in America in 1919 and "Loewy's timing couldn't have been better. The 1920s saw the rise of consumption for its own sake. While the industrial revolution allowed for production on a previously undreamed-of scale, the problem now became how to sustain that titanic production with a concomitant increase in shopping. In a marketplace where many needs had been sated, manufacturers relied first on advertising and then on product design to spark demand."
Loewy was able to respond to the needs of companies and illustrate ideas and images that were connected with their products in a way that spoke to consumers in clear and memorable ways, allowed Loewy to truly make a name for himself in this industry. In the 1920s, Loewy demonstrated that he was able to hit the vein of the wrist of popular culture over and over again with pictures of slim, glamorous and sylphlike women in stunning diaphanous gowns poised next to sleek and modern automobiles,
were the types of images that dazzled the public and created a foundation of Loewy's work.
However, it was the passage of time which demonstrated to the world that Loewy had the adaptability of design skill -- but more importantly vision to keep his work relevant and reflective of the needs of his audience. One can hardly forget that at the end of the 1920s was the crash of the stock and "…once the Great Depression hit, the need to ignite consumer desire became increasingly acute. 'In the 12 years between the Wall Street crash and Pearl Harbor, the American imagination ... oscillated between two images, the streamline and the breadline, the former promising relief from the latter,' art critic Robert Hughes has written."
This meant that the ostentatiousness, excess and glamour of the 1920s was no longer something that spoke to the public and design needed to reflect that, thus making Loewy's streamlined style more and more compelling and attractive at large. Furthermore, there was an aggravated need for designers like him as the companies that survived the Great Depression or who were trying to, were ones which were aware of how important advertising was and how important product design and packaging was -- making good design a commercial imperative.
Loewy was among other designers who were able to offer the public what they needed during the troubling time of the great Depression: simplicity and, perhaps more importantly, a promise of a bright future. The sleekness of Loewy's designs seemed to indicate that the future was bright, modern and shiny and that it was at your fingertips -- it was perhaps right around the corner. Streamlined style, the design style that Loewy pioneered "from the early 1930s through into the 1950s, a design style flourished that has become known as the streamline style. Its most important characteristic is the closed, streamlined forms that strongly suggest speed, symbolic of the dynamism of modern times. To visualize this, the sharp corners and transitions of objects were rounded off. Knobs, handles and hand grips were recessed. Speed lines were created by introducing ribs or gleaming chrome strips. This style dangled the promise before consumers that they were still on the way to a glorious future with prosperity for everybody, at least if they continued to consume."
This is such an important description as it is able to readily explain why the streamline style that Loewy pioneered was so important for these specific eras and why it continues to subsist. The sleekness and the curves of these products promised a softness and ease of the present and future. The future was indeed indicated through this design style and one couldn't help but connect the future with a brightness and positivity. If one takes the example of a Loewy locomotive, all of the engine's most important and intricate parts were covered by a shiny chrome cover…