Raymond Loewy 1893-1986: The Consummate All Consuming Designer

“Ugliness doesn’t sell”


The A&R has argued that Colin Chapman ought to be considered Industrial Designer of International repute. This has not always been the case, but there is some evidence in academic publications of a reevaluation; we hope to rectify this omission by a series of articles and benchmarking. In order to achieve this the A&R are committed to a series of articles entitled Design Heroes in which great designers past and present are compared with Chapman. The benefit of this exercise is that the principles of good design can be analyzed in detail.

It’s known that Loewy the design consultant was extremely successful and prolific yet sometimes misunderstood.

In this article we will examine objectively the design achievements of Loewy in context and set these against the works of Colin Chapman. Of those in our Design Heroes series Loewy provides an interesting comparison as he designed several famous car bodies.

In this instance the editors suggest reference to original published works of the period [see bibliography below] they are particularly instructive.

Raymond Loewy: Brief Biography

Johnson provides this brief but useful and inclusive thumbnail biography of Loewy:-

“In 1919, Loewy moved to New York from Paris to pursue a career as a commercial artist and fashion illustrator. However his knowledge of electrical engineering and his fascination with steam locomotives and all modes of modern transportation propelled him to open an industrial design firm in 1929.He modernized the duplicating machine for Gestetner Duplicating company , creating a sleek stylish housing of molded plastic .This project of 1929 was followed by the highly visible successes  such as the Hupmobile automobile [1934] , the ColdSpot refrigerator [1934] , the streamlined S-1 locomotive for the Pennsylvania Railroad [1937]and the well-known Studebaker “Champion” [1947] and “Avanti” [1962] automobiles.

Loewy was a master of corporate identity and package design .Among his clients were Lucky Strike Ciggerete Company, Coca-Cola, Pepsodent and the National Biscuit Company. In later years he worked for NASA designing the interior for Skylab”

From the outset the editors believe it’s important to emphasize:-

  1. In designers anthology some items will be proposals only. Not all are adopted and implemented
  2. That often there was team work , all contributors were not always acknowledged and this can include client/ manufacturers staff and is relevant to Chapman
  3. Although its believed Loewy had an engineering qualification and formal drawing ability , it’s very probable he was fundamentally a front man with particular skills of galvanizing, motivating, facilitating , directing and coordinating projects, inspiring a design team presenting ideas/proposals with colossal charisma and  providing PR and perhaps occasionally intimidating and challenging
  4. A large part of the design was face lift, make over, adopting a  visually unified integrated image , streamlined, seductive and suggestive of modernism

Loewy’s Peers and Contemporaries

The profession of Industrial Designer possibly emerged in the 1930’s and overlaid the New Deal in the USA. A group of men in particular formed Design consultancies and between them exerted considerable influence on world culture and visually /commercially celebrated American freedoms and consumer choice.

Amongst these men were:-

  • Walter Dorwin Teague
  • Norman Bel Geddes
  • Henry Dreyfuss
  • Van Doren

Subscribers might like to see and find directly relevant other A&R articles in the Design Heroes series:-

  • Buckminster Fuller
  • Eileen Gray
  • Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus
  • Carlo Mollino
  • 20th C Motoring Icons
  • Giorgio Giugiaro –Maestro of Motoring Motion

Subscribers are directed to the net for an extensive range of images of Raymond Loewy and the products he designed. On this occasion the A&R are limiting the drawings or pictures.

Raymond Loewy: The French Connection

Loewy was born in Paris in 1893.Fiell comments as other authors that “at the age of 15, Loewy designed and built a toy model airplane that won the then famous James Gordon Bennett Cup. Around the same time he also designed and patented a model plane powered by rubber band”

It’s believed he served in the French Army during the First World War. [Possibly in Corps of Engineers]. He completed academic training in Paris with a qualification in engineering.

He emigrated to America in 1919 and undertook work as window dresser, commercial artist and illustrator in New York, also a fashion illustrator working for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Vanity Fair.

C 1923 he produced a trademark for Neiman Marcus department store and undertook some display make overs for several department stores.

Raymond Loewy the Man and Designer

Loewy was remarkable man, humanist, designer and very charismatic. He has left an extraordinary body of work and legacy. He was the author of several books and the editors recommend direct reference to these:-

  • Never Leave Well Alone ,1951
  • Industrial Design
  • The Locomotive

Loewy once commented that:-

“To understand my design you must understand my lifestyle”

The editors believe that there is a considerable risk that Loewy might be misunderstood. This can be magnified over time, with a difficulty of comprehending him now in the context of his primary /most influential design period [mainly pre second world war] and other interacting factors.

Loewy was a European designing in America. He is very likely to have been aware of European modernism, its designers and the work of the Bauhaus of which he might have been a contemporary.

In the editors estimation Raymond Loewy was a cultivated urbane man .An internationalist liberal minded humanitarian. He might have cultivated a certain flamboyance to fit a stereotype. He was certainly imaginative, possessed extraordinary style, he had a highly developed entrepreneurial streak and enjoyed a rich / deep long and prolific design career.

In the simplest expression he added value through style.

He would speak several languages and had homes and offices on several continents including London.

He would have worked as part of a thoroughly integrated design team of specialists.

Loewy remains one of America’s best –known Industrial Designers, gifted and graced with a colossal talent and aptitude for self-promotion. His sense of style and make overs of products make him an easy target for detractors but it must be remembered to he pioneered many design innovations.[ see book reference to Inventions and the interface between invention v innovation.[much applies to Chapman]

Of Loewy it has been said:-

“He was keen to reconcile progress with human nature, and thereby encourage people to acquire goods for pleasure rather than out of necessity”

Fiell observes:-

“Unlike so many modernists who allowed form to be completely dictated by function, Loewy balanced engineering criteria with aesthetic concerns in order to achieve what he believed to be the optimal solution”

Critics tend to label many designers of this era as narcissistic and ego centric and Loewy as a self-conscious celebrity designer motivated by self-promotion. The Conran Directory explains in some quarters Loewy etc. were considered myths and icons of American consumer journalism and a related quotation suggests:-

“Raymond Loewy flair for style and publicity associated with styling in the pejorative sense which Europeans used to condemn the commercialization of design and designing in America.”

A school of designers and critics possibly liked to label the American Industrial designers as embracing streamlining –the art form of industrial capitalism but this totally fails to acknowledge the success of their designs as measured through volumes sold.

Industrial Design: Socio-Economic Context

The relationship between Industrial Design and the prevailing socio-economic conditions are extremely important in a free consumer society. This is directly relevant in the American context as it applies to Loewy and the birth of the Industrial Design consultants. America had a significant mass production base and in many respects this was most exemplified by Henry Ford. [See appendix below] However the American and world economies suffered the Great Depression through parts of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

America’s response to this was the New Deal [subscribers are directed to the net and ought to analyses the circumstances and outcomes]; launched by Roosevelt c 1933.

The New Deal comprised a series of domestic programs in the US between 1933-1938.

The New Deal helped America out of the depression .It achieved this in part with:-

[Some of the most significant impacting on retail and domestic goods were:-]

  • Electrification and other significant public works projects like motorways
  • US Housing Authority
  • Public works Administration
  • Women & Works Progress Administration

The Second World War committed the US to mass production and it engendered full employment that continued into the 1950s and the baby boom that followed.

The Government looked to and had an expectation that Industrial Designers who had a background in the visual arts, fashion, publicity, theatre etc. would have the skills to improve products and engender sales.

Lowey observed:-

“eventually a few industrial design pioneers were able to make some business leaders aware that this lack of vision and industrial timidity was foreign to the spirit of advance  that had made America a leading nation ; and could again………..

Success finally came when we were able to convince creative men that good appearance was salable commodity that if often cut costs, enhanced a products prestige, raised corporate profits, benefited the customer and increased employment”

Merely to look at product design in isolation is subjective and fails to identify cause.

In an understanding of Loewy, and his contemporaries it’s necessary to look at demographics, gender, marriage and household formation, birth rates, disposable income and the availability of credit etc. Possibly less scientific but equally pervasive is the prevailing cultural norms of an era; not least mail order and department stores. These factors then might be constructed into patterns and volume of demand which in turn might become a function of mass production volumes which in turn impacts on price and then re-enters the spiral of demand.

“Consumer Engineering”

The editors have recommended study of original sources. Two of the most significant works of the era pertinent to industrial design are:-

  • Consumer Engineering :A New Technique for Prosperity by Sheldon & Arens
  • Horizons by Bel Geddes

Consumer Engineering grew out of statements by Calkins Holden and relates to the socio- economic conditions and explicitly states:-

Economic Failure not at fault of “over-production but under consumption”

“Consumer Engineering” was an advanced work for the era. It suggested good business ought to address consumer wants, needs and desires. It also perceptible acknowledged that design and consumption were in a chain that also comprised production, distribution and consumption, affordability, wages and price.

The Bauhaus was seeking to train designers in an objectivity that enabled quality goods to be made available by mass production at affordable prices. They might not have totally succeeded but the laid down many principles particularly addressing affordability.

“Horizons” in a way is a manifesto for good design. Geddes states:-

“We are entering a new era which notably, shall be characterized by design in four specific phases”. He provides examples of his own proposals ranging from motor cars, coaches, aerodrome, airliner and House No.3.

He sets out the advantage to both customer and manufacturer the benefits of good design.

A negative aspect of consumerist society is novelty in design and an associated obsolescence but Geddes firmly believes that good design ought to engender pride of ownership and length of life.

Both works in a way were complementary and attempted to provide the means, theoretical and practice to deliver both prosperity and consumer sovereignty in a free market economy.

1939 International Exhibition

Loewy contributed to this exhibition in New York which was subtitled “Building the world tomorrow”. One critic observed that:-

“Designers were without doubt the key figures at the exhibition and their profession received public recognition for its role as an interpreter of industry”

Psychology of Customer and Design Aesthetics

Many have suggested that it was the artist rather than the engineer that was the benchmark for Loewy. The editors can understand this but believe the boundaries were blurred and sales were the real driver.

In the 1930/s his approach was radical.

Possible his most famous design methodology was:-

M.A.Y.A –Most advanced yet acceptable.

He explained and expanded this with an explanation that the formula operated when a designer seeks to move customers to a MAYA stage giving them only as much progressive style as they can internalize at a particular moment. This ought not to be considered patronizing.

He was an all-round designer

The “streamlined” look was deeply symbolic it contained a message of vitality, speed, mobility and aspiration and particularly expressed American cultural values in particular consumer sovereignty.

“Loewy offered the customer the complete package with addition to product design also included a concept for optimizing of marketing, packaging and sales “

It has been suggested that he “succeeded in aestheticization and commercialization of private consumption”

He retained a team of specialist staff that at various times included:-

  • Engineers
  • Market research
  • Interior designers
  • Model makers

C 1947 his practice comprised commissions on buildings, shop fittings, product design, transportation vehicles and equipment, packaging.

General Industrial and Product Design

  • Air Force One livery
  • Coca-Cola fountain dispenser
  • 1929   Gestetner duplicating machine
  • JFK postage stamp
  • Petrol stations
  • Navy ship furniture
  • 1943   Office furniture/desks
  • Mobil battery
  • Pencil sharpener [ streamlined case ]1933; homage
  • Shops and buildings
  • Schick razor
  • Corporate wear and uniforms

Domestic Goods and Case study: The Coldspot Refrigerator of 1934

Loewy and his consultancy designed a diversified range of products including domestic goods. Not all went into production. We have noted the requirement to appreciate demographics impacting on demand. These are possibly most prevalent relating to household formation. Some of the most influential goods designed by Loewy included:-

  • Rosenthal China Form 2000 Series possibly with Richard Latham
  • Sears Coldspot refrigerators[with in-house engineers –see below]
  • Heaters
  • Singer vacuum
  • Kitchen appliances e.g. Le Creuset; illustrated oven casserole mategot


  • Porcelain tableware
  • Elna Lotus portable sewing machines
  • Radios
  • Furniture and office furniture eg.for DF 2000,France
  • Textiles
  • Wall paper patterns for Sanderson

The ColdSpot refrigerator is heralded as his great commercial success and helped establish his career early on. It is thought of as one of his most enduring designs.Undoubtely it was a master stroke. However it’s important to understand important contextual factors that underpinned sales before eulogizing about the design.

The editors believe that early refrigerators might have been created for commercial and industrial applications. Possibly in America’s meat, seafood and fruit markets. Early domestic appliances were expensive, not particularly aesthetic and suffered poor reliability and serviceability. The editor’s note prices in 1931 $205 cash but available on terms, 1933 at $99.50

The editors have seen statistics that suggest that only 8% of the population owned a fridge in the early 1930’s but by the end of the decade this had risen to 44%.

Sears [Sears Roebuck Company, Chicago USA, associated with mail order and credit facilities] possibly had deducted that a large market existed but exiting products were too expensive. Their research possibly also told them that the standard capacity was 4 cubic ft. Their target was to offer a 6 cubic ft. fridge at the price of 4.

During parts of the 1920 and 30 the industrialised world suffered economic decline. A related consequence was that servants were less employed in American middle class homes. This trend possible accelerated during the Second World War.

The refrigerator took on a new importance. It was bought by wives and mothers and had considerable symbolic value. The wished to portray their contemporary awareness of family welfare, safety and hygiene. Therefore the clean white streamline shape of the ColdSpot appealed to modernity and meet an increasing need.

The Sears ColdSpot was marketed as “Tomorrows Refrigerator” conceptually it could be perceived as part sculpture part rationalisation.

Loewy and his team conceived the design to radiate quality and simplicity whilst they noted the feedback that customers appreciated finesse.

The editors believe that both Loewy and Herman Price worked on the ColdSpot.

The design was product of careful preparation and research which included:-

  • Tour of existing plant and production techniques
  • Meetings with executives , product engineers and marketing staff
  • Study and evaluation of earlier models and possibly competitors
  • Conducting market research
  • Observing shoppers behaviour

The information gathered was synthesised in all respects to examine relative costs, potential materials, manufacturing process and functional elements of user interface including the dynamics of aesthetics and cultural/ social values.

In fact Loewy and his team implemented much that was set out in “Consumer Engineering “see above.

Loewy possibly more than most understood the holistic and integrated structural relationship from design through manufacture to the importance of packaging, marketing and advertising.

The ColdSpot featured:-

  • Improved design; including reliability and service
  • Extra storage
  • Easy use chrome handles [ “feather touch latches “] and attractive hinges which possessed a jewellery quality and flush door
  • Easy to clean function of shape which was an encased whole, white enamelled steel container
  • Convenient controls
  • White enamel finish suggested all the right connotations and symbolic cold of snow
  • Rounded sculptural an “streamlined” profile achieved by sophisticated metal forming techniques
  • Not a machine but object of beauty
  • Rust proof aluminium shelving
  • Distinctive blue logo and repeated motif
  • Vertical aesthetic emphasis
  • Interior carefully designed with compartments of different size
  • Semi –automatic defroster
  • Instant release ice cube trays
  • Glass rolling pin for pastry

It’s perhaps inevitable with such overwhelming superiority and fitness for purpose that the Coldspot annual sales increased from 15,000 to 275,000 within five years.

Significantly the ColdSpot is thought of as partly initiating a form of consumerism embracing the “objects of desire trend”

It was an alluring improved design that also reduced manufacturing costs. This made for a more competitive retail price which generated sales.

Loewy the consummate Industrial Designer noted that the ColdSpot featured early aspects of cross pollination of products and materials [we will make further reference to this viz Chapman]

Trains and Boats and Planes: Motor Transport/Commercial /Utility

Loewy’s work on locomotives is interesting. His own published work although directly referring to aesthetics does not really expand on a theory. It does site some relevant examples such as:-

  • 19935 Commodore  Vanderbilt
  • 1936 New York Central Mercury
  • 1936 Pennsylvania Railroads                 designed with input from Loewy
  • ? Bugatti [France ]                               [see A&R article]

Loewy evidently loved the power presence and speed of the high-speed trains. His designs were in conjunction with professional engineers and possibly his contributions were styling but he states clearly that he used wind tunnel testing in arriving at shapes. Possibly of equal importance was the symbolism of the locomotive and for the operating companies their machinery and corporate image were fused and reinforced with Loewy’s transformation and adoption of modernism/ streamlining. He is most identified with the K4S, GG1 [1934] and T1 [1937]

His other automobile designs include:-

From the net:

  • “Studebaker President [1938] Commander ,Champion, Bullet nose   Starliner*[1953] and Avanti [c1962]** Design objectives included:- minimize chrome
    – avoid decorative moldings
    – accent the wedge-shaped silhouette
    – stress long, down-slanted hood
    – abbreviate the rear and tuck it under
    – place instrument panel overhead, above windshield as in aircraft
    – install aircraft-type knobs and levers on the console
    – pinch the waistline, as Le Mans-type racing cars
    – design hoods with an off-center panel
    – accent spacecraft “reentry curve” wheel openings
    – simple disc wheels”
  • Hillman Minx and Sunbeam Alpine c 1956-67
  • Retained by Austin/roots in UK in 1950’s
  • Concorde interiors and cutlery etc.
  • NASA interiors for Skylab [ mainly unimplemented habitability systems] and Apollo programs; cooperation  from 1967.Of this project Loewy was most proud
  • Hovercraft
  • Public transport
  • Alouette for Sud Aviation
  • Luxury liners
  • Greyhound coach e.g. “Silversides” c 1940-54 note not only accommodation but also reinforcing corporate image note also “Scenicruiser” [1954]
  • International Harvester “Farmall” tractor and “Tractractor” Caterpillar
  • Interior for Lockheed Constellation
  • 1934   Hupmobile for Hupp Motor Co;[ nb its believed Loewy took out patent relating to this design]
  • 1946 Lincoln Continental
  • Lancia Loraymo
  • Jaguar XK [Boano constructor]and BMW [ Pichon & Parat constructors] specials built for and designed by Loewy curiously they are of dubious aesthetic , the BMW deferring slightly to the European cannon

*It’s been suggested that the Starliner of the late 1940’s achieved approximately 40% of Studebaker sales. For many it was considered in period as the quintessential American 2 door coupe with its European style and flair.

** Lowey was involved with Studebaker Design Division and worked with engineer/ designers Hoffman, Hardig, Bourke on the Avanti.

“Weight is the Enemy”

We particularly identify weight reduction with Chapman. However through his published works and on the net there are many useful quotations pertaining to Loewy and automobile design. His general observation was that American cars were too heavy, bulky he identified them as:-

“Their chrome barges and juke boxes on wheels”

And therefore necessitated large engines.

He possible understood the potential for the oil crisis.

The editors have considerable respect for Loewy and his concern for consumers but in the case of the automobile he either had a very different aesthetic or possibly overlooked the public wanted larger cars with all the accessories including higher prices.

However it ought to be noted that he possibly also had concerns that American car production would suffer sales volumes if it did not address world markets and a general trend towards smaller cars.

The editors readily recognise the considerable design achievements of Loewy but his automobile aesthetics do not really gel or come close to the Italian aesthetic excellence of the late 1950’s and 60’s.

Logos, Graphics, Corporate and National Identity

Loewy was involved in corporate design and image presentation. Some of his clients included:-

Logos for Exxon, Shell, BP, International Harvester, TWA, Nabisco, Quaker, New Man, LU ,U.S. Postal Service, New Man, elna,Quaker,corona, SPAR, Rank Hovis McDougall Ltd, NABISCO,CANADA DRY, FORMICA ,ALCAN,TWA etc. Loewy consultants also designed corporate uniforms .Possibly the most famous of these logos is:-

Lucky Strike package

This was another particular success of Loewy and his colleagues. Lucky Strike was brand name that appears to have its roots in the late 19C. Some suggest it was coined to coincide with America’s Gold Rush and was possibly a chewing tobacco. Its logo is associated with a bull’s-eye target. It is a product of British American Tobacco. [BAT]

During the 1930 cigarette smoking was possible made more female friendly and positively marketed toward women. Lowey redesign probably made the packet less dowdy and the adoption of white packaging  redefined the packs distinctive logo in fact making it bolder by virtue of stronger contrast , this had significant symbolism whilst modernizing the brand and appeal to women. In addition the printing of the logo on both packet sides increased visibility and direct/indirect promotion. The changeover reduced printing costs .Other explanations have been offered but the editors believe that fundamentals are the more significant motive and generator. Sales increased but this too must be analyzed against other events and cultural trends in society. Some pundits suggest that the redesign resulted in an almost 17% increase in consumption.

Briefly it’s interesting to note that BAR FI racing team was born out of BAT c 1999-2005 to essentially promote their cigarette brands Lucky Strike and 555. With the introduction of legislation they withdrew. [cf Chapman, Lotus and JPS – see various A&R articles]

Loewy also undertook commission from Shell 1967-1971 .It’s interesting to track the reductionism, simplification that evolves possibly set against the corporation’s identity/reputation needing so little articulation.

It’s important to note there was a collective or accumulative impact to Loewy’s designs.

It is not unreasonable to state:-

Loewy’s streamlined packaging for the bar top Coca-Cola dispenser became a symbol of American culture across the world”

Architecture and Interior Design

Architecture and interior design sits very comfortable with Industrial Design and perhaps there is tendency for one commission to grow out of another especially when multinationals seek by every means to enhance and reinforce their corporate identity.

Possibly one example is the International Harvester’s Stores and Service centers planned and designed by Raymond Loewy Associates.

Industrial Design A-Z

The editors bring to students/ subscribers attention that an extensive list of Loewy clients on an A-Z basis is provided in “Industrial Design”. The editors deliberately mention this as objectivity is important. This list can be used with discretion to cross reference clients, products and socio-economic contexts.

Awards and Exhibitions

From the net we can summarize that:

among his numerous honours and awards
– from the gold medal, in transportation (for GG-1 locomotive
design), international exposition, Paris 1937;
royal designer for industry, royal society of arts, London, 1937;
to the award from the president of France, 1980 /
became honorary citizen of France –
he was named one of the 100 ‘most influential Americans
of the 20th century’ by life magazine and
one of the ‘thousand makers of the 20th century’ by the
Sunday times.

He was founding member and fellow of the
American society of industrial designs (president 1946).

Exhibitions, Education and Economics

In the museum context the editors believe that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.

For these reasons our suggested outline Business Plan includes provision for promoting products and services which share Chapman’s ideals of mechanical efficiency and sustainability. In addition we propose merchandising that explain and interprets the social and cultural context of Chapman’s designs in period. It’s suggested there will be catalogue for on line purchasing.

An exhibition of Loewy’s and Chapman would make for a fascinating Interactive and interpretative exhibition. This could be structured with many education and market research opportunities. As our lists suggest there are considerable communality of design projects but enormous difference in outcomes and aesthetics to compare contrast and explain.

Conclusion and Direct comparison with Colin Chapman

In our introduction we referred to Giorgio Giugiaro and we recommend subscribers make a comparison of both as Industrial Design consultants as this is instructive and overlaps with Chapman and Lotus.

A comparison between Chapman and Loewy reveals these communalities, both:-

  • were Industrial Designers and owned and operated Consultancy
  • were engineers by academic training/ qualification
  • held , appreciated and presented aesthetic solutions to design issues
  • conducted business through economic up turns but also decline and energy crisis
  • held patents
  • acknowledged the weight issue in motorcar design
  • designed with slightly differing focus but an essential methodology to quality product , simplified and at lower cost
  • acted as consultants to motoring manufacturers
  • undertook design in various transport modes
  • held an international perspective
  • designed goods that were exported
  • their design skills formally acknowledged
  • made significant contributions to their respective national economies
  • produced iconic designs recognized as all-time classics
  • adopted cross pollination and mutated technologies /materials into new applications

However for all these factors in common, the significant difference was that Chapman was in various degrees of involvement: owner, strategist, designer and manufacturer. He took greater risks with products and bore directly the consequences.

Whereas Loewy was possibly paid to undertake market research Chapman could less afford this particularly in the early days. He possibly relied on a strategy of multiple outcome supported by an intention to create a superior product to his competitors

It’s important to draw some conclusions from the evidence and factor in socio-economic determinants that impinged on their respective designs and careers. These help clarify the comparisons drawn. When evaluating a designer and his success it’s beneficial and objective to:-

  • Study the socio-economic conditions prevailing at the time and relate this to disposable income , its influence on taste and culture, availability of credit and whether society is subsisting or investing , purchasing luxury goods etc. and if government is supporting industry or indeed implementing Keynesian theory
  • Examine the impact of gender ,its priorities and purchasing power and demographics can be included
  • Consider whether the designer aims for mass production necessities / disposable or long life capital goods and the degrees of complexity and legislation impacting on their manufacturer
  • The brief that is handed to the designer; subscribers might like to see A&R article on Lotus and SUV’s where we look at Chapman, Lotus and market research
  • If the designer is the owner or consultant as we have noted plant /capital investment may impinge on product development

Raymond Loewy and the American Industrial Designers that emerged in the 1920’s were a group of men, in the right place and right time.

Raymond Loewy did America a great service at time when world economic depression cast doubts on free market economics to meet societies most basic needs. Loewy believed in choice, consumer freedom and good design .Assisted by societal change and an improving economic conditions prompted by the New Deal, he bought an acceptable modernism to product design. His slogan and design methodology MAYA was tolerant and essential component of free choice. He did not denigrate customers who did not share aesthetic extremes .The editors consider that Loewy was progressive, meet needs and in his own way educated and evolved aesthetic appreciation with a deference to consumer sovereignty .Its possibly because he was an essential democrat that his work is not always appreciated and he was not understood.

Loewy’s achievement was to identify American consumer sovereignty with personal liberty and free minded people of the world aspired to this basic human right that seem to underpin and integrate with other civil liberties.

Evidence suggests that Chapman on occasions was over ambitious but this contains powerful ingredients of over idealism as to what he could deliver organizationally and at cost. Chapman took risks and bore the consequences. Products of mass consumption, necessity and rapid replacement lend themselves to mass production. In these cases R&D and market research are more easily absorbed. The converse is true of limited production luxury/larger capital items .It is possible that for this reason Chapman relied on his knowledge of the market [competition & production] and considered this cost effective and decisive. Many of his motorcar designs are considered iconic but were not necessarily commercially successful. However it’s self-evident that for every less successful model Chapman returned with vigour having learnt lessons and provided a viable piece. Under these conditions there was the beneficial spiral we have noted between volume and competition results.

It’s notoriously difficult to compare /contrast two so different designers operating on two different continents at different times and in differing socio-economic climates.

Loewy designed products that entered a nation’s culture and contributed to how American consumer sovereignty was respected and aspired to and represented liberty.

His graphic corporation logos are seen and recognized around the world.

On occasions there was beneficial spiral of product, time and place all embracing in an appropriate design or packaging by Loewy. A gift of Loewy was possibly his ability to comprehend needs and translate these into a viable product and as such MAYA will remain a universal. He found a progressive mass common denominator

Chapman and Lotus did not reach perhaps the same mass global audience but approached it through his impact/presence on motor racing and indeed Lotus cars appearance in TV and film. Chapman was an owner designer of complex machinery and produced some designs that are regonised as some of the greatest ever created; Loewy’s automobile aesthetic rather let him down.

Both men have left a considerable Industrial Design legacy. Chapman through Lotus continues today and his design methodology essentially lives on.

Appendix 1. Henry Ford

Directly relevant to our study of Loewy and Industrial design is an appreciation of Henry Ford and Taylorism and other mass production techniques that were present in the USA prior to the economic downturn of the 1920’s and 30’s.

One quotation from Henry Ford is particularly instructive [see Bachelor, reference below]

“I want to build a motor car for the great multitude .It will be large enough for the family, small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials by the best men to be hired after the simplest design and modern engineering can devise. But it will also so low in price that no man making good a good salary will be unable to own one ………….great open spaces”

It’s important to note how this manifesto and programme influenced the Modernist designers of Europe in the early 20c notably Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus [see A&R dedicated article].The importance of precision manufacturer interchangeability, mass production and affordability were paramount factors in design. The Bauhaus designers sought to reconcile mass production with quality design made affordable and readily available to all.

After the success of the Ford Model T, other manufacturers competed by offering more choices and personalization and helped found product design.


By Raymond Loewy:-

American Modern: 1925-1940.Design for a New Age.Johnson.Abrams.2000.

ISBN: 0810942089

Design in America.Meikle.Oxford University Press.2005.

ISBN: 0192842196

Industrial Design.Heskett.Thames and Hudson.1997.

ISBN: 0500201811

Industrial Design A-Z.C&P Fiell.Taschen.2003.

ISBN: 3822824267

Design.Bonny.Larousse Chambers.2005.

ISBN: 0550101942

Design Source Book.Sparke, Hodges, Coad, Stone.Macdonald.1986.

ISBN: 0356120058

The Conran Directory of Design. Edited Bayley.Octupus Conran.1985.

ISBN: 1850290059

Design: Intelligence made Visible. Bayley & Conran.Firefly.2007.

ISBN: 9781554073108

Henry Ford: Mass Production, Modernism and Design.Batchelor.Manchester Uni.Press.1994.

ISBN: 0719041732

Consumer Engineering: A New Approach to Prosperity. Sheldon & Arnes.Harper Bros.1932.

Horizons.Bel Geddes. Little Brown.1932

Inventions.Ed.Wilkinson.Observer .2008.


From the Net:

  • Bayley, Stephen. The Lucky Strike Packet (Design Classics Series), Art Books International Ltd (1998) ISBN 3-931317-72-2
  • Byars, Mel. “Loewy, Raymond” in American National Biography, American Council of Learned Societies (2000)
  • Porter, Glenn. Raymond Loewy Designs for the Consumer Culture, Hagley Museum and Library (2002) ISBN 0-914650-34-3
  • Schoenberger, Angela. Raymond Loewy: Pioneer of American Industrial Design, Prestel Publishing (1991) ISBN 3-7913-1449-1
  • Trétiack, Phillippe. Raymond Loewy and Streamlined Design, New York: Universe (1999)ISBN 0-7893-0328-0

Please note the editors of the A&R attempt to give the broadest spectrum of references but not all are available for consultation in an article. However by noting their existence it may assist students in their research.

*Items in italics non A&R library book