Raymond Loewy, outside of a Google Doodle and a lovely article at The Verve, to many outside the design world, if you dropped his name today you may get a “who?” To many of those of us in the creative industry, those who awe at the subtle, simple beauty of such contemporaries like Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Loewy’s up there with the greats. Loewy’s face would be carved into the Mount Rushmore (seen below under the flying 747) of designers.
It all began, rather uncharacteristically for many designers, with train steam engines, such as the beautiful art deco (huge fan here) PRR S1, aka “The Big Engine.” Built for the Pennsylvania Railroad company, it was to show off the PRR’s strengths at the 1939’s Worlds Fair. You could call this an example of really large, really heavy rolling advertising. Sadly the steam engine was to become a footnote in rail history, but the beauty of steam train engines and deco train depots live on.
This design aesthetic of art deco, melding a rocketship design into something more firmly planted in terra ferma, extended to other vehicles such as the Studebaker Champion. Photo credit credit: Ruud Onos, Flickr Creative Commons.
It wasn’t all rocketships, Loewy was more a future modernist. He went beyond deco, his aesthetic was clean, minimal lines, such as this 1963 Studebaker Avanti Sketch, a car in my youth a lusted after, even if it has a nose only a mother could love.
While many not old enough to know when The Beatles broke up, or who The Beatles even were, the very cool Greyhound Scenicruiser had quite a long run. Over 1,000 of these were built in the 50s, driving around North America for over two decades. The Scenicruiser was service from 1954 until 1971, proving the design Loewy could conjure could stand the test of time, mostly. Note: To this day I’d love to buy and/or refurbish one into an awesome motor home.
Loewy touched planes, trains, and automobiles (and buses), including the iconic look of Air Force One. I tend to go on and on about simple design is always best (aka Occams Razor), here is a fine example. A gently curving blue that tapers to the plane’s length of white with a light blue undertone, offset with the timeless beauty of Caslon typeface. This design has served every US president since Kennedy, and probably will every next president and plane until the earth is overrun by aliens or zombies.
In a glimpse of Loewy’s “show your work,” you can see doing even a simple design take effort, good design is simple but simple and great is harder than complex and bad. He spend time sketching out the Exxon logo until the right design came out of it. Many a new fresh designer could learn from this simple but valuable lesson. Not discriminating between big oil companies, Loewy was also responsible for the revisioning of the iconic Shell logo.
I encourage anyone interesting in design or the creative industry to learn more about Raymond Loewy by visiting his official site – which, at the moment of writing is having bandwidth issues, not surprisingly thanks to the Google Doodle – Wikipedia, and check out the article on The Verve.