I n a 1958 collection of celebrity recipes, Raymond Loewy was described as “perhaps the world’s most renowned designer… “
“Mr. Loewy spends six months yearly in New York designing everything from airplanes to household appliances. The other six months he travels in France, Italy, Germany, England, and the Scandinavian countries, developing creative ideas.”
Dapper, energetic, and a self-professed gourmet with a keen eye for publicity, Loewy brought a dash of French glamour to the world of industrial design in the United States.
He was The Man Who Shaped America, The Father of Streamlining and The Father of Industrial Design. A French-born American industrial designer who achieved fame for the magnitude of his design efforts; from the locomotive industry to aerospace.
For those who don’t take nicknames seriously, his achievements were impressive enough for him to be featured in Time magazine in 1949 and his career spanned a massive seven decades. Some of his work led to major advancements in theory and some of his work still exists today, timeless.
A fter serving in WW1 and relocating to NYC, Loewy started his career in window design for large stores such as Macy’s and Saks and working as a fashion illustrator for Vogue and Harpers Bazaar. As he began to establish his career as a multifaceted designer working over various industries.
He was then retained by Gestentner to remodel their copying machine. Loewy’s work on making the machine more attractive to consumers has become standard practice for any industrial designer, becoming known as restyling.
After successes on various projects he then set up his own firm which was associated with a steady stream of US design icons—including the “Coldspot” refrigerator, Lucky Strike cigarette packaging, Coca-Cola dispensers and bottles, radios, sewing machines, Rosenthal dinnerware, as well as corporate graphics for Exxon, Shell, BP, the US Postal Service and the iconic Greyhound Scenicruiser bus.
The Lucky Strike packaging was originally designed in 1917 and was simple and sophisticated for the time. There is a story that Raymond Loewy bet $50,000 with the president of American Tobacco that he could improve their already simple and striking packaging. This is a perfect example of Loewy’s MAYA principle, but we’ll touch more on that later.
Raymond proceeded to swap the green pack for white, ramping up the colour contrast with the red logo as well as placing the logo on both sides of the carton to as he put it “to be seen by twice as many people”. These simple changed worked and the Lucky Strike packaging has been a design Icon ever since.
I f you had already heard of Loewy, then it was more than likely for one of his trains. He was involved with numerous railroad designs, for Pennsylvania Railroad but most notably the S1, T1 as well as the GG1 locomotive. He also set about designing the colour scheme and Eagle motif for the first streamliners of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and a number of lesser-known colour scheme and car interior designs for other railroads.
Although not without fault, both the T1 and S1 are amongst some of the most iconic locomotives ever made, with beautifully streamlined body’s that suggest their incredibly powerful engine and robust engineering. The power of the T1 was its downfall however and its most controversial talking point, its huge engine created wheel-slip making it very hard to drive and dangerous at high speeds. The S1 was the biggest steam locomotive ever made, this was its downfall.
The S1 was made to rival its electric counterparts and was supposed to be the first steam locomotive to reach 100mph pulling 1000 tonnes. However, the current railway network wasn’t made for such large trains and the S1 could barely navigate the systems tight corners, making it a nuisance to use.
A mongst his most famous work, was his designs for the car manufacturer Studebaker. Loewy first began working for Studebaker in 1939 and started work with the principal designer Virgil Exner. Together their designs first began appearing in the late-1930s.
During World War II, the American government placed restrictions on in-house design departments for important civilian automobile manufacturers preventing official work on civilian automobiles. This was designed to limit the amount of work on commercial ventures to focus their attention on manufacturing for the war effort.
Lowey’s firm was independent of “The Big Three” of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler with Studebaker sitting fourth on the list. This meant that they dodged the restrictions. This permitted Studebaker to launch the first post-war automobile in 1947, two years ahead of the “Big Three”. His team developed an advanced design featuring new and futuristic wheel arches and clean rearward lines.
The Loewy staff, headed by his partner Exner, also created the Starlight body, which featured a rear-window system that wrapped 180° around the rear seat. The Starlight has consistently ranked as one of the best-designed cars of the 1950s. Then in 1953 Loewy and the firm created the Starliner, often recognized today as “one of the most beautiful cars ever made”.
Then in 1954, Greyhound bought Loewy’s design for the Scenicruiser which quickly became an icon of the typical American way of like. Partly due to its presence throughout the USA in cities and along highways and popularity with the traveling public, as well as the rise in American press outside the U.S after the war. The name was a portmanteau, or a blending if you will of the words “scenic” and “cruiser”.
O f course the natural progression of any self-respecting designer is from car manufacturing to Space travel! From 1967 to 1973, Loewy worked for NASA as a Habitability Consultant for the design of the SkyLab space station which launched in 1973.
Loewy’s main job was to improve the psychology, safety, and comfort of the manned spacecraft. Loewy suggested a number of improvements to the layout, such as the implementation of a wardroom, where the crew could eat and work together, the wardroom window, the dining table and the colour design, among others.
A key feature of His design for the sleep compartments was that the floor plan for each of the three was different to create a sense of individual identity for each compartment. He thought of everything and his designs included sleep restraints, storage lockers, privacy partitions, lighting, privacy curtains, mirrors and even the towel holders.
The table in the shared space was designed in order to avoid creating hierarchical positions within the crew during long and stressful missions. Again, everything was taken into account, food was eaten using cutlery which were held in place on the table by magnets and liquids were drunk from squeezable plastic containers.
Design Methodology and MAYA
S o now that we’ve explored in brief the varied extent of his career, id like to speak about his design process and ethos, named MAYA. Loewy understood how essential package design and branding could be in the success of a product or even an organization. He realised the impact that good industrial design may have on the daily lives of the millions that see and interact with i. it was this that sparked one of his most successful designs. In 1962 he designed the livery for John F Kennedys Air Force One plane, a humble Boeing 707. His simple and sophisticated design helped create a global image and brand for the Kennedy administration.
MAYA stands for “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” Loewy believed that even though your design may be far better than anything people are currently using, it will ultimately fail if people find I too different, and too uncomfortable to use.
“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.”
So let’s look at a few examples.
For those into their music you may know that Spotify offers a personalized weekly playlist, called Discover Weekly. It includes both songs that a user has both listened too as well as those they haven’t listened too before. Without the mixture of familiar songs Spotify found that users were intimidated by a long list of unfamiliar music and engagement fell after removing the familiar songs.
The MAYA principle also extends to film. This is a good and simple example since the highest-grossing movies in 15 of the last 16 years have been a sequel or adaptation of something that was already successful. At one point, Uber branded itself as the “Airbnb for cars.” Now, Uber is the example that other start-ups are building off of.
When Apple brought out the iPad one of its first apps was ‘Notes’. This was because they were trying to convince people that it was a useful work tool. Apple realised they didn’t want to scare off the people who have spent 20 years using pen and paper and developed the app to look like an old notepad.
When researchers and designers are trying to get their work made or studies published, they are acutely aware that their work must be related to a well-known concept or framework in order for the masses to digest the significance of their work.
How do we follow MAYA?
I n my opinion all good products start by research the needs and wants of the end-user. The best designers realize that what may work for one set of users isn’t always going to work for the other.
Making too many changes that don’t follow the above rules will only result in confusing users and adding to their cognitive load. the purpose of user design isn’t to be flashy but to reduce the cognitive load the user experience. If the design has value but is too foreign for users then maybe it’s time to hold off on a big push and slow down the release to make it easier for the user to grasp, more like bitesize chunks. Gradually releasing you’ll allow users to become accustomed to the design just as Apple did.
Loewy believed customers look forward to new things but have a fear of anything totally too new. It’s like a gradual evolution, not like a total revolution. People desire a slightly futuristic design but also still like the previous design. That explains why people feel excited about the surprising new generation of products but know it belongs to a specific brand’s design language.
Something to bear in mind is that sometimes a new design can depart too far from the norm increasing the risk of bad user experience. The risk then increases if the gap between the advanced product and norm are too far apart. Large companies can create very successful products by only making minor changes in styling.
This method is applied in many industries today with big companies creating their norms to allow their products and services to be familiar. Great designers both understand and follow the rules in designing products. Large companies have more powerful tools to impact these norms of design and are able to use their influence to make their new designs accepted quicker whereas small companies take more of a creative risk if their products depart too far from the norms.
MAYA is a way of reducing risk and improving your ability to create a product ready for the current market that the user will both appreciate and want to see more of!
All in all, Raymond Loewy was one of the greatest industrial designers we have seen, and with all great people they leave behind a legacy both with their work and by setting a clear path for those after. With his career and his principle, he has achieved both.
If you’re interested in this side of design then check out our other Article on the design principle ‘Consistency’.
If you’re now on the way to being a Loewy superfan you can check out this video which I thought was fantastic! Click here!!!
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