Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Raymond Loewy and His Theory of Evolution

Industrial design is not one of my areas of expertise. But even if you're like me, you've probably heard of the name Raymond Loewy. Loewy was considered to be one of the most prominent industrial designers ever. In fact, I'm sure you've seen many of his designs: the Lucky Strike cigarette logo and package; the Greyhound bus and logo; and numerous refrigerators, ranges, and cars. He was also responsible for the design of numerous retail and commercial interiors, including this bake shop (at top). The man was truly prolific.

Loewy was a major proponent of streamlined design (as is evidenced by the bake shop and his iconic pencil sharpener, seen below, from 1934). So much so, in fact, that in the early 1930s Loewy created a series of evolution charts which showed how everyday objects had become more streamlined through the years. I hate to describe these charts as charming because it's a fluffy word to use in association with industrial design. Still, I did find these charts charming. In this era of everything being supersized, streamlined design is a breath of fresh air.

Loewy's famous pencil sharpener.

The evolution of chairs. Loewy would have been dismayed, I believe, to see those grossly oversized upholstered chairs and sofas that have been popular over the last twenty years.

The evolution of clocks. I still have a weakness for streamlined clocks.

The bathing suit. The big question mark? I suppose that ended up being the thong bikini!

The automobile.

The telephone. Just look at how streamlined our cell phones are.

Women's clothing. Thank goodness for streamlining here. That atrocity of 1980s fashion- the pouf skirt- was simply a hiccup along the way.

Stemware. Nothing beats a sleek champagne flute.

(All images from Depression Modern: The Thirties Style in America.)


  1. It's hard not to use the word charming. I think the charts are brilliant.

  2. Fabulous illustrated timelines!

  3. I'm not the only one, I'm sure, who is itching to frame those charts. So graphic and clever.

  4. Ron ( the netherlands)9:39 AM

    How wonderfull to see these charts.
    You have a keen eye for these things!
    Interesting to see how things evolved. Can we get any more streamlined or slimmer?!

  5. Ron- As they say, you can never be too rich or too thin!

  6. Love the charts (I'd frame them also)--couldn't agree more with the comment on oversized sofas and chairs--so uncomfortable unless you are 6'4" and over. Maybe oversize is so popular because people don't know what else to put in a room?! I do have a few other ideas...

  7. Love those charts. Reminds me of Tufte's books on the visual display of quantitive data that we use in the software business.

  8. A professor once told our class that Loewy's streamlined design was largely an attempt to sell products during the Depression. He said, "Only the moving things like cars and buses are functionally improved by streamlining them, unless you are going to throw the pencil sharpener at someone."

    P.S. It's funny how not just the bathing suits are more streamlined, but so are the people in them!

  9. How interesting ... something I've never thought about!


  10. I'd never seen these evolution charts before, so charming! Great post.

  11. These charts are fabulous - great ideas to frame them, xv.

  12. It's an interesting way to connect design to a timeline and determine what design similarities they share.

  13. Wonderful charts for a bit of sleek design history. I guess Raymond Loewy had a finger in every pie -- it won't come as a surprise that he worked in Limoges too! I mentioned him my Bernardaud post and put in a link to your Nymphenburg.

  14. these are amazing!

    roddy collects raymond loewy's doubinsky frères-2000 line in red/orange and black/silver. extraordinary pieces.

    i've seen some wonderful examples of loewy's work available on ebay. very inexpensive! i know someone who buys only the work loewy produced for air france ... which i find strange but charming!

  15. Love this post! Thanks for the title of the book. I can't wait to order.

    (Mrs. Blandings I too am itching to frame those charts....)

  16. This shows that in a depression real style becomes predominant, lines are sharper, slimmer and we look more at the future. The greatest ideas are born from challenges of the mind.