Walter and Jo Landor

Walter and Jo Landor

Walter Landor


Walter Landor, an industrial designer and pioneer in branding, created some of the world’s most recognizable packages, brands, and trademarks.


Walter Landor (born on July 9, 1913, in Munich, Germany; died June 9, 1995, in Tiburon, CA), an industrial designer and visionary pioneer in branding, created some of the world’s most recognizable packages, brands, and trademarks. Born in Munich, he grew up around contemporary artists and designers. His professional development began with his father, an architect, and continued with his formal education in Great Britain. In 1939 Landor came to the United States to work on the British Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. In 1941, he started his company Walter Landor and Associates (later Landor Associates) in San Francisco with his wife Josephine Martinelli. He was able to inspire and organize his staff of creative associates to create enduring and memorable designs and cultivate lasting relationships with his clients. Landor re-introduced contemporary retail packaging and design in the United States, leading the consumer boom of the post-World War II era. His first clients were local companies in the San Francisco Bay area such as wineries and breweries, but the list rapidly expanded. In 1962, Landor bought a retired ferryboat, the Klamath. It became his company’s headquarters and included offices, studios, a mock supermarket, and the Museum of Packaging Antiquities. The unique setting at Pier 5 on the waterfront attracted new national and international clients from a variety of different businesses and industries, including banking and finance, retail consumer goods, and commercial aviation.

Family and Ethnic Background

Walter Landor, the son of Fritz and Elsie Landauer, was born Walter Fritz Joseph Landauer in the Schwabing section of Munich on July 9, 1913. His paternal grandfather, Joseph, was a textile industrialist in Augsburg. His father became a prominent architect who designed the synagogues in Augsburg and Plauen. While the synagogue in Augsburg can be described as traditional, the synagogue in Plauen had a non-traditional, cube-like exterior that followed the contemporary Bauhaus style.[1]

Landor grew up around art and artists in comfortable surroundings. His parents entertained frequently and hosted dinner parties with friends and associates from a variety of businesses and professions. The family enjoyed the arts with regular visits to the cultural institutions of Munich. Sunday family trips were often to the English Garden, art museums, sometimes to an avant-garde art gallery or to the surrounding areas of the countryside. Walter’s uncle Richard, a book publisher in Berlin, regularly sent Walter and his older sister Gertrude art books and design magazines that contained some of the latest Werkbund and Bauhaus publications.[2]

Although the Landauers were Jewish, they did not practice their religion. Walter felt that his family provided a strong moral foundation that was often supplemented by attending local lectures on subjects such as ethics and moral philosophy. They provided Walter, a quick learner, with an open mind to listening to differing opinions and to discussing different points of view.[3]

During his formative years, Walter spent most of his after-school time at his father’s office and studio, where he developed an interest in architecture and design. However, when it came time for him to learn architectural drafting, he realized that he “had absolutely no talent for it. I decided that I would concentrate on designing everyday products that would make life more pleasant and more beautiful and appeal to the mass audience.”[4] Landor turned to the study of industrial design, where he took advantage of “the privilege [of] being brought up in an environment where the ideas of the Werkbund and the Bauhaus” schools of industrial design were very influential.[5]

The Werkbund movement started in Germany in 1907 and set the stage for the academic training and development of professional designers. Supporters of the movement set out to establish the improvement of production for the manufacturer and to increase sales to the consumer in a mass-market-based economy. Through the Werkbund’s mantra “form follows function,” specific objects were designed to make their production easier and their utilitarianism apparent to the consumer.[6]

The Bauhaus school of design in post-World War I Germany followed the mission of the Werkbund movement to foster professional design and to work with manufacturing and industry by recruiting and developing the best talent in design, crafts, and engineering to reunite art and industrial design.[7] The Bauhaus school had a profound influence upon subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography.

For Landor, it became apparent that he “wanted to create a more aesthetically beautiful environment, to increase the everyday enjoyment of life through design.”[8] He saw the potential and power of how design could affect the emotions of people and decided to focus his career on designing for the mass audience.

Studying in Great Britain

In 1932, Walter Landor went to Great Britain for six months as an exchange student to study art and improve his English. He interned at the W.S. Crawford, Ltd advertising agency in the copywriting and marketing departments. He appreciated his time at the ad agency, particularly in the art department, but it left him unsatisfied as to how the design of everyday objects connected with consumers. The six months in England passed quickly and as he prepared for his return trip home, he noticed a change in his own attitude about himself and his life back in Germany. He decided that he wanted to become English and “wipe out [his] German background – or at least the negative part of it.” He also noticed that his English improved and his “accent had become more British than British” and planned to return to England as soon as possible: “I had seen my future and it was not Germany.”[9]

After working at his uncle’s textile mill in Augsburg, learning business accounting and dealing with salesmen and union workers, Landor returned to Great Britain, this time to continue with his formal education. He enrolled at the Goldsmith College of Art in London, where he studied under Milner Gray, a well-known designer in Britain. Shortly after graduation, Landor was offered a job at the Bassett-Gray advertising and marketing company, where he was assigned to design packages using different plastics as the primary materials.[10] In 1935, Misha Black, a specialist in exhibit design, joined the company and together Gray, Black, Landor, and two others formed their own company, International Design Partnership (IDP). Each partner came to the firm from a different field of expertise in design and they were noted for their remarkable ability to work in collaboration with one another.[11] A year later, at the age of twenty-three, Landor became the youngest Fellow of the Royal Society of Industrial Artists, a title that recognized his expertise in the new field of industrial design in Great Britain. He consequently changed his name to Landor.[12] He had found success in Britain along with recognition and professional accolades, and he found a new identity.

Coming to the United States

Foreseeing that leading events on the world stage would escalate to levels of great uncertainty, the IDP partnership decided to take a pro-active approach if Great Britain was indeed dragged into war. In late 1938, Gray and Black used their connections to land a contract for designing a section of the British Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. In the spring of 1939, Landor came to America to help install the IDP section of the British Pavilion. While at the World’s Fair, he met two well-known American industrial designers, Richard Loewy and Henry Dreyfus.[13] He also met with the designers from General Electric’s Plastics Division to discuss the role of industrial design and GE’s use of plastics in industrial design.[14]

With war rising in Europe, Landor decided with his partners’ approval to take some time away from the World’s Fair to travel across the country. His wanted to meet professional industrial designers and learn about business opportunities from his contemporaries in the United States. He also wanted to see for himself “how American industrial designers had succeeded so miraculously, so dramatically, more than we had in London.”[15]

Throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s, the role of industrial designers grew more important. By creating or adding style to manufactured products, they made it attractive for the manufacturers and retailers to continue selling their goods and products.[16] The success of General Motors throughout the Depression was based on its regularly scheduled changes in the designs of its automobiles. While GM flourished (along with several other manufacturers of consumer goods), the Ford Motor Company lost its hold as the number one automobile manufacturer during these years. From 1927 to 1937, GM earned a profit every year, while Ford introduced only one new automobile, the Model A, and lost about $200 million during the same period.[17] American consumers became accustomed to the introduction of annual design changes of models and styles in the automotive industry.[18] Using more instinct or “gut reaction” than philosophy or theory, industrial designers in the Unites States reasoned that “[i]f products looked better, they would sell better.” In doing so, the designers, “have been credited with making a major contribution to getting the American economy moving,” by appealing to the American consumers to buy and buy again.[19]

Following the Great Depression, industrial designers in the United States began to examine the relationship between the manufacturing processes to create an object and the desire to sell a better product. Designers such as Loewy and Dreyfus began to work alongside engineers and factory workers at the manufacturing plant to make products that would work better—not just look better.

Traveling across the country and interviewing industrial designers along the way, Landor eventually made his way to Los Angeles in hopes of finding a job with a design firm. He was unsuccessful. Upon hearing that San Francisco possibly had opportunities for professional industrial designers, he decided to travel up the coast to investigate his prospects there.[20] While San Francisco was not an industrial city, he realized that there were some food processing companies—and that would mean packaging.

After arriving in San Francisco in November of 1939, Landor quickly realized that “this is the time, this is the place.”[21] He was introduced to Glen Wessels of the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Wessels offered him a job teaching product design and industrial design in the new Industrial Design department.[22] Landor started in January 1940. There in the first class, sitting in the front row, was Josephine “Jo” Martinelli (born September 12, 1918 in Madera, CA). The two fell in love and soon married. In 1941, Walter and Jo established Walter Landor & Associates (WL&A) in a small flat in the Russian Hill area of San Francisco, with Jo as “the associates.” Landor remembered his instant fascination with San Francisco: “For me it was a city that looked on the whole world, a city built on the cultural traditions of East and West … how could I live anywhere else?”[23]

Walter became a U.S. citizen in December 1943. By that time, his parents had immigrated to England and relocated to Welwyn, near London. His father found work designing small-scale projects on a few retail storefronts and eventually started a small business designing cemetery monuments. His mother Elsie taught French and German to schoolchildren in the London area.[24]

The Early 1940s: Business Beginnings in San Francisco

Landor’s first contracts as an industrial designer came from local projects based in San Francisco. Walter and Jo collaborated on interior designs for Joseph Magnin department stores, the Pony Lounge in the Hotel Don, and Lester’s Market supermarket.[25] But it was the shortage of metal during World War II that forced the manufacturers of canned fruits and vegetables to switch to glass containers and this provided Landor with his first client: S&W Foods of San Francisco. Landor’s design also needed to be functional for the new and rapidly growing phenomenon of self-service supermarkets. His innovative design placed the brand name at a consistent location on all S&W products, which made it easier for the customer to read, and there was a blank area on either the label or the lid for the grocer to mark the price.[26]

In 1945 Walter and Jo Landor relocated their office and studios to 556 Commercial Street, an area near the Chinatown district of San Francisco. Several freelance art studios were already in the area and many artists were veterans who had returned from the war and were embarking on creative careers. When potential clients came to visit his office, Landor would introduce these freelance artists as if they were his associates to make the operations of WL&A seem larger than they were. If he landed a contract, he would offer contracts to some of the freelance talent to help with the work.[27]

It was during this time that WL&A expanded with new artists and illustrators who would become core members of the firm. While teaching at the San Francisco School of Fine Arts, Landor met Rodney McKnew, a student and free-lance artist, who soon came on board as an associate. Freelance graphic illustrators Francis Mair and Lillian Sader, who both had relocated from Chicago, also joined WL&A as associates. In a business with frequent staff changes and high turnover rates, Landor was able to successfully recognize and assemble talent, then bind it to the company long-term. McKnew, Mair, and Sader remained with WL&A for over forty years as design associates and later as senior staff.[28]

The Late 1940s: Expanding to the Northwest and Beyond

By the late 1940s, Walter and Jo were looking to expand their business geographically beyond San Francisco. They headed north up the Pacific Coast to Seattle to meet the owner of the Seattle Brewing and Malting Company. Fritz Sick and his son Emil had purchased the brewery in 1935; by 1948, Emil Sick had taken over the family business and decided that it was time to update and modernize the look of the product. The existing label prominently used the number “6” (“six” rhymes with Sicks’). However, the label appeared old and was not selling in the new self-service stores. Sicks’ Select became Walter Landor’s first label design outside the San Francisco Bay area. This was his opportunity to rejuvenate the label and at the same time demonstrate that the new design would increase sales by making the packaging more distinctive and attractive.

The redesign for Sicks’ Select went beyond just the typical placement of labels and brand names on bottles and cans. Landor expanded the project by placing two primary design elements of the Sicks’ Select brand onto larger packaging components, such as the cardboard box shipping containers, and smaller components, such as bottle tops. He explained how “shipping cases were re-designed to become forceful advertising mediums at no extra printing cost. Eye-compelling when stacked, they maintain that high quality look of the foil label, in spite of the printing limitations applying to shipping cases.”[29] For Landor, every surface should communicate the message of the brewer. As the American Brewer reported in 1949, it was “Landor’s contention that ‘every inch counts in modern merchandising’ is borne out by the manner in which the [every] area … succeeds in making the consumer feel that real care and perfection has gone into this particular bottle of beer.”[30] The design needs to communicate “something of importance to people . . . or it fails utterly to leave an imprint . . . and a future sale has been lost.”[31]

The design of Sicks’ Select drew attention and recognition from other brewers. In the beer label competition at the Small Brewers Association (SBA) annual conference in 1948, the design for Sicks’ Select won first prize. Landor’s success in the SBA beer label competitions continued for the next several years as he earned at least one major design award every year.

The redesign of the labels and packaging for Sicks’ Select launched Walter Landor’s career into designing labels and packaging for breweries. No longer only a local designer in San Francisco, he had successfully expanded his business to the Pacific Northwest. These labels earned Landor his earliest awards for design and that opened doors to new clients in a growing market across the country through most of the 1950s.

Landor was aware that individually packaged goods had developed as an important component in advertising and marketing. To Walter, the design of the package for a product needed to identify an old favorite or entice the consumer to a new or improved product and “the package itself must do the talking.”[32] The package also provided a sense of quality from the manufacturer which, to Landor, was no less a promise or a commitment to the consumer for the price of the product in the package.[33]

Landor continued to experiment with new materials and tried printing on foil for packaging. In 1950, the Bonner Packing Co. was one of California's oldest processors of dried fruit. Landor introduced full color photographic printing on foil to display the fruit as naturally and as “eye-catchingly” as possible. The foil wrapper also served as added protection against spoilage. The executives at Bonner’s were so pleased with the new packaging that they allowed Landor to put his signature along the edge of the package label.[34]

Landor’s innovations in bottle designs, packaging, and labels for wineries often caused spectacular increases in sales for these new clients. Petri Wines, the number one winery in California during the late 1940s, had been selling its table wines in non-descript gallon jugs. Landor redesigned the bottles and labels for the entire line of Petri Signature wines. In addition, he presented an attractive prototype of the gallon bottle and labels for the whole winery.[35] Landor also produced several new designs for Mission Bell Wineries of California. His team of designers created new labels for their stock bottles and introduced a new design for their half-gallon, quart, and fifth bottles, keeping the image of the architectural styles of the old missions and the old bell. The managers at Mission Bell were pleased with the success of the new designs, although it caused problems for some retailers who complained that they were stuck with old inventories as “wine in the new packages far outsold other wine in the older containers.”[36]

During this time, Landor began to expand his business beyond the West Coast and set his sights on the breweries in the Midwest. The Gettelman Brewing Company of Milwaukee presented Landor with a commendation after he redesigned the Gettelman’s label in 1950. By the fall of the year, Thomas R. Gettelman, vice president, boasted that “[o]ur bottle sales in October, 1950, against October, 1949, showed an increase of 58 per cent.”[37] The Gettelman’s label also won first place at the 1952 Brewers’ Association of America competition.

The 1950s: New Business Strategies

In 1951, Landor moved his company from 556 Commercial Street to larger spaces at 143 Bush Street. Don Short, a freelance artist who did occasional work for WL&A, joined the firm in 1951 as studio director. He installed an in-house photography studio to shoot food products and other still-lives.[38] Photographic realism serves as a key design element to create a tempting appearance on the package for a food product. A color photograph of a slice of cake on the box of a cake mix introduces the flavor or taste of the cake. Design elements for frozen foods packages and labels on canned fruits and vegetables also include photographs to depict serving suggestions for these products.[39] Integrating in-house control over the design process, Landor and his designers used the studio to develop the packaging labels for Bel-Air, the house brand of Safeway frozen foods. As the first of many designs for Bel-Air, the designers employed photographs of vegetables and designed an abstract outline of a leaf as the background for the name Bel-Air. Safeway used this basic graphic for their Bel-Air products until the 1990s.[40]

In the early 1950s, Landor began taking prototypes of his packaging and label designs into supermarkets to solicit responses from shoppers. He would get permission from the store manager to conduct surveys, then put his designs on the shelves and move things around. He would select random shoppers and ask them which package they liked while an assistant would record which designs they selected. However, all too often a crowd would gather around Walter and the store manager would come and ask him to leave. The one supermarket that allowed Landor to pre-test his designs in the store was Safeway, because “we did so much Safeway product that they would set it up through the management, so they had to accommodate us.”[41] Except for some well-established East Coast designers who hired advertising consultants for their national brand clients, local printers did most retail packaging. Landor’s presence in San Francisco stores moved in step with like-minded colleagues as they pre-tested their designs. Thanks to his method of interacting directly with customers to document their feedback, and then leave armed with their comments, he was able report to his corporate clients that the final design would indeed be successful in the marketplace.

For Landor no two projects were alike; there was no cookie-cutter approach or designer’s signature style at WL&A. Each client received the same amount of consideration—for Landor it was the expectation to produce the best design for a client that represented the product and the company. His researchers traced the visual history of the graphics, images, and advertisements as he reviewed the visual elements of a product, company, or brand. In the end, the final design would identify and unify the image with the consumer. For Walter it was not enough to create an artistically pleasing design; the design needed to capture the character and personality of the product, company, or brand.[42]

1952 was an important year in Walter Landor’s career. He had won several awards over the previous three years from the Small Brewers Association and was then invited to deliver the keynote address at their annual meeting in Chicago on October 13, 1952. In his presentation, “Gentlemen, Your Label is Showing. Is It Selling Beer for You?” he emphasized that the design of an appropriate label is necessary for sales and brand recognition. Landor then outlined the steps for the design of a successful beer label. With top management of many breweries at the association meeting, his speech opened the doors for new clients, especially to the brewers in the Midwest markets of Milwaukee and St. Louis and eastward to the breweries in New York.[43]

Also in 1952, Landor became a founding member of the newly formed Packaging Designers’ Council (PDC), a professional association for industrial designers that specialized in designing packages. At a time when most industrial design companies were headquartered in New York or Chicago, Landor’s membership in the PDC enabled him to advertise his services nationally—primarily as an underdog firm. Later in articles and press releases, Landor claimed that he was the only industrial designer in the West.[44] Whether it was true or not, with each new project he began to chip away at the monolithic domination of the design firms in the East. Two years later Landor declared with a bit of bravado in a press release: “New York’s title as the top design city in the nation is being challenged by San Francisco. Landor has been bringing a fresh western approach and new imagination to the field of design.”[45]

In 1954, Landor won design awards from the Package Designers’ Council for Lone Star Brewing of San Antonio, Texas. They presented him with the category of “Best Coordinated Packaging” for the designs of labels, cans, bottles, crowns, six-packs, shipping cases, trucks, and drivers' uniforms. At the Brewers' Association of America, he won eight out of nine awards for brewers in six different states. He also won the grand prize award for design for the fifth consecutive year.[46]

In 1955, the owners of Stitzel-Weller of Louisville, KY, wanted to develop a holiday season promotional decanter for their Old Fitzgerald bourbon. Landor required his team to go beyond creating just a simple decanter. The final design for the candlelight decanter was selected from among fifty alternative designs. The new decanter gained in popularity not only because of its contemporary look but also because of its innovative “after-use” at home. After the decanter was empty, the bottle and accessories functioned as candleholders.[47]

Walter Landor and his team faced a design challenge of a different sort when the leader in bottled water for commercial venues, Arrowhead & Puritas of Los Angeles, wanted to introduce half-gallon glass bottles to the home and restaurant market. Glass containers of this size were unwieldy and heavy, particularly when filled, making them awkward for people seated at a table to lift. The bottle’s design had to overcome this difficulty.[48] WL&A designers studied in depth how the product worked, how it was made, and how the consumer used it. The “tilt bottle” Landor developed had two flat surfaces and did not have to be lifted to refill an empty glass, nor did it require a handle to be passed from person to person. The bottle’s curves resembled the shape of early nineteenth-century glass flasks, and its rocking motion made the container easy to use. The design’s main advantage, Walter stressed, was that “the user—by tilting the bottle—[could] pour without lifting.”[49] Walter’s team created an elegant and practical decanter for storing and serving bottled water.

In 1956, with the increase in the number of clients as well as staff members, WL&A needed a larger space for offices and studios and Landor moved his company to a waterfront building at Pier 5. The expanded office space included offices and meeting rooms for newly formed research groups and he installed “a mock retail environment to help designers and clients visualize the new packages in the real-life context of grocery shelves.”[50] From an inconspicuous location, the researchers could watch the shoppers as they passed through the aisles with their shopping carts and then, in groups or individually, ask them about the packages for the products they did or didn’t put into their carts during their shopping experience. Landor used this method of consumer research and interview feedback extensively for testing the designs of his packages.

For the rest of the decade, WL&A’s main sources of business were breweries and wineries. California breweries Regal Amber Brewing Co. and Lucky Lager and local wineries Old Guild Wines and Paul Masson signed on as clients. Sapporo Brewery of Japan became Landor’s first client in Asia and provided a foothold there for future expansion throughout the Pacific Rim. Landor’s Sapporo label highlighted the American influence on marketing Japanese products after World War II.

The 1960s: Business Growth and Transitions

“I think that in our organization, we wanted simplicity, elegance, quality and longevity – these were the prime philosophies of Walter.”[51]

The 1960s opened as a time of both growth and transition for Landor. While the business expanded with clients across the nation and overseas, WL&A’s services also expanded beyond labels and packaging. More and more companies, mostly West Coast or repeat clients, turned to the designers at Landor. Landor’s team began to create new corporate images for large conglomerates and continued with traditional mass marketing and advertising for the banking and finance sectors, retail consumer goods, and commercial aviation.

For example, Landor revived the historic and well-known image of the Wells Fargo stagecoach and the Old West and placed it within the framework of a contemporary styled diamond. The new graphic symbol for Wells Fargo became widely recognizable when revealed in a marketing survey, which showed that “72 percent of Californians in Wells Fargo’s target areas can identify it, without any lettering.”[52]

In terms of consumer goods, he introduced a new presentation of Hills Bros Coffee’s three-pound coffee can. For over thirty years, they had packed and sold their coffee in cans with a label of an Arabian holding a steaming cup of coffee. Now their design included a selection of wood-cut illustrations and Ansel Adams photographs of the Western wilderness. Over a span of five years, Landor introduced a series of seven decorated coffee cans.[53] For Phillip Morris, Landor designed new packaging and labels for the Commander, Benson & Hedges, and Alpine brands of cigarettes. Benson & Hedges subsequently became one of Philip Morris’ most popular brands. The well-known image of the spoon and the rooster on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes cereal box also harkens back to Walter Landor & Associates.”[54]

All Aboard the Klamath

Once again looking for new office space in the early 1960s, Landor’s real estate advisor suggested acquiring the Klamath, a retired ferry boat that was moored across the bay. Landor paid $20,000 at a bankruptcy sale in 1962 ($144,000 in 2010 USD) and the renovations cost roughly $220,000 (about $1.6 million in 2010 USD).[55] The architect gutted the interior of the boat and installed two levels of office space and an outdoor deck. With 22,000 square feet of office space, the Klamath was large enough to hold four design sections, a larger research area for focus groups, an improved supermarket setting, an expanded photo studio, and a slide library to organize their visual records.[56] The renovations required building and installing partitions, drop ceilings, heating, air conditioning, plumbing, electrical connections, telephones, and intercoms, as well as “a good supply of Dramamine anti-sea-sickness pills for the staff.” Windows around all three decks and skylights above provided natural lighting around the boat and from the top deck.[57] The ship’s bell was rung every time a new project had landed.[58]

A new space specifically built for that purpose displayed Landor’s collection of advertising objects and memorabilia. Named the Museum of Antique Packaging, it showcased an informal collection of packaging from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that represented nostalgic views of some well-known products as well as some obscure products that no longer existed. The displays on the museum shelves served both as a reminder of past products and designs for Landor’s associates to consult and as a unique attraction to entertain his clients.[59] As a visual link to the past, the collection would also document the gradual changes in design over time.

In short, the Klamath provided the backdrop of a new and exciting place for Landor’s employees, customers, and prospective clients.[60] Docked at Pier 5 along the Embarcadero, the Klamath looked upon the San Francisco skyline, the Bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Being on a boat was a unique experience in which “the rise and fall of the horizon reminds you that you’re on water. The motion is accented by chain suspended lamps that swing to and fro.”[61] Away from the downtown city and traffic noise, the Klamath provided an idyllic setting for creativity and imagination where “only the sea gulls can interrupt the meeting.”[62] As Walter Landor recalled, the setting of the Klamath along the harbor allowed the team of designers to think and daydream. Obviously, it was the perfect setting for his creative staff.[63]

During the twenty years on the Klamath, Landor’s company expanded continuously and its list of clients rapidly grew larger. The size and scope of projects for Landor also grew beyond packaging and labels for products on supermarket shelves. Clients came to San Francisco to see what was different about the unique office on a ferryboat. They wanted to experience the unconventional atmosphere of a design company that produced such creative and financially rewarding results.

The 1970s: New Clients

Among the industries that sought out Landor’s services while aboard the Klamath were financial institutions that needed new corporate symbols, airlines that wanted new graphics on their aircrafts, and manufacturers of traditional consumer goods that wished to update their products and businesses.

Consumer surveys conducted by Landor’s research staff discovered that individuals viewed Bank of America, the largest bank in the United States, as impersonal and oriented primarily toward large corporate accounts. Landor developed the BA monogram to communicate “something quite wonderful and strange happening between [the two letters]. The majority of the people see a bird. It was conceived as … a non-threatening symbol more like an old-time monogram. It’s a very personal statement.” The new logo helped Bank of America present a friendlier face to their customers.[64]

When the national airline of Italy, Alitalia, was interested in a corporate image, interviews conducted by Landor with air travelers revealed that they thought Alitalia was a small domestic airline. The technical challenge of the fresh design was that the graphics needed to be applied to a variety of aircrafts, such as 747's and DC-10's, as well as the flight uniforms, interiors, tickets, and printed materials. Using the national colors of Italy, Landor completed his first graphics and markings program for a major airline in 1969.[65] He was also hired by executives at Thai International, who sought to develop a graphical image for the national airline without incorporating a symbol that could be mistaken as a religious element in Buddhism. After months of research, an abstract symbol using color and patterns reached out to international travelers. While the colors and pattern of the image depict an exotic destination, it also represented Thailand and not the neighboring countries.[66] George McLean, who worked on the project, remembered that “[this symbol] implies a considerable sensitivity and involvement in the culture of the country.”[67]

Landor also did work for domestic carriers. Despite being the sixth largest carrier in the United States in 1975, passengers and employees thought of Allegheny Airlines as a regional and conservative company. In working with Landor, Allegheny wanted to retain a certain amount of their image but with a bit of modern “progressiveness.” Landor’s “colorful ‘flight sweep’ curve design accomplished these objectives.”[68] When the Federal government deregulated the U.S. airline industry in the 1980s, Landor changed the name of Allegheny to USAir. The new corporate image of the airline boosted company morale with the name change as USAir repainted all of their aircraft with Landor’s strong and bold graphics to draw attention to the new name.[69]

One of the first designs to mix capital and lowercase letters within a single logo was Landor’s new garment label for Levi Strauss blue jeans.[70] The design tandem collaborated to design the distinctive tag that mimicked the stitch pattern on the hip pocket, creating the lettering and the red shield separately. When the National Cotton Council was seeking a new logo, Landor developed the “Seal of Cotton.” But one of Walter Landor’s favorite projects was for the Miller Brewing Company. When Miller Brewing of Milwaukee bought the Peter Hand Brewery of Chicago in 1967, the sale included their recipes and brand names. In the early 1970s, Miller put the low-calorie recipe into production and introduced a brand new beer: “Lite” by Miller Brewing.[71] Miller Brewing was already familiar with Landor’s expertise and methods from the redesigned labels for Miller High Life, Miller Ale, and Miller Malt Liquor. All of these labels featured the script Miller name with the distinctive scroll underneath. When Miller Brewing wanted to introduce Lite, as a “low-calorie, low-carbohydrate” beer, they again went to Landor Associates.[72] The two companies collaborated to review market research, financial planning, distribution, advertising, and an aggressive competitive philosophy. For Miller Brewing, the purpose of the design for Lite was to convince the American male beer drinker that it was acceptable to order and enjoy a low-calorie beer. The visual elements for Lite needed to “communicate masculinity and ‘beeriness’ and give the Lite brand an impressive visual impact.”[73] The success of Miller Lite was a sensation in the brewing industry. Sales sky-rocketed and Miller Brewing moved from seventh-largest brewery in 1973 to second-largest in 1977.[74] Shortly after Miller introduced Lite, the other national breweries came out with their own low-calorie beers. However, Miller Lite remained the top-selling low-calorie, low-carbohydrate beer for nearly two decades.[75] Landor explained the secret of his design: “It’s a light beer. No, we’re not saying it design wise, we’re making a rather heavy, bold, Germanic lettering for the word Lite. It contradicts the spirit of the word, intentionally. We are saying to people, this is a full-bodied, full-flavored beer.”[76]

The 1980s and 1990s: Creating Corporate Identities

During the 1980s, Landor’s services expanded beyond packaging and product labels to include the concept of packaging and branding entire companies. International conglomerates and the makers of the world’s most recognizable soft drink came to Walter Landor and his experts in search of the right visual symbol, a “corporate identity” for the whole company.

For instance, Landor and his associates created the strong, recognizable symbol of the World Wildlife Fund, a furry black and white ambassador, that is still used today. They also changed the Western International Hotel Corporation to Westin Hotels and developed a new visual symbol that consolidated the brand identity throughout the company for the independently named hotels under the Westin name, so that Westin affiliates were now able to compete with the prestige of the Hilton or Hyatt line of hotels for the upscale visitor.[77]

Continuing his work for airlines, Landor created new aircraft markings and graphics for British Airways as the company prepared its fleet of 167 aircraft for privatization in February 1985. Although the use of the gold crest of the Royal family and a partial Union Jack on the tail section were criticized by some, Landor’s surveys determined that the response from the flying public was overall positive and the symbol communicated “an endorsement, a hallmark of quality” to the consumer.[78] The new design for British Airways appeared on all “subsonic aircraft, ground equipment, and paperwork, including baggage tags, tickets, and stationery.”[79] In 1985, Landor completed the work on the British Airways Concorde Supersonic Transport (SST). The new Landor design of the Concorde included new exterior markings as well as redesigned seating and aisles to create a more spacious interior.[80]

In the early 1960s, the Coca-Cola Company had begun to expand with new products, packaging, and containers. By the 1980s, they had formally introduced the “Coke” name to six products. However, in the mid-1980s, the different graphics on the packaging looked like competitors rather than a family of products on the supermarket shelves. Landor’s designers understood the importance of preserving the historic value of the world-wide recognition of the Coca-Cola signature. The final design modified the script by eliminating the upward stroke in the letterL” to accommodate the integration of the upsweep, also in “Coke,” of the new silver and white curve. [81]

In 1994, Landor Associates changed the name and the visual identity of two companies: Xerox and Federal Express. By 1994, the Xerox Corporation had grown beyond being just a copier firm. Xerox had diversified and expanded their line of office products and services to printers, scanners, and fax machines. To update its image and brand, Xerox changed its name and visual identity to “The Document Company – Xerox.” The company unveiled a new company symbol – a pixilated “X,” giving the feeling of moving between the “paper and the electronic worlds.” [82] Then, in June 1994, Frederick W. Smith, founder of Federal Express in 1973, announced the new name for the overnight package delivery company was FedEx. In renaming the company and designing the new graphical image, Landor capitalized on the colloquial name FedEx that was simpler and had become “a household name and even a verb.” The final graphic placed an arrow within the brand name to symbolize “the company's speed and efficiency” that reached 187 countries daily.[83]

Social Status and Personality

Walter Landor’s approach to success was through his connections in the general business community in the Bay Area and through connections in national professional associations. With his quiet voice and measured discourse, reminiscent of a college professor, Landor was convincing in his approach when he met with clients and reporters. Even his accent, while mildly perceptible, sounded “more European” than specifically identifiable. Through his own style of self-promotion, and always in an understated manner, Landor usually let his clients or the work he did for his clients speak for his success.

The Klamath’s unique character added to his notoriety and soon made the boat a San Francisco landmark. Landor took advantage of this and opened the Klamath for symposia, parties, and social fundraisers. In 1965, he hosted a “gathering of communicators” that featured Marshall McLuhan, Tom Wolfe, Herb Caen, Justin Herman, Dr. Gerald Fagan, and S.I. Hawakawa.

Landor also graciously provided the Klamath for ceremonies and other social functions for his staff. The two daughters of George McLean, an associate for over twenty years, were married on the Klamath and Alex Tellis celebrated his tenth wedding anniversary on board.[84] Involved with several cultural and civic organizations in San Francisco, such as the Exploratorium, Landor used the Klamath to support their fundraising efforts.[85] While local politicians were often invited and attended these events, Landor prohibited the use of the Klamath for political campaigns or functions.[86]

Some parties brought aboard the crew from the television show “The Streets of San Francisco,” including its leading actors Carl Malden and Michael Douglas. Another activity on board the Klamath was the annual visit by Harvard Business School as part of an executive marketing program. Landor opened his doors (gangplank) for the executives to take a glimpse at his products and services. It was of course beneficial to Landor as well since it was “a major marketing opportunity for contacts, and the Klamath was a glamorous location.”<[87]


The history of advertising and industrial design is incomplete without acknowledging the contributions of Walter Landor, a pioneer who designed a wide range of well-known graphics for packaging and labels and created brand names and trademarks. The small company he started in San Francisco in 1941 with his wife Josephine Martinelli, Walter Landor &amp; Associates (later Landor Associates), later grew to become an international corporation. His clientele represented a variety of businesses from industries that included consumer goods, banking and finance, and commercial aviation.

By the late 1980s, Landor Associates had grown to twenty-one offices with branches in New York, Chicago, and Cincinnati in the United States; Tokyo and Hong Kong in Asia; London, Milan, and Paris in Europe. Even though it was still the largest independent design firm, growth for the company had slowed during the late 1980s and Landor looked for possible investors. By the end of September 1989, Young &amp; Rubicon, a prominent advertising agency in New York City, bought Landor Associates for a reported $50 million. Although he was no longer the chief executive, Walter at the age of seventy-six was basking in his retirement as he retained the title of “company founder.” He maintained an active role in the company, both at the San Francisco headquarters and on travels with Jo, remaining in touch with clients, their projects, and of course with old friends.[88]

Walter always claimed that the San Francisco location was his greatest advantage, and that it allowed him to create the most effective designs for his clients. In November 1991, he received his crowning award in a deserving tribute to his career as the recipient of the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Packaging Designers Council.[89]

In 1993, Walter Landor suffered a stroke and passed away on June 9, 1995, at his home in suburban San Francisco with his family at his bedside.[90] In an interview before his illness, he reminisced about his life and career: “I didn’t know I was founding a company. I got a few jobs, and a few clients. It just grew. It grew because it is a natural from continuity … it just happens. As some people know, the way the international expansion occurred is from a result of my determination to travel.”[91]

His career and achievements left a lasting legacy in the field of advertising history and industrial design. Landor believed that the creation of a label, a trademark, or a brand was set in motion when the graphic design consistently identified the product to the consumer. He stressed the importance of a brand to make a positive connection with the consumer, concluding: “A product is made in a factory, but a brand is built in the mind.”[92]


[1] For more information on Walter‘s father, see Sabine Klotz, Fritz Landauer (1883-1968): Leben und Werk eines jüdischen Architekten (Berlin: Reimer, 2001).

[2] Walter Landor, unpublished autobiography manuscript from the Landor Design Collection, series 17, box 1, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[3] Walter Landor, unpublished autobiography manuscript from the Landor Design Collection, series 17, box 1, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[4] Ken Kelley and Rick Clogher, “The Ultimate Image Maker,” San Francisco Focus, August 1992, 67.

[5] “Obituary: Walter Landor. Herald of the Corporate Image,” The Guardian, June 16, 1995, 13.

[6] Penny Sparke, An Introduction to Design and Culture in the 20th Century (New York: Harper &amp; Row, 1986), 44.

[7] John F. Pile, Dictionary of 20th Century Design (New York: Facts on File, 1990), 23.

[8] Sylvia Rubin, “How Logic Led to Logos,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 28, 1992, E5.

[9] Walter Landor, unpublished autobiography manuscript from the Landor Design Collection, series 17, box 1, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[10] Veronique Vinne, “The Brand Named Walter Landor,” Graphis (May-June 1999), 103 and Kelley and Clogher, 67 and 114.

[11] “Bassett Gray Becomes a Partnership,”Advertiser’s Weekly, May 23, 1935, 256.

[12] “Walter Landor, Designer Pioneer, Dies at 81,” PR Newswire Association, Inc. (June 11, 1995).

[13] “Obituary: Walter Landor. Herald of the Corporate Image,” The Guardian, June 16, 1995, 13.

[14] “Walter Landor, Designer Pioneer, Dies at 81,” PR Newswire Association, Inc. (June 11, 1995).

[15] Carla Marinucci, “Designing Man,” San Francisco Examiner, October 1, 1989, E5.

[16] Ralph Caplan, Design in America (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), 2.

[17] Richard S. Tedlow, New and Improved: The Story of Mass Marketing in America (New York: Basic Books, 1990), 127, 168-169, 175.

[18] Harold Van Doren, Industrial Design: A Practical Guide (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1940), 13.

[19] Caplan, 2.

[20] Kelley and Clogher, 114 and Vinne, 103.

[21] Walter Landor, unpublished autobiography manuscript from the Landor Design Collection, series 17, box 1, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[22] Kelley and Clogher, 115-116.

[23] Kelley and Clogher, 114 and “Walter Landor, Designer Pioneer, Dies at 81,” PR Newswire Association, Inc. (June 11, 1995).

[24] Walter Landor, unpublished autobiography manuscript from the Landor Design Collection, series 17, box 1, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[25] “Walter Landor,” San Francisco Art Association Bulletin 13 (October 1947), unpaged reprint from the Landor Design Collection.

[26] “Labels on Glass … a Design Analysis,” Modern Packaging (March 1945), 82-85 and 146.

[27] Vinne, 104.

[28] Designer and consultant Rodney McKnew, interview by Jessica Myerson (April 13, 1993), transcript from the Landor Design Collection, series 29, box 5, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[29] “Six Keys to Profit Labeling,” American Brewer (December 1949), unpaged reprint from the Landor Design Collection.

[30] Ibid.

[31] “Lone Star’s Redesign Program,” American Brewer (July 1955), 57.

[32] “Packages Must Speak for Themselves,” San Francisco Call-Bulletin, November 23, 1956, 13.

[33] Thomas Hines, The Total Package: The Secret History and Hidden Meanings of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Other Persuasive Containers (New York: Little, Brown &amp; Company, 1995), 3-4.

[34] “Bonner’s Bonanza,” Modern Packaging (July 1950), 126. Also see Elsa Gidlow, “Look at These Packages: They Revolutionized a Sales Plan,” Sales Management (October 15, 1951), 76.

[35] “New Packages Boost Petri Wine Sales,” Good Packaging 11 (February 1950), 11-15.

[36] “Redesign for Mission Bell; Private Mold Glass Containers and New Labels Give Sales Impetus to Wine after First Marketing Debut,” Good Packaging 12 (February 1951), 20.

[37] Thomas R. Gettelman to Walter Landor (November 21, 1950), from the Landor Design Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[38] Vinne, 104.

[39] Robert G. Neubauer, Packaging: the Contemporary Media (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1973), 88-89.

[40] Kelley and Clogher, 116.

[41] Designer and artist Lewis Lowe, interview by Jessica Myerson (April 20, 1993), transcript from the Landor Design Collection, series 29, box 5, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[42] “Pioneers. Walter Landor,” Communication Arts (January/February 2000), 116-118.

[43] Walter Landor, “Gentlemen, Your Label is Showing. Is It Selling Beer for You?” Brewers’ Association of America (February 12, 1953), 1-8.

[44] “Package Design Elects Landor,” Western Advertising (December 29, 1952), 1.

[45] Walter Landor &amp; Associates, “Western Designer Wins Top Awards,” Press Release, October, 1954, from the Landor Design Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[46] Ibid.

[47] “New Decanter Shown For Old Fitzgerald,” Advertising Requirements (December 1955), unpaged reprint from the Landor Design Collection.

[48] “Tilt Bottle Design,” Good Packaging 34 (1973), undated reprint from the Landor Design Collection.

[49] “Creativity,” Display (September 1960), 4.

[50] Vinne, 104.

[51] Richard Young with Lillian Sader, Edward Skubic, and George McLean, interview by Jessica Myerson (June 16, 1993), transcript from the Landor Design Collection, series 29, box 5, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[52] Joan Chatfield-Taylor, “Designing the World Around Us,” San Francisco Chronicle (July 27, 1979), 25.

[53] “Landor’s Splendid Hills,” Good Packaging 30 (September 1969), 36.

[54] Vinne, 103.

[55] Developer Alexis Tellis, interview by Jessica Myerson (August 4, 1993), transcript from the Landor Design Collection, series 29, box 5, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Unless otherwise noted, all 2010 USD values calculated by using (accessed June 18, 2012).

[56] Vinne, 104.

[57] “Reconversion of the Old Ferry Boat into Practical Office Building,” American Journal of Building Design (January 1966), 16.

[58] Administrator Jean Emery Gomez, interview by Jessica Myerson (September 16, 1993), transcript from the Landor Design Collection, series 29, box 4, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[59] David Shayt, “Problems and Solutions at a Company Museum,” Curator: The Museum Journal (June 1978), 168-169.

[60] Tellis, interview (August 4, 1993).

[61] Evelyn Radcliffe, “Ferryboat Becomes Office,” Christian Science Monitor (April 8, 1968), 10.

[62] “Reconversion of the Old Ferry Boat into Practical Office Building,” 18.

[63] K.R. MacDonald, “How a Ferry Boat Became a Floating Office Building,” The Office (October, 1965), 76.

[64] Kelley and Clogher, 66.

[65] Rodney McKnew with Taft Tong, Lillian Sader, Richard Young, and Sheppard P. Pollack, interview by Jessica Myerson (5 July 1993), transcript from the Landor Design Collection, series 29, box 5, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[66] Chatfield-Taylor, 25.

[67] MacLean, 64.

[68] MacLean, 65.

[69] Chatfield-Taylor, 25 and Philip Durbrow, “Design Systems,” United States Banker (May 1984), 13.

[70] Bowman, interview (April 15, 1993).

[71] Michael Gershman, Getting It Right the Second Time, (New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1990), 64-65.

[72] Miller Brewing Company, News Release (July 23, 1973), 2, from the Landor Design Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[73] Mary C. Colburn, “Lite &amp; Selectra; Two Beers with Designs on the Future,” Brewers Digest (October 1975), 17.

[74] Flanagan, 73.

[75] Stuart Elliott. “Advertising: With its fourth Miller Lite campaign in three years, an agency hopes consumers are thirsty for change” New York Times, November 3, 1994, D3.

[76] “Walter Landor,” reported by Peter Bannon, Eyewitness News, WAGA-TV, Channel 5, Atlanta (October 4, 1982), from the Landor Design Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[77] Thomas J. Lueck, “The Image Builders for Corporations,” New York Times, July 2, 1981, D5.

[78] Alan Brewer, “Why British Airways Is Changing Its Colors,” Financial Times London, December 5, 1984, Section I, 10.

[79] “British Airways Will Use New Logo on Aircraft, Equipment,” Aviation Week and Space Technology (December 10, 1984), 30.

[80] “British Airways Rolls Out ‘New’ Concorde,” Air Transport World (June 1985), 53.

[81] Fashioning a Global Identity,” Step-by-Step Graphics (November-December 1986), 57.

[82] Glen Collins, “Xerox Attempts a New Beginning by Making Its Name the Last Word in a Corporate Rechristening,” New York Times, August 4, 1994, D17 and “New Signature Underscores ‘The New Xerox’: Corporate Identity Transformation Highlights Xerox Leadership in Global Document Services Market,” PR Newswire Association, Inc. (August 4, 1994).

[83] “New ‘FedEx’ Identity Unveiled Worldwide – Bold New Image Signals Next Era for Industry Pioneer,” Business Wire (June 23, 1994).

[84] Designer and consultant George McLean, interview by Jessica Myerson (May 25, 1993), transcript from the Landor Design Collection, series 29, box 5, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution and Tellis, interview (August 4, 1993).

[85] Executive director Goéry Delacôte, Exploratorium, interview by Jessica Myerson (August 12, 1993), transcript from the Landor Design Collection, series 29, box 4, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[86] Roger Kent to Walter Landor, re: Ron Pelosi Democratic Nominee for State Senator, San Francisco (July 6, 1972), from the Landor Design Collection, Archives Center, Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Also see Eileen Julian, assistant to Walter Landor, to Roger Kent (July 10, 1972), from the Landor Design Collection, Archives Center, Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

[87] Jean Emery Gomez, interview (September 16, 1993).

[88] Jamie Beckett, “Management Shuffle at Landor,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 3, 1989, C1 and C4; Jamie Beckett, “New York Ad Giant May Buy Landor,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 7, 1989, C1 and C10; and Jamie Beckett, “Landor Agrees to Y&amp;R Buyout,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 27, 1989, C1 and C4.

[89] Stuart Elliot, “Walter Landor: Receives Package Design Council International First Annual Lifetime Achievement Award,” New York Times, November 7, 1991, C16.

[90] “Walter Landor, Design Pioneer, Dies at Age 81,” PR Newswire, Inc. (June 11, 1995).

[91] Walter Landor, interview by Annie Coffelt (c. 1991), transcript from the Landor Design Collection, series 29, box 5, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[92] “Pioneers: Walter Landor,” Communication Arts (January/February 2000), 116.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Walter Landor
  • Coverage 1913-1995
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date June 19, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018