The Daily Heller: Pentagram Turns on Westinghouse’s Lights

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In 1960, architect and product designer Eliot Noyes was appointed Westinghouse’s design consultant. As part of the team, he hired his trusted collaborators from IBM (where he also consulted), Paul Rand and Charles Eames. It was Westinghouse’s desire that the Eames Office produce a film about its design program. “Instead,” Rand told me, “Charles convinced them to sponsor a film showing their extensive product line,” which was far more diversified than the refrigerators, light bulbs and fans for which the company was popularly known. The 1965 film was entitled Westinghouse in Alphabetical Order and included an original score by Elmer Bernstein. Rand designed a flyer promoting the film. On the brochure cover was Rand’s Westinghouse brandmark in a circle, alternately referred to as the “clown face,” “royal crown,” “circuit W” or “electronic schematic,” echoing the circular shape of the reel of film on the next folded page. Rand enjoyed conceiving dozens of printed jobs, from packages to advertisements, much like the witty visual relationships using the signature circle.

Westinghouse and General Electric were the two major competitors in the home and office electronics industry. GE’s early 20th-century mark, attributed to a staff draftsman, Arthur L. Hall, has not changed its art nouveau inspired curlicue monogram much since 1909, while the logo for Westinghouse went through various iterations until in 1959/1960 Rand’s modernized version replaced the preceding iterations. In the end all the elements Rand introduced, from Westinghouse’s proprietary blue to its custom sans serif typeface, were strictly monitored to avoid deviation.

This was the starting point for the current Westinghouse refresh by Paula Scher’s Pentagram New York team. As the Pentagram newsletter describes: “In the summer of 2021, James Cline Jr., along with a group of private investors, acquired the Westinghouse brand. Cline, who was the founder and CEO of Westinghouse Outdoor Power equipment, had previously achieved remarkable success in developing the brand in the outdoor power industry, growing the business by over 800% in just five years.” Rather than a company with a single family of products, as it was portrayed in the Eames film, Westinghouse had evolved into an umbrella for many different manufacturers.

Cline understood that Westinghouse had tremendous equity in its brand, “not only in its longstanding legacy but also in its innovative design,” quoting Pentagram’s recent newsletter. “After the acquisition, Cline hired Kevin Drain as the new brand director, given his prior experience in building the visual identity of the Westinghouse generator business. Drain reached out to Pentagram, “requesting assistance in creating new brand standards that would appeal to a younger demographic and revitalize the brand.” By this point Westinghouse had jettisoned or neglected many of Rand’s key design elements. And the main website simply directed customers to separate divisions—each site was inconsistently designed and confused the user. Westinghouse still had equity in its name but forsook its visual identity in the process.

Inspired by the original 1960s Westinghouse Graphics Identification Manual—Rand’s detailed brand manual still looks contemporary and differentiates Westinghouse from its competitors—Pentagram adapted similar type, color and form with some necessary renovations. Rand had developed a proprietary gothic typeface, which needed to be redrawn and programmed.

The stars must have been in alignment because, “as if by magic, the Pentagram team happened to receive a mailer from Signal Type Foundry featuring a typeface inspired by Rand’s Westinghouse Gothic.” Working with Signal, Pentagram’s designers manipulated the characters “i” and “g” for a nuanced new wordmark and called the refreshed face Westinghouse Sans.

Rand often used circles throughout his original Westinghouse identity, suggesting lights on a circuit board (although he was always coy about admitting to outside interpretations, preferring to leave it to the viewer). Pentagram notes: “These are now used on the new website to unify varying product photography by inserting silhouetted images into colored circles that designate a product type.”

Fealty to Rand’s system was the heart of Pentagram’s design and groups of parallel powerful lines were another of his common motifs. “Initially, the Pentagram designers didn’t understand why these were used, but then discovered the Westinghouse logo inserted between the metal lines at the base of an escalator. These lines then became an essential part of the visual language and are utilized on various touchpoints, including packaging, marketing materials and the website.

“In addition to the visual identity, a new brand platform was developed that updates the mission, vision and values of Westinghouse to reflect its history and commitment to innovation. This is summed up in a new tagline, ‘Powering People Since 1886.'” On the website, visitors are even encouraged to explore the history of the brand.

Rand usually harrumphed when his logos were threatened with change. He once said upon learning that ABC wanted to alter his rounded letter mark (still in use): “What’s the point? It’s all perfect geometry.”

Per Westinghouse’s Kevin Drain, “The evolution of this logo is proof … if you have a classic design like Rand’s logo, why not keep it—especially when it’s been created to stand the test of time. Pentagram has taken the original design and modernized it brilliantly, bringing it into the 21st century.” Which echoes one of Rand’s favorite dicta that “one quickly realizes that simplicity and geometry are the language of timelessness and universality.”

Paula Scher
Project team:
Kirstin Huber
Billie Rene
Yansong Yang
Olivia Ray

Hunter Tura, strategist