As the first in a series recognizing Branding Pioneers, the International Branding Association is pleased to honor Walter Landor (1913–1995) founder of Landor Associates on what would have been his 100th birthday.

The Beginnings

All aboard: Walter and associates working on the famous Klamath

Walter Landor, the son of prominent German architect Fritz Landauer, was born in Munich on July 9, 1913. Young Walter was greatly influenced by the Bauhaus and Werkbund design movements flourishing in Germany at that time, as well as by his father. At the age of 18, he had already recognized the powerful potential of design to affect human emotion and decided to go into this field to “concentrate on designing everyday products that would make life more pleasant and more beautiful and appeal to the mass audience.”Walter left Munich in 1931 and completed his studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Along with Misha Black and Milner Gray, he founded Industrial Design Partnership (IDP) in 1935, the first consultancy of its kind in England. A year later at the age of 23, Walter became the youngest fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.2

Walter and the IDP design team traveled to the United States in 1939 to install part of the British Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. With war rapidly approaching in Europe, Walter decided to travel across the country to study American industrial design. Walter made his way to the West Coast and visited San Francisco, where he immediately decided to settle. “For me, it was a city that looked out on the whole world, a city built on the cultural traditions of East and West.... How could I live anywhere else?”3

Establishing WL&A

Walter looking at the design for Pabco in the 1940's

In November 1939, Walter was introduced to Glenn Wessels of the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Wessels invited him to teach in the college's new department of industrial design.4 The curriculum Walter developed emphasized practical solutions to concrete problems. Walter taught his first class in January 1940, and there sitting in the front row was Josephine Martinelli. They fell in love and soon married. In 1941, Walter established Walter Landor & Associates (WL& A) in a small flat in the Russian Hill area of San Francisco, with Jo as the "associate."5

In 1945, Walter and Jo relocated their office and studios to 556 Commercial Street, near San Francisco's Chinatown, and expanded their team to include new members. Walter continued teaching design fundamentals at the San Francisco School of Fine Arts (today called the San Francisco Art Institute). The company's earliest contracts came from locally based clients. Walter and Jo collaborated on interior designs for the Joseph Magnin department stores, the Pony Lounge in the Hotel Don, and Lester's Market.6 Walter's first retail label project was for S&W Fine Foods in San Francisco. By the late 1940s, Walter and Jo were seeking new business opportunities and expanding beyond the San Francisco area. Together they headed up the Pacific coast to Seattle. Sicks' Select become WL&A's first beer label redesign as well as its first client outside California. At the Small Brewers Association (SBA) annual label competition in 1948, the design for Sicks' Select took first prize. These labels not only brought Walter his earliest design awards, they also opened doors to new clients across the country.

A Client-Driven Approach

Other Beer brands: Miller Lite, Sapporo

From the outset Walter favored a client-driven approach, becoming one of the first to apply consumer research to package design. During the early 1950s Walter, wearing a white lab coat, began to take his packaging and label designs into supermarkets to solicit in-store responses from shoppers. By physically going into stores and speaking directly to customers, Walter became keenly aware of the significance of packaging as a marketing component. He realized that packages needed to identify old favourites or entice consumers to try new or improved products.7

In 1951, Walter moved his growing company to a larger office space at 143 Bush Street, where he attracted a loyal talent pool of commercial designers and artists.8 Meanwhile, Walter’s success with beer labels continued. In 1952 he was invited to deliver the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Brewers Association of America (previously the Small Brewers Association), held in Chicago. In “Gentlemen, Your Label is Showing. Is It Selling Beer for You?” he emphasized the importance of a well-designed label for sales and brand recognition, outlining the steps for creating such a design. 
That same year Walter became a founding member of the newly formed Packaging Designers’ Council (PDC). At a time when most industrial design firms were headquartered in New York or Chicago, Walter’s membership in the PDC put him in an ideal position to promote his services nationally-primarily as an underdog. Two years later he boldly declared 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.”9 For Walter no two projects were alike; there was no cookie-cutter approach to design at WL&A.

Innovation and Recognition

Other iconic work: Ore Ida, Del Monte, Levi's, Cotton Natural Blend, Bank of America, Frito Lay and World Wildlife Foundation

In 1955, the owners of Stitzel-Weller Distillery wanted to market a Christmas decanter for their Old Fitzgerald bourbon. Walter required his team of designers to go beyond the basics and take the decanter concept in new directions. The final design, called Candlelight, achieved popularity not only because of its contemporary look but also for its innovative utility. Arrowhead & Puritas of Los Angeles, a leader in bottled water for commercial venues, wanted to introduce half-gallon glass bottles to the home and restaurant market. The “tilt bottle” Landor developed, which had two flat surfaces, 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 design’s main advantage, Walter stressed, was that “the user-by tilting the bottle-[could] pour without lifting.” The design increased product recognition and resulted in greater sales for Arrowhead & Puritas while providing Walter with awards and critical acclaim.

The Waterfront

The Klamath

By 1956, with the increase in clients as well as staff, a larger space was again needed and Walter moved his company to a waterfront building on Pier 5. These expanded quarters included offices, studios, and meeting rooms for newly formed research groups. From an inconspicuous location, researchers could watch shoppers as they passed through the aisles with their carts, and later interview them about the packages they chose.
In 1964, Walter bought the retired ferryboat Klamath, had its interior turned into office space, and relocated his company on board. This move greatly enhanced the firm’s reputation for innovation and creativity. Although the company eventually outgrew the ferryboat in the late 1980s and moved to its present headquarters at 1001 Front Street in San Francisco, the Klamath remains its distinctive corporate symbol. By the 1970s the firm had changed its name to Landor Associates, and garnered worldwide acclaim. In 1989, Walter basked in his retirement while retaining the title of company founder. But this was more than an honorific; Walter continued to play an active role with the company. Walter Landor was a guiding force in the field of corporate and brand identities, logos, and packaging. A visionary who pioneered the use of design and graphic imagery as business and marketing tools, Walter helped create and develop some of today's best-known brands.

Landor Today

From the Klamath, Landor has grown to be one of the world’s largest branding firms with 25 offices in 19 countries. For more information about the company, please visit the Landor website

1. Ken Kelley and Rick Clogher, “The Ultimate Image Maker,” San Francisco Focus (August 1992).
2. Veronique Vinne, “The Brand Named Walter Landor,” Graphis, no. 321 (May/June 1999), and Lindsay Arthur, “Industrial Designer Turns His Talents To Own Use,” San Francisco Call-Bulletin (19 November 1956).
3. See note 1.
4. See note 1.
5. See note 1.
6. “Walter Landor,” San Francisco Art Association Bulletin, vol. 13, no. 8 (October 1947), reprint from the Landor Archive Project, Landor Design Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
7. “Packages Must Speak for Themselves,” San Francisco News-Call Bulletin (23 November 1956).
8. See note 2.
9. Walter Landor & Associates, “Western designer wins top awards,” press release (October 1954), Landor Design Collection, Archives.

Walter Landor biography and images © 2009 Bernard Gallagher and Landor Associates. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Bernie Gallagher is senior documentation specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.