Quick Design History: Saul Bass #ThrowbackThursday

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Saul Bass (1920-1996)

Saul Bass was an American graphic designer best known for his design of motion picture title sequences, film posters and corporate logos. You’ll find his work and theories in any and every design history lesson. In short, this guy is synonymous with graphic design legend.

You might have heard his most famous design quote:

“Design is thinking made visible.”

In the early days of his career, Bass worked with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Otton Preminger, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. In the 1950s, film posters were predominantly photos or painted pieces designed to lure film goers into the cinemas. As with any trend—if everyone is doing it—it becomes difficult to achieve standout results. But Bass found a way to break away from the crowd.

Bass broke from tradition by using jagged print objects and broken type. His bold and simple images were inspired by commercial soviet design of the 1920s. This shift essentially redefined the visual language of film and liberated generations of designers.

I grew up watching Alfred Hitchcock films and always loved the intro sequences. It amazed me how chilling and suspenseful paper cut-outs, set to music in motion, could be!

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“My initial thoughts about what a title can do was to set mood and the prime underlying core of the film’s story, to express the story in some metaphorical way,” said Bass. “I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.”

The mid-60s saw his Hollywood design style fall from fashion. This led Bass onto short features of his own and new graphic design projects.

Most notably, Bass became known for corporate design in the form of logos. In fact, many of his original identities are still in use today. The average lifespan of his logo designs is an amazing 33 years! Now that’s a legacy.

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Bass was a master of great, simple ideas. For me, it wasn’t until later in life—when I was studying design—that I started putting Bass’s name to the pieces of work I’d seen throughout my life. As a new designer, his work also looked achievable and proved that you didn’t have to be a fine artist or accomplished illustrator to design.

Want to learn more about Saul Bass? Here’s an amazing collection of how his logos have stood the test of time. Or click here to check out a great compilation of his movie intros in action!

Throwback Thursday will continue next week. Our next design legend is described as “typographic explorer” who challenged common styles of design and repeatedly asked: “how many different ways can I see the same old stuff?”

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