Art + Design

Design Legend Saul Bass Would Have Been 95 Today

Whether or not you know it, you know the work of Saul Bass.

His work was public and prolific, spanning the worlds of advertising and film, and transforming film titles from a functional necessity to a form of creative expression. Martin Scorsese wrote the foreword to the epic Laurence King-published overview of his oeuvre, saying that Bass’ visual style “defined an era.” And yet many of the logos he created are still in use, with contemporary graphic designers studying the marks he created for the likes of AT&T, Bell System, and the Girl Scouts with reverence. Today would have been his 95th birthday.

In honor of this design giant who still influences the work all of us in the book business, here’s some of Saul’s wisdom in his own words:

saul-bass-posterquad

On Creativity

“You know, we hear a lot about the joy of creating. What we don’t acknowledge is the anguish and anxiety that come with the territory…Of course the pleasure when it does come can be very intense. Also, the play between pleasure and anxiety is part of the dynamic that makes the creative experience so compelling.”

On Process

“When I hit a blank wall, I stop and go to another problem, hitting each one at a productive point. When things are clicking, I keep going all the way. Next thing I know, I’m past it and going on. By simultaneously working on a variety of problems, I find that one creative problem helps me solve another. The underlying ideas and emotions of one problem can often validly be related to another.”

Saul Bass album design for Tone Poems of Color

On Work

“There are two factors important to me. One is that I work with people I like, and with whom I have an appropriate sense of community. With clients I can respect, who respect me, and with whom I have rich interchange. The other is to do interesting work within this framework. And when push comes to shove, working with the right people may be the most important. You know, the problem may be less challenging, but it can be fun and rewarding to be in interaction with good people.”

On Criticism

“You see an artist, a creative person, can accept criticism or can live with the criticism much more easily than with being ignored. Criticism makes you feel alive. If somebody is bothered enough to speak vituperatively about it, you feel you have touched a nerve and you are at least ‘in touch.’ You are not happy that he doesn’t like it, but you feel you are in contact with life.”

saul-bass-human-rights-week

On Humor

“Somehow, you learn more when you are laughing. When you can sense the good feeling and warm intent of the person who is talking to you. You are more open to positive and joyful people, even if you don’t agree with what they have to say.”

In the video below, see Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design being printed under the watchful eye of Jennifer Bass, Saul’s daughter who also designed it. It’s 447 pages, 1500 images, and full of insight in the form of more quotes, stories, and of course his groundbreaking visual vernacular.

What’s your favorite Saul Bass title sequence? Leave your answer in the comments below.

Saul Bass

All images courtesy of Laurence King Publishing

Kathryn Jaller

Kathryn Jaller

Previous Associate Director of online strategy at Chronicle Books and art/craft/cat lady. You can follow her at @kholler.
Kathryn Jaller

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43 Comments

  • Olivia Aylmer May 8, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    I still get a bit queasy when I think about Saul Bass’ hypnotizing title sequence for “Vertigo” — my favorite, for sure!

    Reply

  • Jerr May 8, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    My all time favorite Saul Bass movie title sequence has to be the hilarious “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”. The type, colors and animation he used all work perfectly to capture the feeling of the movie.

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  • Naomi May 8, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    Sentimentally? West Side Story!

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  • Nik May 8, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    Anatomy of a Murder is my favorite,,,so simple and so clever.

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  • Bob May 8, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    So many memorable sequences but I love the dynamism and tension created with simple lines in The Man with the Golden Arm.

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  • Hope May 8, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” also.

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  • Lee Dickens May 8, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    The Blues Brothers was visceral in its simplicity. My late friend had it in his study. It grew on me.

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  • Hope Crandall May 8, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    He successfully represents the graphic style of the late 1950s in Around the World in Eighty Days. It is my favorite.

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  • Heidi May 8, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    Around the World in 80 days is my favorite. My parents had the album, and I loved to look at the cover. Later on I saw the movie, and it was if the album cover came to life,

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  • Chris Ferguson May 8, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    Tough choice, but I’m going with “Around the World in 80 Days,” for the sheer amount of work it must have taken to animate all this by hand.

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  • Caryn May 8, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    Although my favorite Saul Bass work is his picture book, Henri’s Walk to Paris, I love the North By Northwest sequence. All his graphics, color, type are just so striking.

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    • Kathryn Jaller May 18, 2015 at 3:09 pm

      Hi there Caryn, you have been randomly chosen as the winner of this book! We sent you an email, just reply with your address and we will send the prize on its way. Congrats!

      Reply

  • laurel wilson May 8, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Anatomy of a Murder: Bass completely melds architectonic scale with human intrigue, or maybe it’s the other way around: human scale with architectonic intrigue.

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  • John May 8, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    My favorite Saul Bass title sequence is Ocean’s Eleven [1960].

    The titles are inspired by the lights in Las Vegas, appropriate given the film’s setting. Bass animates the lights perfectly to the music, making it all the more effective. The most fun part of the sequence is the use of a slot machine to announce the crew. It’s a sequence (and a film) worth checking out for anyone that has not seen it.

    Thanks for the opportunity to win the book!

    Reply

  • Jett May 8, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    For me, it has got to be Anatomy Of A Murder.

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  • Jan May 9, 2015 at 12:11 am

    This is the most inspirational graphic designer. He made title design world famous. I love him for his easy design with basic principals. I am a big fan of North by Northwest. His lettering shows how he integrates words, movement and life picture of a building into a exiting start of the movie. This elevator effect is so clever designed!. The book says it all. A must have for the ones who want to learn from the master.
    Greetings Jan Reijmerink, The Netherlands

    Reply

  • Cecilia May 9, 2015 at 12:52 am

    As much as I love Saul Bass’ title sequence for “Vertigo,” my favorite is the title sequence for “North by Northwest!”

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  • James Stone May 9, 2015 at 1:37 am

    Has to be North by North West, I love that vivid green that comes in right from the start with the MGM crest

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  • Amy Adams May 9, 2015 at 3:36 am

    It’s hard to pick just one! I guess I’ll go with Around the World in 80 Days!

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  • Allie May 9, 2015 at 3:50 am

    I grew up watching Alfred Hitchcock movies with my grandpa. Seeing as vertigo is already taken, I’m still a huge fan of his Psycho and North by Northwest title sequences–they’re so perfect for setting the suspense of the movies!

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  • Wendy Osborne May 9, 2015 at 5:29 am

    Anatomy of a Murder. I love Saul Bass. He has been my graphic design hero since I went to art scholl in the seventies.

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  • lisa May 9, 2015 at 5:40 am

    “North by Northwest” is one of my favorite movies of all time! Gotta love Cary Grant!

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  • Stephen seche May 9, 2015 at 5:48 am

    Oh North by Northwest for sure. The beautiful anxiety and motion of the titles flows with the cinematography and sets up the film perfectly.

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  • Queenie May 9, 2015 at 6:54 am

    West Side Story, talk about impact, visual & audio wonder…I also immediately go to his Man with the Golden Arm work.

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  • Mel K. May 9, 2015 at 7:16 am

    Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”

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  • Eddie May 9, 2015 at 9:29 am

    I love the Saul Bass style but my fave title sequence of his has to be “Casino”. It absolutely pulls the viewer in right away with the promise of a juicy story to come.

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  • Frank Bettendorf May 9, 2015 at 10:04 am

    The Man With the Golden Arm was a breakthrough and you see the concept repeated even today. And it was a great film besides so the film matched the design and vice versa.

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  • Laurie McCabe May 9, 2015 at 11:38 am

    One of my favorite Saul Bass title sequences is West Side Story. As our eyes scan a graffitied wall, the film credits appear. The sequence is rich and intimate and compliments the movie’s many layers of hope, anger, humor, and sadness.

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  • Nysa May 9, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    How do you pick just one? They are all brilliant! Oceans Eleven, if I have to choose

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  • Jameson Kergozou de la Boessiere May 9, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    It doesn’t get any better than the Psycho intro. A standalone piece of art.

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  • mirabelle May 9, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    vertigo, definitely

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  • Catherine Reynolds May 9, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    My favorite Saul Bass title sequence…hmm…there are so many! The most striking to me is “Exodus”, hands down–or I should say, hand up!

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  • Jeanette Barney May 9, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    I like all of his work. It is hard to pick just one.

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  • Grace May 9, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    I like his Dixie design. Thanks.

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  • Jason pollan May 9, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    the all time favorite is Oceans 11. Whimsy and light. Makes me think exactly of Vegas 1960. You know it’s something specific to the artist before you who it is (if you didn’t already) and you can see hints of scores of his images to come from the illustrations that pop up throughout. It makes me happy to see those lights flow across the screen. What a treat. Ring-a-ding ding!

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  • Marissa B. May 10, 2015 at 5:01 am

    Hands down, the classic Vertigo. I love the Spirograph looking design, and it combines my my favorite director- Hitchcock.

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  • James May 10, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    The Man With The Golden Arm – Love the Iconic hand and line work.

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  • Marty C May 11, 2015 at 8:02 am

    ‘North by Northwest.’ I first saw the movie as a young teenager, never having heard of Saul Bass (or Alfred Hitchcock, for that matter) and still remember seeing the title sequence for the first time and thinking that this was going to be one stylish movie!

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  • Laura May 11, 2015 at 9:58 am

    There are too many great ones to pick just one, but “Around the World in 80 Days” it is!

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  • Jacob May 12, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    The Man with the Golden Arm

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  • Lisa Thomas May 15, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    VERTIGO! Saw it for the first time when I was 14 and was entranced the instant the title sequence appeared. Absolutely brilliant. I loved the design (and entire film) so much that I stayed at the Hotel Vertigo in San Francisco for my honeymoon. The hotel was in the original building that served as Judy’s apartment in the film. The hotel had a fantastic mirror with the Vertigo design – I wanted to take it home with me 🙂

    Reply

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