Beneath theory and rhetoric, and well beyond technique and jargon, the reason for design is to speak to people in a language this is familiar, but also new, to entice people to understand an old thing in a new way, or grasp a new thing in an old way. There has never been a designer who can do this better than Saul Bass, who adds the 1981 AIGA Medal to his long and quite extraordinary list of honors and achievements. Saul Bass honors this award.
Saul Bass's work touches people. Not just designers, or students, or observers of design, or those who know and can explain what a designer is and does, but simply people—many, many people.
The movie Grand Prix introduced Bass to me, though it took twenty years for me to discover that. As an average high school kid with predictable interests, growing up in an average suburban town, I went to the movie Grand Prix with the guys to see the cars race. Saul Bass must have understood this, because he got most of the exposition of the rather thin (as I recall) plot out of the way beneath the introductory titling and credits. Then, when the movie really started, the cars raced. And they raced in perfectly new and immensely satisfying ways: in multiple images, in speed-distorted images, in blurs and shimmering telephoto compression in pictures of whole cars and in extreme close-up—exhaust manifolds and the scream-pitched barks of revving Formula 1 engines.
Saul Bass also touched this perfectly normal high schooler with his compression of the emotion of Exodus into a single image of a half-dozen reaching hands and a rifle. Why were there more hands than rifles? Were they celebrating victory? Were they defiant in the face of overwhelming odds? Were some hands trying to take the rifle from another?
Later, Saul Bass's opening sequences and closing credits for West Side Story convinced the same suburban high schooler that New York City was no place for him. It wasn't the violence of the gangs (we had guys who belonged to gangs). It was the size and density and energy and potential for both great things and utter destruction and despair—all conveyed by the spinning, aerial introduction and the closing credits, graffiti-ed on the decaying surfaces of that alien city.
Years later, working and living happily in New York, I was touched by Saul Bass (still unknown to me) two more times through North American Rockwell's new corporate emblem, in which I had a genuine if uninformed interest, and through a film for Kaiser, Why Man Creates. Without my knowing it, Saul Bass had turned me toward an interest in a lasting association with design communication.
It's a cliché, but Saul Bass really has done it all. Films. Packaging. Products. Architecture. Corporate identification. Graphics. His work surrounds us. Pick up the telephone and you're hard-pressed not to recall Bass's ubiquitous Bell System symbol and look. Take a plane—United, Continental, Frontier: Saul Bass. Go to a film—Psycho, Anatomy of a Murder, Exodus, Spartacus, The Man With the Golden Arm, Advise & Consent, Such Good Friends: Saul Bass. In the supermarket or in the kitchen—Wesson, Quaker, Alcoa, Lawry's, Dixie: Saul Bass. Relax with a magazine, read a book, watch TV, take some pictures—Saturday Evening Post, Warner, Minolta: Saul Bass. Give to charity—The United Way, Girl Scouts: Saul Bass. Strike an Ohio Blue Tip match.
He left his native New York for Hollywood in the mid-1940s to find a way to combine his restless, intuitive imagination and a few years of New York experience working in graphic design, into a career. Before anyone in the film industry, Bass recognized the importance of a movie's first moments: they should do more than warn the audience that a few minutes remain to make a trip to the popcorn stand. He invented the idea of titling movies—either at the beginning or end—with sequences that added something in a highly symbolic and evocative way and created print-graphic identification for films that not only title the film, but also serve to unify and drive entire marketing and advertising campaigns.
If part of what design is about is communicating through symbols, Saul Bass and his firm have subsequently created a fair measure of what we now perceive as the modern business and commercial world. Either they have actually created these symbols or contributed mightily to the notion itself.
Bass is the first to disavow the widely held idea that graphic design and film design are closely related disciplines. In medium, time, concept, technique and technical aspects, they are not. Graphic design is a solitary or small group exercise in creating. Film directing and producing are management efforts of large groups of people, equipment, variables and idea. Yet Saul Bass has not only mastered both, he is comfortable in both. And the Bass competence extends along another axis of accomplishment. At one end are designed communications that stem from, and depend on, the crackle of instant insight—both his and yours. These images are too urgent to refine, too strong and emotional in their effect to fuss with. At the distant other end of the axis is the attention to numbing detail and mastery of formidable scale best exemplified by the Bell System program, the largest and one of the most successful corporate identification design programs ever conceived and implemented.
Like many top designers, Saul Bass is an ardent collector. More important than the classifications of what he collects (pre-Colombian figures, Colina rolled-clay figures, Ashanti dolls, Indian fetishes, et cetera) is the intelligence that informs his impulse to collect and what his collections give back to their collector. “These tiny remains of ancient human civilizations, in addition to their intrinsic beauty, bring with them a special kind of mystery—a quality of the distant past, the unknown and unreality of it all. Like the best kind of design or film work, they communicate on two levels: the visceral or emotional level and the more complex intellectual level. The goal, and the ultimate achievement, is to make people feel as well as think.”
While Saul Bass listens to and respects the mute, visual language of the ancients, he is very much focused on the here and now, and on the future. Although his record is wide, thoughtful and deep, it is a prologue: to what's surely to come, and to the man himself.
Copyright 1982 by AIGA.
Alvarez, S.B. “Cinema and Graphic Design: Title Sequences by Saul Bass and Juan Gatti.” International Journal of Visual Design. 6.4 (2013): 1-15. Print.
Bass, Saul. “Film Advertising.” Graphis Ed. Walter Herdeg, (1953): 276-289. Print.
Bierut, Michael. “The Final Days of AT&T.” Design Observer. Observer Omnimedia LLC, 29 May 2005. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Brower, Steven. “What You (Still) Don’t Know About Psycho.” Eye on Design. AIGA, 18 Dec. 2014. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Coupland, Ken. “Historical View - Saul Bass: the Man Behind the Titles.” Graphis. (1998): 102. Print.
Gett, Trevor. “Saul Bass Honrdi.” RSA Journal. 144.5470 (1996): 10. Print.
Haig, Bill. “The Saul Bass-Approved Method of Credibility-Based Logo Design.” Eye on Design. AIGA, 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Haskin, Pamela, and Saul Bass. “Saul, Can You Make Me a Title?”: Interview with Saul Bass." Film Quarterly. 50.1 (1996): 10-17. Print.
Heyman, Therese T. “Saul Bass.” Posters American Style. (1998): 160. Print.
Hochscherf, T. “Saul Bass: a Life in Film & Design." Journal of Design History. 27.2 (2014): 186-188. Print.
Kirkham, Pat. “Bright Lights Big City - What Is the Power of Elaine and Saul Bass' Titles for Casino?” Sight and Sound. 6.1 (1996): 12. Print.
Kirkham, P. “The Jeweller's Eye: Saul Bass' Extraordinary Credits Sequence for Vertigo.” Sight and Sound. 7.4 (1997): 18-19. Print.
Kirkham, Pat. “Reassessing the Saul Bass and Alfred Hitchcock Collaboration.” Design Observer. Observer Omnimedia LLC, 11 Jan. 12. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Lambirth, Andrew. “Arts - Exhibitions: Saul Bass.” The Spectator. (2004): 39. Print.
Meggs, Philip B. “Saul Bass on Corporate Identity.” AIGA Journal of Graphic Design 8.1 (1990): 4. Print.
Miller, Keith. “Arts - Saul Bass (design Museum).” Tls, the Times Literary Supplement. (2004): 16. Print.
Oeri, Georgine. “Saul Bass.” Graphis. Ed. Walter Herdeg (1955): 258-265. Print.
Scorsese, M. “Saul Bass's Cinematic Art: Director Martin Scorsese Remembers the Designer's One-of-a-Kind Movie Posters.” Architectural Digest. 67.3 (2010): 44-48. Print.
Staff Writers. “1981 AIGA Medalist - Saul Bass.” AIGA Journal of Graphic Design 1.1 (1982): 3. Print.
Staff Writers. “Saul Bass 1920-1996.” AIGA Journal of Graphic Design 14.2 (1996): 54. Print.
Supanick, Jim. “Saul Bass.” Film Comment. 33.2 (1997): 72. Print.
Sutton, D. “Saul Bass: a Life in Film and Design.” Screen. 54.2 (2013): 294-297. Print.
Thomas, Robert McG., Jr. “Saul Bass, 75, Designer, Dies; Made Art Out of Movie Titles.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 27 Apr. 1996. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.
Wolf, Henry. “Saul Bass.” Graphis. Ed. Walter Herdeg (1985): 28-35. Print.
Yager, Herb. “Saul Bass.” Graphis. Ed. Walter Herdeg (1978): 392-407. Print.
American Institute of Graphic Arts. AIGA Graphic Design USA: 3: The Annual of the American Institute of Graphic Arts. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1982. Print.
Aynsley, Jeremy, and Harriet Atkinson. The Banham Lectures: Essays on Designing the Future. Oxford: Berg, 2009. Print.
Daines, Mike, and Hans Richter. Baseline 22. Bradbourne Publishing, 1996. Print.
Bass, Jennifer, Pat Kirkham, and Saul Bass. Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design. London: Laurence King, 2011. Print.
Bass, Saul. An Essay: The Popular Arts Today. Santa Monica, Calif: Pyramid Film & Video, 1980. Print.
Bass, Saul. Notes on the Popular Arts. Santa Monica, Calif: Pyramid Films, 1978. Print.
Daywalt, Drew, David Schneider, Fran Krause, Shawn Schepps, Alex Turner, Daniel Peacock, Charles Eames, Ray Eames, Saul Bass, Kirsten Winter, Jonathon Stearns, Gordon Bijelonic, Andrew Takeuchi, Rob Schmidt, Slavko Vorkapich, John Hoffman, Chris Backhouse, Preston Maigetter, and Jimmy McGriff. Short: 11 - Ecstasy. Los Angeles, CA: QuickBand Networks, 2001. Print.
Clifford, John. Graphic Icons: Visionaries Who Shaped Modern Graphic Design. Peachpit Press, 2014. Print.
Crock, Geoffrey. The Changing Image: Television Graphics from Caption Card to Computer. London: Built by Robots, 1986. Print.
Ferriter, Roger. Typerformance. Palo Alto, Calif: Communication Arts Books, 1983. Print.
Film and Television Title Designers: Saul Bass, Bill Gold, Robert Brownjohn, Wayne Fitzgerald, Daniel Kleinman, Maurice Binder, Pablo Ferro, Format Films, Kyle Cooper. Memphis, Tenn: Books LLC, 2010. Print.
Fischer, Dennis. Science Fiction Film Directors, 1895-1998. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 2000. Print.
Halligan, Fionnuala. Movie Story Boards: The Art of Visualizing Screenplays. , 2013. Print.
Jan-Christopher, Horak. Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design. University Press of Kentucky, 2014. Print.
Kamekura, Yusaku. Creation 18. , 1993. Print.
Kepes, Gyorgy. Sign, Image, Symbol. New York: G. Braziller, 1966. Print.
Kurlansky, Mervyn. Masters of the 20th Century: the Icograda Design Hall of Fame. Graphis, 2001. Print.
Meggs, Philip B. 6 Chapters in Design: Saul Bass, Ivan Chermayeff, Milton Glaser, Paul Rand, Ikko Tanaka, Henryk Tomaszewski. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1997. Print.
Morgenstern, Joe. Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design. Los Angeles: General Pub. Group, 1997. Print.
Netburn, Stephen, Frederick Greene, Michael J. Shapiro, Robert Osborne, Chuck Workman, Rob Friedman, Mike Greenfield, Vinzenz Hediger, Tony Silver, Leonard Maltin, Lisa Kernan, Joe Dante, Saul Bass, Pablo Ferro, Benedict Coulter, Gregory McClatchy, Joel Schumacher, Joe Farrell, and Stephen Herek. Coming Attractions: The History of the Movie Trailer. Laguna Beach, Calif: Andrew J. Kuehn Jr. Foundation, 2005. Print.
Pipes, Alan. Production for Graphic Designers. Woodstock, N.Y: Overlook Press, 2001. Print.
Production Designers, Including: Saul Bass, Kyle Cooper, Pablo Ferro, Format Films, Sandy Dvore, Maurice Binder, Bill Gold, Daniel Kleinman, Robert Brownjohn, Yolanda Santosa, Wayne Fitzgerald, Cyro Del Nero, Ken Adam, Peter Lamont, John Box, Syd Cain. United States?: Hephaestus Books, 2011. Print.
Robins, V. A, Thomas J. Wiener, Burgess Meredith, Vincent Price, Louis Nizer, Gerald Pratley, Saul Bass, Peter Bogdanovich, Josef Meinrad, and Otto Preminger. Preminger: Anatomy of a Filmmaker. Burbank, Calif: Warner Home Video, 2003. Print.
Rosentswieg, Gerry, and Julie Prendiville. Graphic Design: Los Angeles. New York, N.Y: Madison Square Press, 1988. Print.
Saul Bass. Yale Univ Pr, 2007. Print.
Saul Bass: Bass on Titles. S.l: Mediapollen, 2004. Print.
Solana, Gemma, and Antonio Boneu. Uncredited: Graphic Design & Opening Titles in Movies. Index Book S.L, 2007. Print.
Steiner, Henry, and Ken Haas. Cross-Cultural Design: Communicating in the Global Marketplace. Thames & Hudson, 1995. Print.
Terek, Tomislav. Saul Bass on Titles: Film Titles Revealed. Defunkt Century, 2001. Print.
The Masters Series: Saul Bass. New York: Visual Arts Press, 1996. Print.
Thompson, Philip, and Peter Davenport. The Dictionary of Visual Language. London: Bergstrom and Boyle, 1980. Print.
Timmer, Andreas. Making the Ordinary Extra-Ordinary: The Film-Related Work of Saul Bass. , 1999. Print.
Williams, Dan. North by Northwest: Director, Alfred Hitchcock. Harlow: Longman, 2001. Print.
Wolf, Henry, Herb Lubalin, Saul Bass, Ivan Chermayeff, Lou Dorfsman, Gene Federico, Milton Glaser, and George Lois. Love Letters To: Gilbert: From: Saul Bass, Ivan Chermayeff, Lou Dorfsman, Gene Federico, Milton Glaser, George Lois, Herb Lubalin, Henry Wolf. Menasha, Wisc: Gilbert Paper Co, 1977. Print.
Exhibitions and events
Krag, Thomas, and Tim Voldsted. Title Sequence Seminar: Saul & Elaine Bass. The Film National School of Denmark, 1995. Print.
Smith, Paul. Creativity, an Examination of the Creative Process: A Report on the Third Communications Conference of the Art Directors Club of New York. New York: Hastings House, 1959. Print.
Websites and collections
AIGA Design Archives. AIGA, n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
“Saul Bass.” Art of the Title. Art of the Title, LLC, 2007–2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Bass, Saul. Saul Bass Papers, 1953–1996. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Margaret Herrick Library, 1953. Archival material.
Crawford, James A. M. Film Credit. Los Angeles, Calif.: University of Southern California, 2013. Internet resource.
Friedman, Mildred S, Joseph Giovannini, and Steven Heller. Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1989. Internet resource.
“Saul Bass.” Design is History. Design is History, n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
Audio and video
Albinson, Ian. “The Title Design of Saul and Elaine Bass.” Vimeo. 12 Nov. 2011. Online video. 1 Dec. 2015.
Bass, Saul. Bass on Titles. Santa Monica, Calif: Pyramid Media, 2000. DVD.
Boston, Archie.20 Outstanding Los Angeles Designers: Saul Bass. Los Angeles, Calif: Archie Boston Graphic Design, 2008. YouTube. 21 Aug. 2007. Online video. 1 Dec. 2015.
Bayer, Herbert, Lester Beall, Jules Feiffer, Allen Hurlburt, George Lois, Herb Lubalin, Peter Palazzo, Gordon Parks, John Peter, and Roman Vishniac. Design 1964: Art Directors Club Visual Communications Conference. n.p., 1964. Sound recording.
Leicht, Jonny. “Saul Bass.” YouTube. 23 Mar. 2011. Online video. 1 Dec. 2015.
FlaneurSolitaire. “Saul Bass: Famous title sequences from Preminger to Scorsese.” YouTube. 3 Apr. 2014. Online video. 1 Dec. 2015.
For further reading visit AIGAdesign at Worldcat. Have another resource to share? Contact AIGA’s archivist, Heather Strelecki.