Saul Bass might be the single most accomplished graphic designer in history. Working in the mid 20th century, when the importance of graphic design was just on the upswing, Bass branded a staggering array of major corporations with his iconic, minimal designs. For about 50 years, if you were looking for a clean, thoughtful design that was made to last, this was the man you called.
Who is Saul Bass?
Bass was born in the largely Jewish New York borough of the Bronx in 1920 to working class Russian- Jewish immigrants, who encouraged his early interest in the arts. In preparation for a career in graphic design, he studied modernism at New York’s Art Students League under the direction of Howard Trafton. Bass worked also as a freelance designer during that time. Near the end of the Second World War, and still freelancing, he enrolled at Brooklyn College where he studied with Gyorgy Kepes in 1944-45. In 1946 he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he established and operated a more permanent business
venture, a design firm called Saul Bass and Associates.
Bass is famous for his use of simple, geometric shapes and their symbolism. Often, a single dominant image stands alone to deliver a powerful message. These shapes, as well as type, were often hand-drawn by Bass to create a casual appearance, always packed with a sophisticated message. His ability to create such a powerful message with basic shapes makes his work even more impressive.
From Print to Screen
Bass is best known for his work in film. He started out in the industry doing poster design, first hired by director and producer Otto Preminger. Bass had an uncanny ability to capture the mood of a film with simple shapes and images, much like his other work. He would go on to work with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorcese and design classic posters for movies such as The Man with the Golden Arm, West Side Story, The Shining, Exodus, and North by Northwest.
From poster design, Bass would move on to creating impressive title sequences for many films, such as Psycho and Vertigo. These opening credits felt like animated graphic design, maintaining Bass’s print style for a consistent branding of a film. This work would continue late into Bass’s career, designing title sequences for Big, Goodfellas, Schindler’s List, and Casino. To top off his involvement in the film world,Bass won an Oscar in 1968 for his short film Why Man Creates.
Along with his impressive film portfolio, Bass was responsible for creating memorable logos, many of which still exist today. Through his freelance work and with his firm Saul Bass & Associates, he would create identities for companies such as Quaker Oats, AT&T, The Girl Scouts, Minolta, United Airlines, Bell and Warner Communications. In addition, Bass designed the poster for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and several Academy Awards shows.
Bass’ work can catch you by surprise at how deceivingly simple it is. His distinct talent for turning ideas into a kind of universal language pushed the boundaries of graphic design. He proved that simple design is timeless, and 20 years after his death Bass is still a recognized name in graphic design.