Designers we love : Saul Bass


If you have seen the opening title sequence to Mad Men, the you are already familiar with Saul Bass’ style.

For the first fifty years of American cinema, movie posters were either paintings or photography of the stars of the film to entice audiences into the theater. Opening title sequences were pretty tame, usually the cast member names set to music. Saul Bass was the graphic designer who historically changed the concept of not only the movie poster but also opening film titles.

Bass had the extraordinary ability to express the core of a design with images that became glyphs, or pictorial elements that exert great graphic power. Although his graphic design style reduced messages to pictograms, his work is anything but dull. Irregular forms were cut from paper or drawn with a brush. Freely drawn, ornate letterforms were then combined with typography or handwriting. The result was high-contrast minimal design lacking the rigid grid structure that was popular at the time.

The first design program that unified both print and media graphics was for Otto Preminger’s film The Man With the Golden Arm (click here to see the opening titles). Bass’ conceptual image for a film about drug addiction is a thick pictogram of  an arm thrusting downward into negative space surrounded by large rectangles with hand-rendered cut-out type of the film’s title. It was a stark contrast to any other film poster or opening titles from that time period. You can see more of his amazing opening film sequences here.

Bass redefined film’s visual language. He went on to design titles for Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and others and he even collaborated with Hitchcock for the infamous shower scene in Psycho. Mad Men’s opening sequence pays some serious homage to Bass, which makes total sense considering the historical time period the drama takes place in.

In addition to revolutionizing opening film titles, Bass created numerous corporate-identity programs for companies including AT&T, Continental Airlines and Quaker Oats. He also directed a number of films, including the Academy Award-winning short film Why Man Creates.

Saul Bass deind on Aprl 25th, 1996 ath the age of 75.