Saul Bass: Master of the Title

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Ask a graphic designer for a definition of the type of work they do, and the answer will most likely be logo developer, website creation, or clever package design. Very seldom would the answer include film credits, title sequences, or the trend-setting imagination in film we have become used to experiencing.

Legendary designer Saul Bass (1920 –1996) not only created some of the most recognizable corporate logos (think United Airlines, Kleenex, United Way, and the Girl Scouts – and that’s just a small sampling of his work), he also pioneered a style and process of type and design for the modern movie experience. So much so that current sequences are heavily influenced by Bass: Think the Intro to Mad Men or the opening title sequence to 2002′s Catch Me If You Can.

Saul Bass represents one of those moments of being first. He brought his use of design thinking and type to the theatrical experience. His career was legendary from the classical design career sense, but also for the movies and posters he designed and the directors he worked with, a list that includes Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese.

His opening title for The Man with the Golden Arm pioneered the possibility that the credits could set the stage; they could be more than just static type. Anatomy of a MurderNorth by Northwest, and the complete work for Vertigo (titles and poster) showcase the beginnings of a brilliant career that spanned some forty years.

So what was so incredible about Bass? It was the way he was able to shift the norm into something experiential. His ability to look at something viewed as perfunctory and make it part of the story. His way of finding beauty and potential in the mundane, his gift for raising an otherwise banal experience to one of anticipation, expectation, and wonder.

It’s difficult to identify the best of his body of work, but I found a little documentary that shows a glimpse of him and his influence: SAUL BASS: TITLE CHAMP.

And for an exhaustive history of his work, this is a great edition to your coffee table book collection.