In the latter half of the 20th century, when it came to movies, TV, print, and corporate branding, nobody was busier – or better – than graphic designer Saul Bass.
His title design work for the movie blockbusters of the day — films like North By Northwest, Anatomy of A Murder, The Man With The Golden Arm, Vertigo, and many others — is still revered for its attention demanding content and arresting concepts.
Saul Bass was the graphic force that single-handedly changed the look and feel of American popular and corporate culture. His signature style was applied to virtually everything that had to do with print, film, or television, long before branding became a thing.
Before Apple, It Was All Done By Hand
Students today should be reminded that his complex and complicated movie title sequences were concepted and produced before digital could even be imagined, let alone implemented. Then, accuracy was measured with a wooden ruler, a stopwatch, a film cutter, and some tape. A minor note, he did all this without Google and YouTube for reference.
His unique approach to title sequences was a spectacular break from the cookie-cutter template marketing methods cranked out by studios that had evolved little from the early days of film. His dramatic style used static design elements to convey mood, feeling, and focus to what had been traditional for the sake of tradition — and it worked.
Today, two-plus decades since his death, his work from a half-century ago remains vital, and is itself a continuing source of inspiration across a variety of media.
With a masthead that reads like a Who’s Who of popular consumer oriented bike books from the last 30 years (give or take), Barnett’s BikeCraft officially stepped into the deep end this month with the print version of their previously announced custom moto mag. At a time when print’s hold on the American psyche is under intense pressure, the decision to assemble a team of high-profile displaced editorial and creative types seems counter-intuitive. But it works.
Publisher Mike Barnett’s appreciation for print extends back to when the El Paso based Harley dealer popped the cork in the late ’90s on their first vanity press project, the no-cavier-for-me beer and bbq crowd Barnett’s Magazine. Originally styled as a new and used classifieds pub pushing dealer inventory in times of scarcity, the glossier than rival Motorcycle Trader dealt mainly in V-Twin pedigrees. This lasted until the economics of sustaining a print model against a global glut no longer made sense and the move to a dot-com online edition was finalized.
At about the same time, the moto journalism talent pool was suddenly bursting at the seams, courtesy mainly of HFM’s decision to scale back – way back – on most of their North American titles before ultimately putting them on the block. With staffs at all the genre pubs slashed razor-thin, competent, experienced, premium print skill was suddenly on the market. Serendipity knocked, and a new print publishing venture featuring a fair number of Cycle World alums shepherded by long time former editor-in-chief Dave Edwards, along with notables from CW competitors, was suddenly viable.
back to basics – take the long way home and you’ll get there sooner
How important is it to have experienced pros in your corner, especially for a startup? Take the treatment of all the product announcements, career snippets, random ricochets, and anecdotal memos that accumulate like dog hair under the living room sofa. Notice the runacross header with the catch-all title “Goggles”? Lacking the equivalent of refrigerator magnets, it serves as a frame for the collected odds and ends ranging from Post-Its to short essays. This took thought and skilled graphic design to arrive at a clever solution done well that looks easy yet escapes so many others.
Just eight pages in finds So-Cal designer-builder Denny Berg (left, above) profiled for his unique body of work designed and built during his tenure with aftermarket parts manufacturer Cobra. For nearly 20 years this graduate of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design has created one innovative custom after another, each an exercise in form following function. Denny’s long been one of my favorites, widely regarded for his effortless style and laid back demeanor. Will the affable, accessible N. Dakota native ever get his own “reality” show? Uh, no. Which only means he’ll continue to inspire serious devotees of the craft with his dignity intact and his intellect secure.
looks familiar – for a reason
Barnett’s BikeCraft features art direction courtesy of CW expat Elaine Anderson, whose signature style after nearly three decades at the helm of America’s most popular bike book is unmistakable. The inaugural (No. 1, Summer 2012) issue of the seasonal quarterly takes advantage of plenty of editorial elbow room to hilite over a dozen richly illustrated features – bobbers, trackers, cafe racers – with inspired photography. There’s plenty of room for white space friendly, easy on the eyes, open leading type design that actually encourages rather than challenging readership.
With editorial, design, and content of this caliber and the small luxury of publishing as a quarterly, I’d have liked more attention to repro specs. Stepping up to a premium paper would add an extra dimension of crispness and detail this level of creative deserves. And the glaring lack of a robust supporting web site that’s less ’90s archival and more contemporary – I’d settle for a look that’s anything this side of 2006: Rolling Stone, anyone? – means an inexplicable squandered opportunity to connect, engage, and convert. Not porting the print concept online means turning one’s back on a market the size of, well, the planet. Not to mention the whole ePub thing going on these days.
Otherwise, it’s a worthy effort for a seasoned crew embarking on a challenging voyage. Here’s hoping they can stay the course.
News out this morning from Ad Age has Harley’s media planning/buying to Publicis Groupe’s Starcom (first globally in media buying – new adds include Darden Group, Best Buy) while doing a 180 and casting their creative future with newcomer Victors & Spoils following Carmichael Lynch’s ship jumping last August after 30 years of mostly hidebound (“screw it – lets ride”, jeans over boots) treatment. At the same time, Publicis shop Digitas is greenlighted for digital, a too long neglected portal. Continue reading →
In an announcement e-mailed – ironically, considering – June 18, Rick Campbell, Publisher and Editor of Motorcycle/ATV/UTV Industry Magazine(s) and the Powersports International Internet Expos (PIIE), will cease operations July 1, 2010. (www.mimag.com)
Campbell is the latest casualty in print’s war of attrition with online (digital) content, further hampered by a devastated powersports market in an overall struggling economy. The main culprit remains loss of ad revenue, the lifeblood of publishing and the sauce that has historically driven the presses.
announcement ends 30-year run
While MIM’s readership remained fairly constant, the same couldn’t be said for the B2B’s clients. Campbell recently took a big redesign step of downsizing from a tabloid format to a more conventional, more economical letter-based layout. The move bought time, but no new revenue. Continue reading →
PBS NewsHour host Gwen Ifill led a five-member panel consisting of local print, digital and broadcast personalities in discussing The Changing Media Landscape, the last stop on a multi-state tour taking the public’s news temperature in cities across the country.
The 90-minute discussion, held today at St. Petersburg’s Poynter Institute, represented community, for profit, consumer and business POVs. It opened to an audience that included a contingent of Iraqi journalists by acknowledging the challenges facing a recession battered journalism that’s also being hammered by social media’s cultural transformation of how consumers take their news. Continue reading →
Today, thanks to desktop publishing, four color printing has never been cheaper, crisper, smarter or easier. It also finds itself nearly shipwrecked in channel after channel, helping to drag down the US Post Office along the way.
The June, 2007 issue of Motorcycle Product News ran 108 pages including covers. By March, 2010, the pages had shrunk – along with staff and editorial budget – to 56 and counting. This isn’t to pick on venerable MPN, long a staple in the powersports community – they’re just one among thousands of titles facing real issues of survival. It’s more an open question of what happens next to the communications infrastructure when fading advertising revenue can’t sustain the hard costs print publishing requires.