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Saul Bass — America’s Designer

Saul Bass — Contemporary Graphic Design

In the latter half of the 20th century,  nobody was busier – or better – than graphic designer Saul Bass when it came to movies, TV, print, and corporate branding.

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.

West Side Story — A Masterpiece That Stands Alone

The prologue intro and title for West Side Story is perhaps the single greatest movie title ever designed. Taken together, the two components are 10 minutes long, and set the stage for the film epic to follow.

Adding to the impressive design is the fact that at the time, there weren’t any multi-plex cinemas. When you went to the movies, you watched in an auditorium with 600 or 700 other viewers, gathered together and gazing up at a screen designed for viewing wide aspect CinemaScope or PanaVision stretching to the ceiling.

Before Apple, It Was All Done By Hand

Students today should be reminded that his complex and complicated movie title sequences were conceptualized and produced long before digital design software 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.