Saul Bass: logos and film titles

what makes a good designer?

SAUL BASS ONCE said, “If it’s simple simple, it’s boring. We try for the idea that is so simple that it will make you think and rethink.”

From top left to bottom right: Bell System, Avery Dennison, AT&T, United Airlines, Minolta, Continental Airlines, Quaker Oats, United Way, Warner Communications, Kleenex.

Peter Mayle, author of A Year in Provence, also had a career in advertising. From 1957 to 1974 he worked for David Ogilvy, the “father of advertising” and author of Ogilvy on Advertising. In Mayle’s introduction to Ideas on Design, a monograph on design studio Pentagram, he asks: “What makes a good designer?”

His answer specifies respect for function, striking ideas, logic and intuition, qualities impeccably expressed by Saul Bass who from the 1940s to the ’90s branded a long list of major corporations with iconic identities still in use today. The average lifespan of a Bass logo is 34 years, and the ones which have been updated seem less authentic.

“If I do my job well, the identity program will also clean up the image of the company, position it as being contemporary and keep it from ever looking dated.” ~ Saul Bass

He became famous for Hollywood film title sequences in the ’50s, causing a sensation in The Man with the Golden Arm, a story about a jazz musician addicted to heroin, starring Frank Sinatra. For 40 years Bass designed film titles which are recognizable for their remarkable synoptic economy in the four minutes or less allocated to them.

Towards the latter part of his career, he formed a long-term collaboration with Martin Scorsese who had admired his work while growing up. Bass also became a film director, winning an Academy Award for the documentary Why Man Creates, and was nominated for others.

~ Robert Grey

Mayhem campaign designed by Leo Burnett Worldwide for Allstate Insurance, 2010.


Here are a couple of examples of Bass-influenced film titles in the twenty-first century:

Mad Men, 2007 title sequence produced by Imaginary Forces for Lionsgate.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, 2005 title sequence designed by Danny Yount.