Though Saul Bass created some amazingly long-lasting logos, that is not really what he was known for. His real fame came from his revolution of the presentation of movie credits (yes, those short graphic sequences at the beginning of the movie…which perhaps you like to fast forward through…).
A son to Jewish immigrants, Bass was born in New York in 1920. He finished high school at the age of 15 and had the opportunity to work with a very well-known designer named György Kepes at Arts Students League night school.
He worked in advertising and logo design for the first part of his career and moved to California in 1946. The average lifespan of one of his logos was 34 years, which is an amazing feat. Bass was so accomplished in the area of logo design because his focus was on creating iconic, yet simple designs. Some of his most successful logos include Bell, Kleenex, and AT&T.
It was in 1954 that his career shifted. This was due to his work on the 1954 film Carmen Jones. He worked on the movie poster for this movie and the producer was so impressed that he asked Bass to work on the movie credits. If you view the credits, they may seem simple or unremarkable, but this was the first time that anything but words on the screen were used for the credits. This movie poster and title sequence is what started him on the path of movie production.
It was in this line of work that he met his wife, Elaine Makatura. They worked together on the title sequence of the film Spartacus in 1960. At this time in his life he worked on many films, both creating title sequences and designing the movie posters. Some of his most iconic movie posters were Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder and The Man with the Golden Arm.
He took a break from the big movie screen to produce his own films and to focus on his family between the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s when he was persuaded to get back into designing title credits from 1987 until his death in 1996.
Saul Bass accomplished much in his life and in his career as a graphic designer, but what strikes me as interesting is the shift in his career from the big movie screen to the quiet life as a father. It just goes to show you that just because you can do something, and perhaps you can do it very well, that doesn’t mean you have to do it forever. Nor does it mean that all decisions you make have to be final. Bass reentered his career after years of absence.
Bass is an inspiration to young designers to rethink the process of the “norm”. Just because it has always been done that way, it doesn’t mean it has to continue being that way…especially if the “norm” is…well, rather boring!
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