Design History #2: Saul Bass

The name Saul Bass is so well-known in the design and motion graphics world that I feel stupid for not making him the first designer covered in my series on Design History.

For those of you who are new to the field, however, Saul Bass was an American designer famous for his logos and movie title sequences. He was born into a Jewish family in New York in 1920 and studied art at the Art Students League in Manhattan and the Brooklyn College. He worked with some major American companies and prominent Hollywood directors over the course of his career.

I was introduced to Bass in my 2D Design class at Sheridan College , where I watched a clip of his title sequences in The Man with the Golden Arm and Psycho. I was considering experimenting with basic animation in Photoshop at the time and was fascinated by his work. So I dived into research about Bass as soon as I could.

There are so many incredible logos and title sequences which are credited to Saul Bass and I think that designers today can learn something from all of them. But for the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on the title sequences of The Man With The Golden Arm and Psycho.

Let’s start with The Man With The Golden Arm. I really liked the simple black and white colour scheme and the use of plain white lines. These white lines reminded me of band aids at first, which isn’t surprising given that the movie is about a heroin addict. Perhaps Bass intended it to be that way.

Simplicity dominates Saul Bass designs, as does repetition. For example, the title sequence of Psycho opens to an suspenseful soundtrack and a visual of several lines which eventually reveal the name “Alfred Hitchcock”. Its a timeless way to introduce the director. Bass uses lines here like he did in The Man With The Golden Arm, but the animation varies making the sequence intriguing.

A master like Saul Bass used basic elements like line and form together with fundamental design principles like repetition and contrast. That in itself is a practice that designers today should consciously study and replicate.

Do watch the title sequences of The Man With The Golden Arm and Psycho and write down your own observations. Let me know what you think!

Photo by Nicholas Lazarine on Unsplash