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My Initial Reaction to the Book on Saul Bass | DesignNotes by Michael Surtees

My Initial Reaction to the Book on Saul Bass

2011 was a crazy year for me so over Christmas I rewarded the hard work I put in by buying a couple design books. I bought Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible by Sophie Lovell, Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by Paul Shaw and Saul Bass by Jennifer Bass & Pat Kirkham. The first two books came right away but the Bass book was on back order and there was no defined delivery date. I ordered it anyways from Amazon. To my surprise it arrived a couple days after the first two books. This post isn’t as much a review (I haven’t read the whole thing yet), but an initial reaction to the book. I don’t know the whole story on Saul Bass and I don’t have anything to compare it with. What I do know is that I was instantly blown away at what I saw.

What I’m doing is capturing my initial reaction going through the book, pausing at work that makes me appreciate what is in front of me and trying to let that soak into my own sensibilities as a designer. Typically I’ll cheat when going through this book. I’ll start from the back, flipping from the end to the start. As the pages turn I’ll find myself stopping every couple pages to read an excerpt or study an image. When I continue flipping I may have spent upwards of thirty minutes on just a couple pages. At this pace it’s going to take me a year to go through the entire thing.

There’s the corporate identity work, the posters and movie titles. The first two are easily to display on paper. Stopping movie titles should be difficult because of all the motion and timing involved. Surprisingly or maybe not, the titles are pretty impactful on paper as I would imagine on screen. I have a lot of favorite images in the book. The one that stands out the most for me is the image of Saul standing in front a number of posters he’s designed. The difference from some of the other images of him in front of his work is that he’s outside putting them on a wall. They’re not framed. There is nothing better as a designer seeing people interact with the work that’s been designed. It’s even more powerful when a designer can staple or in this instance wheat paste work in the outside environment. There are very few better feelings for a designer than this and it shows in his expression.

I think all the work is great and wonder why I don’t feel the same way today with the stuff that I pass on the street or interact with today. I’m not looking back thing in a nostalgic way wondering if things were better for design in a different era, but questioning practical design principles that aren’t really seen these days. A couple points come to mind. 1. Motion without needing to use an animated gif (or flash) — the movement reflected in the shapes and proportions. 2. Impecable use of color. 3. Visual puzzles without being complicated for the sake of not being able to focus on one point. 4. Scale doesn’t seem to be an issue. Whether a graphic is small or almost fills the page — it still has the same beautiful impact.


Saul Bass Book 12


Saul Bass Book 15


Saul Bass Book 16


Saul Bass Book 01


Saul Bass Book 03


Saul Bass Book 04


Saul Bass Book 05


Saul Bass Book 06


Saul Bass Book 07


Saul Bass Book 08


Saul Bass Book 09


Saul Bass Book 10


Saul Bass Book 11


Saul Bass Book 13


Saul Bass Book 14

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