Friday February 12, 2021 By David Quintanilla
What Saul Bass Can Teach Us About Web Design — Smashing Magazine

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Movie credit, model logos, posters… Saul Bass did all of it, and the ideas that knowledgeable his work are simply as precious now as they have been 50 years in the past.

Net design exists at a beautiful intersection of various disciplines. In earlier articles, I’ve written concerning the classes to be discovered from newspapers and from ancient Roman architects. This time we’ll be one of many all-time nice graphic designers — Saul Bass.

Saul Bass is a graphic design legend. Chargeable for title sequences in movies like North by Northwest and Anatomy of a Homicide, in addition to numerous iconic posters and model logos over time. His work, within the phrases of Martin Scorses, “distilled the poetry of the fashionable, industrialized world.”

A selection of corporate logos designed by Saul Bass
From United Airways to AT&T, Saul Bass designed a few of the most iconic logos of all time. (Large preview)

We’re in a special world now, a breakneck velocity digital world, however that carries with it its personal poetry. Though the backdrop has modified, Saul Bass’s strategies and mindset have stood the take a look at of time, and internet designers would do nicely to recollect them.

Earlier than moving into the particulars of Saul Bass and his work, it’s price outlining his strategy to design in broader phrases. Massive characters encourage huge concepts, however as is so usually the case the true trick is within the particulars.

Regarding his strategy to title sequences, Bass stated:

“Cope with unusual issues, issues that we all know so nicely that we’ve ceased to see them; take care of them in a manner that enables us to grasp them anew — in a way making the unusual extraordinary.”

— Saul Bass (Source)

An identical ethos can and needs to be utilized to internet design. As we take a look at his work, sure, by all means envision homepage splashes, but additionally take into consideration buttons and signup kinds and authorized disclaimers. There’s simply as a lot magnificence to be discovered within the little issues. Typically extra.

Saul Bass-designed poster for the feature film ‘Grand Prix’
Nothing Saul Bass did was an afterthought. Each ingredient needed to match completely with all the pieces else, from titles to credit. (Large preview)

That Bass is even famend for title sequences is a testomony to his creativity. Earlier than Saul Bass entered the scene movie titles have been normally boring affairs, names and static photos delivered with all of the bizazz of divorce papers. Underneath his eye, they turned items of artwork, statements on the tone, and texture of what was to come back. As he so brilliantly put it,

“Design is considering made visible.”

— Saul Bass

You will discover extra about Saul Bass’ imaginative and prescient of his work and his influences within the following pages and movies:


Let’s begin with essentially the most fundamental side — colour. Bass as soon as stated that ‘viewers involvement with a movie ought to start with its first body.’ So too ought to customer involvement start upon first load. We course of the colours and association of a web site earlier than we now have time to course of its content material. You’ll discover no higher advocate for high quality content material than me, however it’s hampered if not given a high quality canvas to unfold on.

For Bass is often translated into easy, vivid colour palettes with not more than three of 4 colours. Not too busy, however loads of pop. Purple, white, and black is without doubt one of the golden colour mixtures — one Bass put to make use of many occasions. Shiny colours don’t all the time imply ‘loud’, generally they imply ‘hanging.’

Posters for the films ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Advise & Consent’
Saul Bass liked him some crimson, white, and black. (Large preview)
Album artwork of ‘Tone Poems of Color’ by Frank Sinatra
Extra stimulating than Sinatra’s mug, no? (Supply: MoMA) (Large preview)

What does this imply by way of internet design? Nicely, somewhat greater than ‘use vibrant colours,’ I’m afraid. Examine colour concept then apply it to your initiatives in tasteful, audacious methods. A number of wonderful articles on the topics on the topic listed on the finish of this part, and the ‘Colors’ category of Smashing Magazine is house to lots extra. It’s nicely well worth the consideration. The proper palette can set a tone earlier than guests have even processed what they’re .

For an uncannily Saul Bass-esque instance of colour and form in motion on the net, take the Holiday Center for Working Youth in Ottendorf. What higher method to have a good time daring, practical structure than by daring, practical design? It’s like a Vertigo poster in digital type.

Screenshot of the website homepage for the Holiday Center for Working Youth in Ottendorf
The web site celebrates legacy not simply by phrases, however by colour too. (Large preview)

Purple, white, and black isn’t all the time the reply (although it’s an extremely sharp mixture). The correct mix is determined by the story you’re attempting to inform, and the way you’re attempting to inform it. Saul Bass knew full nicely that colour is an extremely highly effective software, and it’s one nonetheless usually underused within the prim, white-space world of at this time’s internet.

Screenshot of the Lubmovka Festival website homepage
The Lubimovka Pageant for Russian talking playwrights makes use of colour on its website to convey the vibrance of what it does. It takes what might have been a stuffy outdated picture of Shakespeare and makes it dynamic and enjoyable. (Large preview)

Viewers involvement with a web site begins with colour, so make it rely. For these not sure the place to begin listed below are a choice of Smashing articles on the subject:


Phrases, phrases, phrases. Design could also be considering made visible, however generally one of the best ways to say one thing is to come back proper out with it in phrases. Bass had a typographical type virtually as distinctive as his visible one. Tough, hand-drawn, and virtually all the time all-caps, he made phrases highly effective with out being overbearing.

Collection of stills from the ‘North by Northwest’ opening title sequence
The title sequence of North by Northwest weds typography with colour to show the mundane into the spectacular. (Supply: Art of the Title) (Large preview)

Fonts can inform tales too. They impart tone of voice, formality, significance, and construction, amongst different issues. Mixed with a robust colour scheme they’ll make copy dance the place it’d in any other case slouch alongside feeling sorry for itself.

Screenshot of the Kotak Toys website homepage
Russian toymaker Kotak makes use of typography to replicate the playful, mix-and-match nature of their stacking toys. (Large preview)

Copywriter Jon Ryder showcases this fantastically on his personal website, which is the complete bundle of sturdy colour and daring, playful typography. As you click on the prompts the copy rearranges and edits itself. It’s a superb concept elegantly executed. If Saul Bass was round to design portfolios that is the type of factor you’d anticipate him to give you.

Screenshot of copywriter Jon Ryder’s portfolio website homepage
(Large preview)

Artwork of the Title refers to Bass’s strategy as ‘kinetic typography’, and I believe that’s a beautiful flip of phrase to remember when selecting font mixtures for the online. Sure, Occasions New Roman or Arial will do a job, however with the wealth of free fonts and CSS stylings obtainable why wouldn’t wish to strive giving your phrases extra life? It’s not all the time acceptable, however generally it may be simply the ticket.



This one is as a lot concerning the course of as it’s about web sites themselves. Saul Bass was a giant believer in drawing. At the same time as applied sciences superior and alternatives arose to streamline the design course of, he understood there is no such thing as a substitute for working along with your fingers when attempting to get concepts out of your head and into the world. To aspiring designers, he suggested,

“Study to attract. Should you don’t, you’re going to dwell your life getting round that and attempting to compensate for that.”

Storyboard sketches of the shower scene in the Alfred Hitchcock feature film ‘Psycho’
The bathe scene in Psycho was storyboarded by none aside from Saul Bass.(Large preview)

No matter it’s you’re coping with — web page format, logos, icons — there is no such thing as a sooner method to get the concepts out of your head than by drawing them. At the present time that doesn’t essentially imply pen and paper, you possibly can all the time use tablets and like, however the underlying precept is similar. There aren’t any presets — simply you and your concepts. I’m no Saul Bass, however I’ve had a number of good concepts in my time (at the very least two or three) and most of them occurred virtually accidentally within the stream drawing.

Pencil sketch plan of a New York Times front page spread
(Large preview)

The worth of drawing pops up within the unlikeliest of locations and I like it each time I do. Every front page of The New York Times starts as a hand-drawn pencil sketch, for instance. Are there fancy laptop applications that would do the same job? Certain, they usually’re used ultimately, however they’re not used first. It doesn’t matter in the event that they’re brainstorming company logos, revamping a web site’s homepage, or getting ready the entrance web page of a newspaper — designers draw.

Listed here are some good articles concerning the worth of drawing in an internet design context:

An Interdisciplinary Method

It’s close to unattainable to repair one label on Saul Bass. At any given time he was a graphic designer, a filmmaker, a photographer, an architect. The listing goes on and on. Having to be literate in so many areas was a necessity, however it was additionally a real ardour, a relentless curiosity.

Take the title sequence of Vertigo. Its iconic spiral aesthetic dated again years earlier when Bass came across spiral diagrams by 19th-century French mathematician Jules-Antoine Lissajous. When requested to work on Vertigo, the concept clicked into place instantly. Mathematical concept discovered its manner into an Alfred Hitchcock movie poster, and who’re we to argue with the outcomes?

A selection of Lissajous curve diagrams
(Large preview)

Having a specialization is clearly essential in any subject, however there may be a lot to be gained from stepping outdoors our lanes. Anybody with even an off-the-cuff curiosity in internet improvement has virtually actually discovered themselves needing a equally protean strategy — whether or not they needed to or not.

Screenshot of designer Tonya Baydina’s portfolio website homepage
Typically web sites want pictures, others illustration, others geometry or video or knowledge visualisation. You received’t know till you strive. That is the portfolio website of designer Tonya Baydina. (Large preview)

Engineering, design, UX, typography, copywriting, ethics, regulation… very like in structure there are few fields that don’t enrich one’s understanding of internet design, so don’t be afraid to immerse your self within the unfamiliar. You simply would possibly discover the right inspiration.

Iterate, Collaborate

Even the masters are college students, all the time studying, all the time iterating, usually collaborating. Bass in fact had sturdy concepts about what type his initiatives must take, however it was not his manner or the freeway. Look no additional than Stanley Kubrick’s feedback on potential posters for The Shining. The 2 went by lots of of drafts collectively. In a single letter Hitchcock wrote, “fantastically completed however I don’t suppose any of them are proper.”

A rejected poster design for the Stanley Kubrick feature film ‘The Shining’
(Large preview)

One can solely think about what number of hours Bass slaved over these mockups, however while you take a look at these rejected it’s exhausting to disagree with Kubrick; fantastically completed, however not fairly proper. I believe the ultimate consequence was well worth the work, don’t you?

Poster for the Stanley Kubrick film ‘The Shining’
(Large preview)

We dwell and work in a largely company world. Like Bass, that doesn’t must hamstring the stuff you make. Maintain your floor when that’s what the second requires, however all the time be looking out for real companions. They’re on the market. The consumer isn’t all the time proper, however they’re not all the time fallacious both. Collaboration usually brings out one of the best in a undertaking, and even geniuses must work like hell to get it proper.

There are few issues extra precious than suggestions from individuals you belief. It’s exhausting to beat that cool, communicative stream the place egos and insecurities are out of the image and it’s all about making the factor pretty much as good as it may be.

Listed here are a few articles on iteration and experimentation in internet design that I’ve actually loved engaged on:

Magnificence For Magnificence’s Sake

No-one goals of doing company artwork, however Bass is a mannequin instance of excellence thriving in that world. Many years it nonetheless holds its personal and is oftentimes genuinely stunning. He confirmed higher than most that designing for a dwelling didn’t imply creativity couldn’t thrive. Whether or not you’re making model logos or homepages there’s loads to be stated for creatives combating their nook. You owe it to the work.

Bass put it higher than I ever might.

“I would like all the pieces we do to be stunning. I don’t give a rattling whether or not the consumer understands that that’s price something, or that the consumer thinks it’s price something, or whether or not it’s price something. It’s price it to me. It’s the best way I wish to dwell my life. I wish to make stunning issues, even when no one cares.”

The whole lot else stems from this ethos, from magnificence for magnificence’s sake. From colour to iteration to thrill within the little particulars, Saul Bass confirmed the best way for graphic and internet designers alike. Be audacious, curious, and studying on a regular basis. Make stunning issues, even when no one cares.

Smashing Editorial
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