Enough With Saul Bass Already?

3 May

In the design world a debate rages. And it’s summed up quite well by the intro to this tumblr:

Great, You Made a Saul Bass Inspired Poster

Let me guess, you have a ‘project’ where you make ‘Saul Bass inspired’ or otherwise ‘retro minimalist’ movie posters for a recently hyped or classic movie, which you want to sell on your Etsy account despite having absolutely no licensing rights, as hopeful promotion for your fledgling ‘design business’ you run from your dorm room. You and everyone else, buddy.

Well, actually, I don’t. But I know that plenty of people do. In fact I’m nothing but an interloper in the design world and this argument in general, but I think it’s worthy of throwing a spotlight on however briefly, but we’re going to have to start at the top. So …

Who the fuck is Saul Bass?

Saul Bass is a hugely influential American designer, mainly known for his work with Alfred Hitchcock on posters, other promotional items and something that so many of today’s filmmakers tragically overlook … opening credits.

For example:

Vertigo Opening Credits & Poster

Now Bass has always been someone who designers have looked up to, referenced, and paid homage to, but recently there has been a huge explosion of amateurs  inspired by him, working with a minimalist approach of few colours and sparse design often intending to portray an idea or moment or scene from the film they are working with.

So far so good, and there are some genuinely talented folk out there led by the truly brilliant work of design guru Olly Moss. Olly’s work in some ways seems to have been something of a catalyst for what has now become a huge trend. But the problem with anything that blows up like this is that it will eventually attract opportunists and imitators. And herein lies potential criticisms. In the unedited uncensored land of the internet, Olly’s work may end up on a blog sat next to something some kid made on his mum’s computer which attains a kind of false validation by that juxtaposition. Or perhaps even worse in the eyes of the designer Olly’s work is reduced because of it. Or perhaps even worse someone is flogging their knock offs on their Etsy store, capitalising on the whole thing.

Now, I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong here. But that’s some discussion and criticism that I’ve seen and read from a number of sources, and explains why some of these creations are beginning to provoke backlash and hostility from some quarters.

Sometimes Olly’s work looks like this (clicky for higher-res):

At other times it may be less spectacular, but usually no less compelling. Really check out the link below and have a Google round some of his stuff, he’s a brilliant designer. I’ve not seen any hostility from Olly himself, I ought to add here – going by his Twitter he seems like a very jolly fellow, but judging by the tumblr up there, some people certainly have taken exception to what they consider, um, less “worthy” pieces of this nature.

I can understand why cheap knock-offs of a style that has indeed produced some capital-A art (see the John August blog linked below) get people’s goat, and the issue certainly seems to warrant some kind of wider public debate and discussion beyond the snark that lies in that tumblr, HOWEVER …

My view is that the kids in their bedrooms should carry on as they are, learning their tricks and exploring new technologies and riffing on their influences because that’s how art gets made and progresses and mutates into the next level of wherever this trend will go. The ubiquity of something does not automatically undermine it. And perhaps some designers/bloggers/whatever should be less sniffy and understand that talent will out, that the shit artists will fall to the wayside, and when the trend fades a bit the quality (if that’s what they’re worried about) may start to rise, they’ll get paid their dues and are less likely to be featured next to first year design students jumping on the latest passing bandwagon.

But then I’m not a designer.

So in answer to the question; no, not enough of Saul Bass. Not by a long shot. Keep it fucking coming.

Further reading/viewing:

‘In Praise of Unsheets’ blog by John August
@reelizer on Twitter
Olly Moss on Flickr
Brandon Schaefer on Flickr (Brandon is a cool guy and is usually very happy to knock around some of these arguments on his Twitter)
@seekandspeak (Brandon’s Twitter)

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