Saul Bass: father of flat design

The clean lines and uncluttered presentation of flat design are everywhere. From the austere functionality offered by Google’s Project Kennedy, through to the radical simplicity of Apple’s iOS 7 reboot. We are even beginning to see it in consumer electronic interfaces (PVRs and next gen gaming consoles), social media and advertising.

This move away from the comfort blanket of skeuomorphism is interesting, as it represents a new level maturity and precision. Reproducing physicality was a good way of rooting abstract processes in the familiar, but an increasingly technically literate population were arguably growing bored with faux leather interfaces.

With design it’s fair to say there’s nothing new under the sun though, and the visionary work of Saul Bass epitomises this.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Bass was truly a renaissance man of design.

He was the film title designer on classic films including Vertigo, Spartacus and Casino.

As a visual consultant he storyboarded the chillingly powerful shower scene in Psycho, and was even rumoured to have directed that scene.

However, it’s in his role of developing corporate identities for numerous blue chip clients that is of particular relevance to flat design.

Here are a set of logos designed by Bass and his wife Elaine from the 1970s. Notice the simple and elegant style, and just how contemporary these appear. For me the simple curves of the Warner Brothers logo will always be the definitive version.

Saul Bass corporate logos

Whilst the industrial design principles of Dieter Rams are an acknowledged influence on the output of Jonathan Ive, it could be said that the design legacy of Bass is just as enduring.

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