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The average lifespan of a Saul Bass logo is 35 years
February 28, 2014 6:18 AM   Subscribe

Logos designed by Saul Bass (previously: 1, 2, etc.) have a certain staying power
posted by exogenous (57 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is fantastic.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:26 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


And every one that has been replaced has been replaced by an inferior logo. Imagine.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:26 AM on February 28 [33 favorites]


I get more pleasure than I should from walking over those cast-iron manhole covers with the original Bell logo still on them. There are two on my daily commute walk.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:27 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


I wonder how many boxes of cookies it took to pay the genius who suggested they add bangs to one of the silhouettes in the Girl Scout logo.
posted by Etrigan at 6:29 AM on February 28 [49 favorites]


No man, fuck that guy, what we need is more gradients. GRADIENTS ALL THE WAY DOWN.




/hamburger
posted by nushustu at 6:30 AM on February 28 [11 favorites]


How do these compare to logos designed by others of the same era? Is it that his logos in particular are extremely long-lasting, or is it that the era of companies endlessly rebranding and fiddling with their logos only began in more recent years?
posted by talitha_kumi at 6:37 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


There's a "meta" level of excellence going on here, not just with the logos themselves but with the use of gradients. Bass only used them in a few cases and when he did they were justified.

For example that Hanna-Barbera logo, no way that could be improved!
posted by jeremias at 6:37 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


I love the new ones that look exactly like the Saul Bass ones, except with a gradient so that they look 3D.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 6:37 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


The other greatest logo designer.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:38 AM on February 28 [6 favorites]


There is a special hell waiting for the designers who have shit up Saul Bass and Paul Rand logos with bevels and gradients.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:38 AM on February 28 [26 favorites]


Nothing like some good old corporate heraldry. Fascinating that some of the most bland companies have some of the most ideologically expressive logos.
posted by selfnoise at 6:39 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Loll MINOLTA. "Redesign this logo"
"Ok boss" *adds lens flare*
"Brilliant!!!"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:43 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Saul Bass pitch video for Bell System rebranding. Highly worth watching, even if you think you wouldn't be interested.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:43 AM on February 28 [8 favorites]


> Is it that his logos in particular are extremely long-lasting, or is it that the era of companies endlessly rebranding and fiddling with their logos only began in more recent years?

The big corporate dinosaurs we think of today really came into their own in the 1950s, which coincidentally (or not) was one of the great eras of graphic design when Rand, Bass, and William Golden thrived.

So these corporations define their identities while they are young and flush with cash. They eventually become wealthy and conservative, and will prefer to evolve their identities slowly. So all those great logos like IBM's (first designed in 1956), ABC's and UPS's have updated over the years, as much to keep up with contemporary tastes as to take advantage of modern print technologies -- for example, reliably printing multiple colors and gradients is really only possible with computer technologies.

If those guys were alive today and at the peak of their careers, they'd consider every modern effect at their disposal, just as they did in the fifties.
posted by ardgedee at 6:50 AM on February 28


...or is it that the era of companies endlessly rebranding and fiddling with their logos only began in more recent years?

It's a more-or-less recent thing. Mergers, buyouts, etc. That and the rise of Marketing and the concept of Brand Identity as a driving force.

I love Bass' eye for design. And this is a great reference. I had no idea he was responsible for so many great logos. That said, I really, really, really have to wonder what he was thinking when he did this one. Just put on your thinking-like-a-15-year-old-boy hat, and remember...this is for the YWCA.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:50 AM on February 28 [10 favorites]


I have to wonder whether it was committee thinking or just one stubborn individual's bad thought processes that led to the Girl Scouts' logo redesign, but that's one where I'm not going to blame the designer, because it looks to me like the designer recognized that he or she was being tasked with replacing a perfect Saul Bass logo with something that would inevitably be inferior, and decided that adding the bangs would be just enough difference to get away with it without sullying the original with gradients.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:58 AM on February 28


So, as a total non-designer, I'm not sure I have an eye for what makes a "good" or "classic" logo (apart from the "I know what I like" business). I agree that Bass' logos are terrific and they're obviously long-lived, but can someone give a clue as to why? I'd love to be better informed.
posted by ChrisTN at 6:59 AM on February 28


I'm skeptical about the idea of averaging logos. It wouldn't surprise me if there wasn't a fair quantity of design work not on the list that was short-term ephemera (such as sports event branding) or for clients that had little recognition or impact before they merged/died/reorganized. That's not to slight Bass, just that a lot of art involves throwing lots of stuff against walls and remembering the classic designs that happen to stick.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:59 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


One thing I think is interesting about corporate logos is the tension between an internally-focused expression of identity ("this is who we are", said to ourselves) and an external marketing strategy. I feel like more logos these days are about the latter, but there's always both ideas present.
posted by selfnoise at 6:59 AM on February 28


I love the Hanna Barbera logo. I can hear the sound in my head just by looking at it.
posted by Dr-Baa at 7:02 AM on February 28 [5 favorites]


United's logo wasn't really redesigned; they merged into Continental in 2010 and I guess the globe one beat the other in Pokémon style combat.
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:09 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Can you make them bigger?
posted by jimmythefish at 7:13 AM on February 28 [5 favorites]


More logos from the 1950's to early 70's.
posted by Kabanos at 7:19 AM on February 28 [5 favorites]


Whoever put that 3D effect on the Lawry's logo deserves death by being sliced with papercuts and then dipped in their taco seasoning.

It will be painful, but you will smell delicious.
posted by Katemonkey at 7:26 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


"Redesign this logo"
"Ok boss" *adds lens flare*
"Brilliant!!!"


You want lens flare? I'll give you flare.
posted by maudlin at 7:32 AM on February 28


"I like the Saul Bass logo for our Dixie cups, but I'm not sure if merely using the word Dixie conveys just how racist we really are. Maybe add a swastika?"
posted by Sys Rq at 7:38 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I disagree that all of the original logos were classics. Some of them feel harsh and generic, modern for modern's sake. They make me think of the history of the Prudential logo. They pulled back from abstraction to a clean, but illustrative, logo.
posted by scose at 7:40 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


The Warner Communications one I saw in the Warner-Brothers logo retrospective the other day(was that posted on the blue? I think so.) And I'm like "I remember that logo!" And thought how amazingly awesome it is as a logo, then saw it was Saul Bass and thought "OF COURSE!"

What makes his work great, you ask?

Simply... Simplicity.
posted by symbioid at 7:46 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


So, as a total non-designer, I'm not sure I have an eye for what makes a "good" or "classic" logo (apart from the "I know what I like" business). I agree that Bass' logos are terrific and they're obviously long-lived, but can someone give a clue as to why? I'd love to be better informed.

A well-done logo is probably the most high-concept "distilled" product in graphic design. It's a company's flag; it has to attract peoples' attention and set a tone. It has to work at all sizes, from a billboard down to a business card. Because complicated designs get muddled/illegible at the smaller sizes, simplicity is paramount. Logos need to work in full-color, as well as in monotone/greyscale.

It's much, much harder to design a quality logo than most people think.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:49 AM on February 28 [14 favorites]


So, as a total non-designer, I'm not sure I have an eye for what makes a "good" or "classic" logo (apart from the "I know what I like" business). I agree that Bass' logos are terrific and they're obviously long-lived, but can someone give a clue as to why? I'd love to be better informed.

Balance is the key word I'd use. Bass manages to hit multiple sweet spots. He uses geometric abstractions without taking it to the level of just being about geometry. There's a theory out there that memorable designs require a little work by the viewer to understand, but not so much that the viewer gives up in frustration. Bass gives you a set of shapes, and just a beat later, your pattern recognition clicks and says, "oh, it's the letter 'A'."

Many of his logos function on an iconic level of resembling the concept or name they represent. Some of them manage to incorporate multiple symbols without excess complexity. The Girl Scouts of America logo combines feminine profiles and the cloverleaf trefoil. Multiple airline logos echo the company name with wing-like shapes. He has a great knack for balancing positive (inked) and negative (white) space. And for framing and proportion. Practically speaking, the GSA, Bell, and Alcoa logos are simple enough that they can be embossed onto cookies or stamped into metal and still be recognizable.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:50 AM on February 28 [16 favorites]


I think of all of them, the old AT&T "Death Star" seems the most like a "period" logo that has since been shoved aside with good cause. For a revamped "Death Star" and lower case - but it's really the only redesign that isn't markedly inferior.
posted by graymouser at 7:51 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Brand New did a write-up at the time of the Girl Scout logo redesign.
posted by smackfu at 8:00 AM on February 28 [6 favorites]


There's something so solid and reassuring about the Bell logo. I don't know how much of that is owed to the design, and how much is due to the familiarity and omnipresence of it. It's less a signifier for a specific company, or even for telephony in general, and more an icon for human communication or somesuch.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:02 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


Bass wasn't infallible. His Lawry's and Celanese logos are particularly godawful.

Also, he cannibalized a lot. In addition to those hideous orange swirls, compare Warner and Frontier Airlines: Simplified letterform made of three parallel lines set inside a losenge. And it seems like whenever he was stuck for ideas, he'd just draw a circle and put some lines through it: AT&T, Minolta, Rockwell, Continental.

He was no Paul Rand.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:08 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]


It's much, much harder to design a quality logo than most people think.

This. A bajillion times, this. I love designing logos, but they also make me sweat bullets. It's such a hyper-focused project, with not a little of the client's image and ego involved.

One thing that also needs to be pointed out is that these things aren't developed in a vacuum. Even Bass involved his staff, evaluating iteration after iteration long before anything is shown to the client.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:20 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Brand New did a write-up at the time of the Girl Scout logo redesign.
Adding the bangs on the first profile really helps in making this logo more contemporary, as the old profile, with the hair pulled back, made the girl too matronly. The perkier nose is cuter and the lips look a little less numb. The one thing that stands out more in this revision is the length of the necks, where they feel a little too stretched in this rendition by being so angular, whereas before the effect was diminished by the curvature. In terms of the shape of the trefoil itself, the update is a vast improvement with the new horizontal axis asymmetry, making it look more like a badge than a four-leaf clover.
As with a great deal of design writing, this mistakes unsupported assertion for analysis. "Too matronly"? Hair without bangs is "matronly"? To whom? To say nothing of the fact that the hair is not "pulled back," it is simply tucked behind the ears--as worn by myriads of young girls all over America. I guess it's fair enough to call the nose "perkier," though this whole line of analysis seems to be based on a misunderstanding that Girl Scouts are all preteens. The lips looking "numb" seems to me a purely imaginary notion. And why, oh why, is it a "vast improvement" to not have the logo look like a four-leaf clover?
posted by yoink at 8:21 AM on February 28 [12 favorites]


Dare I say it, but I like the new United Way logo better, mostly because the fingers look more like real fingers instead of four hotdogs.
posted by RobotHero at 8:30 AM on February 28


There's something so solid and reassuring about the Bell logo. I don't know how much of that is owed to the design, and how much is due to the familiarity and omnipresence of it.

It helps is you understand that the logo was designed to stand alongside the various Bell Systems' names (Indiana Bell, Northwestern Bell, Pacific Bell, etc.) Those names were all set in Helvetica. Seen in that light, the logo almost looks to be a Helvetica dingbat, as it shares a stylistic, family resemblance with Helvetica.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:32 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


He was elegant and nailed it. Why people have to mess with perfection is beyond me...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:36 AM on February 28


He was no Paul Rand.

Well, degustibus and all that. Looking through this collection of Paul Rand logos, I have to say there are precious few that seem to my eye to measure up to Bass's. There's certainly some good ones there, but a lot that seem a bit too busy and fussy.
posted by yoink at 9:00 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


why, oh why, is it a "vast improvement" to not have the logo look like a four-leaf clover?

I think it's because the Girl Scouts already had a shape that they use regularly: the trefoil. It's sort of like a three-leaf clover. Their original cookie (still sold) is a gingerbread trefoil. So I'm with them on that one: it's an improvement. I also prefer the bangs. While girls do often pull their hair behind their ears, the silhouettes from the original do remind me of some matronly school teacher from Little House on the Prairie, or maybe Nellie Olson's mom. Either way, this is one time where some minor tweaks really did improve on the original logo.
posted by nushustu at 9:04 AM on February 28


Whenever I read one of these articles about Bass, my mind is blown to learn more things that he was behind. I didn't know about the Hanna-Barberra star logo before.

Dare I say it, but I like the new United Way logo better, mostly because the fingers look more like real fingers instead of four hotdogs.

I also like the flat colors in the new one way more than the gradients. It's funny, it's kind of the opposite change from many of the other changes in the article.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:11 AM on February 28


My brain has always seen the Westinghouse logo as a crying triclops. I love the Colorforms and ABC logos though.
posted by Dr-Baa at 9:16 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]


Although they were designed by Norm Inouye (of the TransAm "Screaming Chicken" fame), the the original EPCOT Center logos seem to have been heavily inspired by Bass's Bell design.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:45 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


If you want a truly long-lived logo, General Electric's has remained essentially unchanged for 114 years.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:05 AM on February 28


Another designer from this same echelon is Raymond Loewy
posted by evilcolonel at 10:10 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


If you're going to bring Loewy, I'm going to have to bring up Henry Dreyfuss, which sort of brings us somewhat full-circle back to the Bell System.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:18 AM on February 28


Hanna-Barbera: Logo lifespan: 34 years and counting (1979- )

I kinda want to say that H-B abandoned the Bass logo in the 90s? Ah, a little googling says yes.

This exhaustive page has the Bass star from 1979-1992, and a 3D version showing up as late as 2003. But around the turn of the century they mostly started using the script logo atop a circularly/ovally/rectangularly-cropped picture of a character. I remember seeing photos of the new studio set up after Warners bought them; the outside was covered with a huge mural full of close crops of H-B characters, and the script logo.

That said I think I do occasionally still see some variant of it turning up in a bid for nostalgia on modern versions of the H-B characters, but... really ain't no new H-B stuff being made.

"Today, Hanna-Barbera is an in-name-only unit of Warner Bros. Animation, which administers the rights to its catalog and characters. New Warner productions based upon the studio's "classic" properties such as Quick Draw McGraw are copyrighted by Hanna-Barbera though Warner Bros. Animation is the one that produces these works. Most Cartoon Network shows it previously produced are copyrighted by the channel itself." - Wikipedia

(A lot of Bass' logos feel timeless, but the H-B star really screams EIGHTIES!!! to me. It's very much of its times, just like that rotating rainbow SPECIAL that heralded some one-off thing on CBS.)
posted by egypturnash at 10:31 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


So the Girl Scouts felt it was important to add bangs to the girl in front?
posted by univac at 10:59 AM on February 28


I thought the ONLY one improved by a future designer was the United Way one. The solid tricolor thing really improves it, in my opinion. Maybe it's safe to take gradients out of Bass logos but not put them in.

Well, let's be honest: it's never safe to put gradients in. We should entomb all knowledge of gradients in the Mountains of Madness.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:01 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I kinda want to say that H-B abandoned the Bass logo in the 90s? Ah, a little googling says yes.

Yep. And judging from this, there were at least two distinct versions of the swirly star: The perfectly circular one pictured, and a weird misshapen one where the star does an extra twist and ruins everything. (The latter is the one I remember from my childhood.)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:01 AM on February 28


Both the bangs and the neck changes on the Girl Scout logo increase the width of what were previously the thinnest sections of positive space. I wonder if one consideration may have been the ability to cleanly stamp the logo on things like, say, cookies?
posted by Jawn at 11:11 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I like a lot of the features of the Girl Scouts rebranding, and on seeing it in use, I'm sold on having the logo have a pointy bottom, as the shape looks good when they put other text on top, plus of course now it's at least sort of possible to describe it as a trefoil.

But bangs and upturned noses? That's on par with the Strawberry Shortcake redesign. A hairstyle you've gotta have straight hair to achieve without a lot of work, and a nose shape that's a common intended outcome of plastic surgery. Hmph.
posted by asperity at 12:01 PM on February 28 [4 favorites]


Interesting (to me) that both Bass and Rand were Jewish. Come to think of it, the Star of David is a pretty awesome logo...
posted by ericbop at 12:11 PM on February 28


My brain has always seen the Westinghouse logo as a crying triclops.

Thanks you ruined this logo forever!
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 12:49 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't blame the designer for any of these "updates", and woe unto anyone that does. Executives think that anyone with Word can design a logo, and they're too busy outsourcing and slashing benefits to do it themselves.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:35 PM on February 28


No one is gonna mention the god-awful chins on the new Girl Scout logo? That's the most offensive part.
posted by Mick at 7:49 AM on March 2


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