My first position out of Art Center College of Design was with Saul Bass in Hollywood. As you may know, Saul was a pioneer in defining corporate identity as a strategic marketing discipline. His firm developed identity programs for major international companies such as AT&T, Exxon, United Airlines, Warner Communications and dozens of others. Saul also achieved fame for his Hollywood film posters and film title sequences.
As a very junior designer, I was not allowed to attend major design presentations, but I found an area behind a curtain where I could listen to, but not see, Saul present. What struck me was how detail-oriented Saul was. He was at ease explaining to clients the rationale behind a particular design. Often, clients perceive logo design as being “art.” And being “art” there is always the element of subjectivity: everyone is a critic. Saul believed if one could precisely objectify why a particular design works (or doesn’t) one removed—to the extent possible—the element of subjectivity from the evaluation process. A client may not like the color red because red sweaters make him or her look fat, but he/she can’t argue with the fact that red may powerfully differentiate the company from the competitors.
The ability to verbally articulate design is critical in selling it to a client. I learned this from Saul and it has served me well to this day. If a client asks you why you’re recommending a design approach and you reply, “I don’t know; I just really like it,” you won’t get very far down the corporate design road.
I remember peaking through that curtain watching the Exxon presentation. Sneaky way to learn so much. I’m not sur Saul didn’t know we were doing it. He would have applauded the effort. Good memories.