The Saul Bass connection

Saul Bass
Saul Bass in his office
on Sunset Boulevard.

My training in as an apprentice lithographic artist started in 1960 and involved my attendance for one day a week as a ‘day release’ student at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts (later re-named the London College of Printing and now known as the London College of Communication).

It was at the College and in international design journals such as Graphis and Gebrauschgraphik that I first became conscious of the graphic design work of Saul Bass. I had, unwittingly, seen his work before – the graphics for the movies Carmen Jones, The Man with the Golden Arm, Exodus, and others – but I had not been aware of his name or connected that kind of communications design with my own practice as an apprentice designer. On closer study of his published work I was struck by the simplicity and freshness of the graphic images he created. Seeing his abstract title sequence in 1960 for the film, Psycho, in my local cinema, was an additional revelation. I was convinced that I had made the right career choice: I wanted to be a graphic designer (although that term was, at the time, not in general use, (‘commercial artist’ was the common descriptor) and I wanted to design in a pure, economical, modern style. The quality and reductive power of Saul Bass’s design work provided me with a standard to which to aspire; his work acted as a benchmark for everything I tried to achieve as a designer.

Saul died in 1996, leaving his design firm, Bass Yager, in the hands of his surviving business partner, Herb Yager. By that time, my own design consultancy, Lloyd Northover, had grown to become a substantial, well-regarded international operation with offices in London, Hong Kong and Singapore.
  Herb Yager decided to look for a sympathetic design business with which to merge the Saul Bass practice and he settled on Lloyd Northover. This meant that Bass Yager and Lloyd Northover became a unified and integrated design consultancy. I shall never forget the sensation I felt when, after the merger, I walked into Saul’s room in his office on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The room was exactly as I had seen it in photographs of Saul at work; some of his treasured photos and images were still pinned to the cork walls; it was as though he had just stepped outside for a moment.
  I only met Saul Bass once and that was in London many years before, when Lloyd Northover designed the promotional material for ‘Transatlantic Shoptalk’, a conference of leading US and UK designers, at which Saul spoke. It is a pity that I never had the opportunity to get to know him. We, at Lloyd Northover did, though, work closely with the remaining members of his creative team – notably Jay Toffoli who had collaborated with Saul on many of the his famous branding projects.

So, in 1996 I became, with my business partner, Jim Northover, the inheritor of the design practice of one of America’s greatest graphic designers, the man who had, unknowingly and from afar, inspired me as a young apprentice 36 years earlier, and who had provided a creative guiding light ever since.

John David Lloyd: