In design circles, Saul Bass needs no introduction. He’s an industry legend, with a career that stretched over many years and many mediums.

From classic movie posters to hugely successful corporate logos, Saul Bass certainly played his part in shaping the industry, creating some of the best known design work of all time. His staggeringly impressive portfolio includes work for Kleenex, AT&T, United Airlines, Alfred Hitchcock, and Martin Scorsese (to name but a few).

But what we want to know is, how did he get so good? And though he might not have been entirely forthcoming with all of his design secrets, he was kind enough to share a few tips during his career. Here are two of them for your enjoyment. . . 

                          Learn to draw

“Learn to draw. If you don’t, you’re going to live your life getting around that.” — Saul Bass

It may sound like obvious advice. But it’s even more crucial now than it was in Bass’s day. With ongoing technological advancements, the ability to draw is becoming less of a prerequisite for entering the design industry. But, warns Bass, if you bypass those illustration classes it’s at your own peril.


What Bass is saying is that without the ability to draw, we’re cutting ourselves off from a very natural and simplistic way of working. We might have a brilliant idea for a design project, but quickly realise that it’s impossible to bring to fruition without drawing it from scratch. In such a case, without knowing how to draw, that idea would be wasted. We’d be back to the drawing board and we’d have to devise much more complex (and probably less effective) ways around the brief.


Not only that, but drawing is much more physical and tactile than designing with a mouse and cursor. It allows you to get really close and personal with the object you’re bringing to life. You can experiment and really let your imagination go. And, often enough, a simple illustration can be the most effective way to portray a brand’s message.


Drawing stimulates the imagination and offers endless creative scope, and in the long run will make you a better designer.


In the words of concept artist Terryl Whitlatch, “Sketching is the equivalent of the daily ballet barre. It gets your imagination going and gives your skills a workout: it’s foundational for any artist. Sketching regularly helps you become better as an artist, and gives you a platform to experiment, mess up, try again (and again), and grow.”


Make beautiful things


“I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares” — Saul Bass

As Bass points out, aesthetic is the designer’s problem. It may be that clients don’t appreciate the real value of visual design, or simply don’t care. But as someone whose bread and butter is aesthetic, a designer’s priority should be to create beautiful things.


It may be that it costs you in the short term. You might spend more time working on a project than the budget calls for. But in the end it will be worth your while. Either your reputation as a top-quality designer will begin to precede you, or else you’ll have, at the very least, the peace of mind that you’re engaging fully with your craft.


This is also an important point in a broader sense. As with many creative professions, it can be easy to lose sight of why we came to the craft in the first place. Maybe we entered into design through a love of art and drawing. But over time our initial passions can erode, leaving only the business side of things intact. We can become jaded and cynical, leading to a dip in the quality of our work.


But if we follow Bass’s advice and “don’t give a damn” about anything but the quality of the work, maybe things will get better.


Learn from the best


Honing and improving our craft is essential if we want to stay at the top of our field. By constantly learning and practising new skills, we can ensure that we’re always offering our best work. And one of the best ways to improve is, of course, to learn from the best. So after you’ve taken on board Saul Bass’s words of wisdom, why not check out these 3 design tips from Chip Kidd, or these 6 invaluable lessons from David Ogilvy.