Mad Men Title Sequence Inspiration Revealed

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I received a surprise email the other day from film director Steve Fuller who, along with his partner Mark Gardner, designed the Mad Men title sequence.

A friend forwarded me your article “Separated at Birth: Falling man”. Very interesting. Although I am a huge Saul Bass fan, I’d never seen that book jacket before your article. (That may seem hard to believe, since it is so similar).

The jacket (here) was not designed by Bass, but rather influenced by him. It also was rare, so I wouldn’t expect anyone to easily reference it. But Fuller added that “the main idea came from Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator. He said on the briefing call ‘I imagine a guy walking into a building, taking the elevator up to his office, putting his briefcase down and jumping out the window…but not that.’ I thought “Why NOT that?”, and started figuring out how we might be able to do that with illustration. . . . This calendar (below) I saw in “A Smile In The Mind” book [by Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart] was my main inspiration actually: . . .”

Inspiration Revealed

” . . . .That lead to this . . . .”


“. . . . and then we were off….That’s how it goes right?… One idea triggers the next. The full process, and our storyboards are here in this article if you’re interested.”

Fuller worked in the New York office of Imaginary Forces for eight years. The last five as a creative director/director. Mark Gardner, another creative director in the office, worked on the sequence too. I asked him to provide some more, possibly personal, details.

How did Matthew Weiner select Imaginary Forces?

Not sure exactly which past project drew Matt Weiner to Imaginary Forces, but Mark and I were very enthusiastic when we heard it was a new show by the head writer of The Sopranos.

Could you foresee how iconic these titles might be?

We had no idea how iconic the titles would become (or that they even gave out Emmys for title sequences) when pitching and producing it, but we knew it was going to be a great show after watching a copy of the pilot Lionsgate sent to us.

I guess we were just lucky to get in on it. Years after I heard from Greg Hahn, the owner of Gretel, that a lot of companies in New York had pitched on it a year before we even heard about it.

You’ve obviously been bombarded with theories about you inspiration for the titles. Has it become tiresome?

It’s fun to read and hear people’s theories on where the idea or look for the titles came from. Some are right, and some are wrong. It really came from the design stew that’s been swirling around in our head over the last 15 years since we left college… But those images I sent in the last email are really what triggered the look and feel.

One common misinterpretation of the Mad Men titles (that you even touched upon) is the association with photos of 9/11 victims jumping from the towers. The Mad Men title sequence had nothing to do with 9/11. It is simple a dream sequence of a man lost and trapped in the American dream he is selling. The folks at Lionsgate were worried about that association too, but Matt Weiner fought for this vision, and won.

I hear that some people have also speculated that the title sequence foreshadows the series finale…Don Draper killing himself. You’d have to ask Matt Weiner about that. It’d be pretty amazing if he gave us the brief knowing how he’d end the show that far in advance…Evertime you watch the show, you see how it ends?….hmm…I doubt it.

Featured Resource: Check out this Presentation by advertising legend George Lois, “the original Don Draper”?

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About Steven HellerSteven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →