Why the ’60s Were Great, Design-wise

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One of the least-celebrated but most original design genres during the mid- to late-’60s was TV animated title sequences. The ’50s were good for the single intro cards of Georg Olden and others at CBS but the next decade had a fount of superb black-and-white typo-mations.

The following collection comes from TV Graphics by Roy Laughton (Studio Vista: London and Reinhold Publishing Co.: New York, 1969). Concerning the emergence of modern title sequences, Laughton notes, “It would be impossible to write any book on Graphic Design, particularly one that referred to moving graphics, without at some point mentioning the name of Saul Bass.” Indeed, he broke with tradition like no one else, and many of these television examples are clearly inspired by his abstract and expressionist sensibility.

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TV Graphics is a rare compendium of American and European examples (with emphasis on titles from the U.K., which even surpass their U.S. counterparts). Still, Laughton pays a debt to America and Americans. “What the Bauhaus did for a sheet of white paper in 1925, [Saul] Bass did for the screen in 1955.” He adds that a title no longer had to fill an entire screen with type—it just had to evoke a mood. “Under the leadership of William Golden [design director at CBS], there had been for some time a growing nucleus of graphic designers joining the staffs of TV companies,” he writes, “but the ‘new-look’ graphics in British TV did not emerge until the mid ’50s.”

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The Brits owed their style to Bass, but their innovation to Richard Levin, head of design for BBC television. “The sign-writer’s one stroke gradually gave way to the products of these more unorthodox talents drawn from more progressive art schools.” Their sources were varied and they “turned what might have been a visually dull subject into a programme both palatable and exciting.” The media of choice were cutout cards, elastic bands and sticky tape, and with clever lighting, special effects could be revealed.

Laughton’s book shows many wonderful examples, including this “Alcoa Presents” title by Bass (below), but the stars of the show are the many British examples that seem as fresh today as almost 50 years ago.

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About Steven Heller

Steven 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 →