The Saul Bass’ Bell Systems Brand Redesign Pitch Video [1970]

Jeff Schox put me on to this amazing Saul Bass pitch detailing his proposed rebrand for The Bell System (now AT&T) in 1970.

(skip to ~9:50 if you want to skip the fun stuff and get right to the meat)

It is an amazing postcard from the pseudo-psycedellic era of business with far out visuals, ambitious goals and “unique” perspectives that seems suited to the wind-down of the hippie generation.

The project itself is amazing too – at the time representing the largest rebrand ever. Not just a new logo, but a comprehensive review of the company’s identity – both through iconography, color-play and even functional redesign of products, apparel and other ways employees and customers interact with the brand.

In the end the rebrand would update 135,000 Bell System vehicles, 22,000 buildings, 1,250,000 phone booths and 170,000,000 telephone directories.

The video contains several gems on brand philosophy from the brand-master behind Girl Scouts of America, Minolta and others. Here’s one of many on different logo types, their positives and drawbacks:

We can break-through and at the same time help unclutter the visual environment. Quietly. With a look of excellence. beginning with a trademark.

There are three basic categories of trademark: monochromatic form, logo type form, and the symbol logo type form. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

Monochromatic form’s strength is that it’s simple, concise, quickly identified. Its weakness is that the viewer must first be taught what the letters stand for before they make sense, otherwise it blends into the environment as so much alphabet soup.

The strength of the second category, the logo type form, is that the name of the company is itself trademark. But it has a weakness; lettering that is easy to read gets lost in the typographic environment.

Try to make it stand out by stylizing it and you lose legibility.

To help solve this dilemma some companies surround their logo types with a geometric shape, but shapes being generic can never be unique.

The third category of trademarks, AT&T and the Bell companies use now; the symbol logo type form. It has several strengths:

The symbol creates the uniqueness of the mark so the lettering in the logo type can remain clear an easy to read. With an organization like ours, composed of many companies, the symbol becomes a flag, uniting the company’s into a single organization.

By itself logo type is just another word in a sea of words, but combined the symbol serves as a focal point directing attention to the name. This form of trademark as its weaknesses too, such as requiring the use of two elements; the symbol and the logo type.

All in all, it’s right for the Bell System.

Follow me on Twitter at @Aten. Interested in building a great consumer brand? Join us at Merchbar.

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