Saul Bass: On Making Money vs Quality Work

Hi Folks,

Someone just sent me this video clip and I thought you might enjoy it…

“I want to make beautiful things… even if nobody cares.”

I care, Saul… I care.


fantastic. Thanks for posting this Warren. Now Saul, he was a designer.

Thanks man, I love this kind of stuff and hope it touches and inspires us all.



I sent this to a large portion of our team, and this was one of the responses I got back, I thought it was worth sharing:

Beautiful. This reflects the need for designers, like other professionals, to follow some kind of ethical code. Why? Because your client will pay you whether you are ethical or not, so you have to impose ethics on yourself. And part of that ethic – a big part – should be a commitment to beauty (and against ugliness). Good enough for the client, should not always be good enough for us. And we don’t need to have a business justification for everything we do.

I just watched the video again and it makes me smile…


I’m not arguing one point or another here, just making a statement.

Does anyone else see the irony in this thread about focusing on the beauty in our work rather than the money earned right next to the thread “F*ck you. Pay me”?

I believe there is a way to be ethical and put in the time for a commitment to beauty AND still not be on the bottom of all business transactions, just thought I’d maybe open up a discussion about this.

Here is proof that companies don’t care if design will make them money:

Warren: Awesome vid. Thanks for sharing!

Hi Chris, I thought the same thing and I found both videos equally useful. I’m so sure it’s irony as much as two sides of the same coin.


Thanks 914, cheers. ~w~

Good enough for the client, should not always be good enough for us. And we don’t need to have a business justification for everything we do.

Saul Bass’ POV is the kind of philosophical BS that turns design pros into the kind of starving artistes that are willing to work for peanuts. We provide a business service and bill it by the hour, so having a business justification for our design decisions would seem to very much be a part of what we do (and there is absolutely a business case for beauty in certain categories). If the client doesn’t value the extra effort, isn’t willing to pay for the extra effort, and cannot distinguish between good enough and great results, it is an unprofitable waste of time to vastly exceed the client’s threshold for nuance. We all have better things to do than give away free work.

I don’t think anyone (including Saul) suggests we give away our work for free. What I do think is that each of us needs to find the balance between doing the work the client pays us to do and taking pride in what we do. Sure, there are always going to be clients that aren’t willing to pay us to take a product to the level we imagine it could be due to time or cost constraints or maybe they just don’t care as deeply as we do.

But that’s where we have an opportunity to be the product’s loudest and most enthusiastic advocate. That’s where we have the opportunity to educate our client and push them beyond what they originally intended to go. Of course it doesn’t always work out the way we would like–design is as much about compromise as anything else. But without that philosophy (you can call is BS if you want), all we’re doing is taking orders from our client and not bringing the value we could.

Do I do that extra work for free? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. When I see an opportunity and think my client is open to a new direction, a new possibility, then yes it can yield a much better result. And even if they choose not to pursue that direction, perhaps it will be the inspiration for their next generation of products. Sometimes I do it just to “scratch a creative itch.”

But we each must find a balance between what satisfies us creatively and what pays the bills.


I don’t think he was arguing for giving work away, lets not forget Saul was a very successful designer, but personally he would not deliver below his standards, no matter if the clients were lower.

Right there with you.


I would argue that his persistence in never lowering his standards contributed to his commercial success as a designer. Sure, some clients perhaps did not understand it, and where even turned off, but the ones that understood the value stayed and told others, and thus his reputation grew along with his ability to do even better work.

I felt that Saul was saying that if you wait for a client that understands design, you will never make any design. I’ve found that a big part of design success is just showing up. Get into a company anyway you can. Do consistently good design. Eventually, they will integrate it without ever realizing why.

I know it’s frustrating. It would be easier if people said, “wow, this pays, let me use it to make more money”. Unfortunately, most people aren’t that open to unfamiliar ideas.

Yes, definitely 914. That is a good interpretation.

I’ll second that.


I can’t think of much better to say than “what he said”.


It’s how I live and work.

Do right (design). And the world will do right by you.

It’s no accident that while he may not care about the money, a passionate and tale tented designer focused on good results will also be successful. It’s rarely the case otherwise.


I think it is too true R, if you follow your heart, your convictions and work your hardest to do what you believe in (and are at least a little savvy), the money seems to follow (you still have to work at that as well)… but if you put the money first, the heart, conviction, and satisfaction of doing what you believe rarely follow.