If you were asked ‘What’s your favorite piece of graphic design”, how would you answer?
Steven Heller’s newest book, I HEART DESIGN, provides the answer from a bunch of typographers, teachers, scholars, writers and, well…designers.
Steven invited me to join in. Many designers in this book chose exotic, beautiful, little known but brilliant artifacts. Me? I went Hollywood.
I chose the opening titles to Superman, the film that launched the superhero movie, tv, gaming – and now Broadway – obsession we live with today.
Here’s why it topped my list:
This is no fantasy. No careless product of wild imagination.
No, my friends, these are matters of undeniable fact.
So speaks Marlon Brandon in the first minutes of Richard Donner’s 1978 film, Superman.
The design of the opening credits by R/GA delivered just this promise, instantly transforming what had been a dusty, often silly, children’s comic book into a stirring American epic.
In a blaze of soaring blue typography amplified by John Williams’ triumphant march, Superman arrives as a hero of epic proportions. In mere seconds, these titles accomplished a major feat. Beyond setting the tone for what was to come by establishing a big, emotional expectation for the audience, the opening sequence sent a very clear message – Superman now had gravitas.
It does so, first, by honoring its subject’s origins – opening with a black and white shot of a tattered comic book from the Great Depression. It grounds the story in what the audience already knows. Next, it connects us it to the present day and achieves verisimilitude via a flyover shot of The Daily Planet headquarters. Finally, as the audience flies through toward the doomed planet Krypton, the design solution crystalizes what was most beloved about our hero’s story as the only son from another realm — its mythic power.
Great myths momentarily lift us into another plane of existence so we can see the world – and our own lives – with fresh eyes. And these credits do just that – summoning the latent, epic potency of the story. As designers we are often charged with reinventing products and organizations. And this is a road map we often use in our own work – revisiting a story’s past to revitalize its future.
The movie’s ad campaign exclaimed “You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly!”
By the end of this opening sequence, I believed.
And that is no careless product, indeed.