As sound as a bell
Saul Bass & Associates 1969 logo for AT&T
The Bell Telephone Company was founded by Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Watson and Gardiner Greene Hubbard, following the filing of the patent for the telephone in 1876. Looking to build a long-distance network with this new invention, a dedicated subsidiary was founded – the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T).
To clearly identify this long-distance service it was decided that a sign be established that would “compare favourably with the emblems and trademarks of other first-class businesses and institutions”. This task was given to a selection of architects, artists and designers. A Greek cross, a shield and a flying figure were put forward, however, these were felt to be unsatisfactory. Angus Hibbard, general superintendent to the company, took to the streets for inspiration, studying signs and marks of all kinds. Back in his office, as his biography describes, he took all the samples at hand, a large pad of paper and tried to study the question from the bottom up. “We wanted a sign for Alexander Graham Bell's telephone”. With this as the ‘fundamental’ he sketched a bell, a simple and sound decision.
The American company was reorganised not long after, with AT&T becoming the parent company and elevating the bell from service to corporate status.
By the 1960s versions of the bell logo had been in use for over 50 years and had become a recognisable and key graphic element. There was, however, little in the way of a uniformity, or a consistent design policy across the regional companies. And these had also adopted wildly different typographic directions. It was time for something new.
Continue reading to see how Saul Bass brought a formalised design policy to AT&T. See the various lock-ups and applications of the logo and discover the considerations that gave shape to the new AT&T Bell.