Mention Psycho to most designers and the name that springs to mind is Saul Bass. Indeed, his involvement with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film is quite extensive. Not only did he create the opening title sequence that sets the film’s tone, he storyboarded and, by some reports, directed the famous shower scene—one of the most memorial montages in film history. One would therefore assume he designed the movie poster as well, as was usually the case when he designed the titles (case in point: Vertigo, also by Hitchcock). However Psycho began as a 1959 novel by Robert Bloch, an American crime, horror, fantasy, and science fiction writer. Designer Tony Palladino, who passed away earlier this year at age 84, was hired to design the cover.
An Art Directors Club Hall of Fame laureate, Palladino was born in 1930, the son of Italian immigrants. Raised in East Harlem, he attended the High School of Music and Art alongside renowned ad man George Lois. Like Lois, Palladino first went into advertising. Rather than aligning himself with a single company, he brought his modernist “less is more” sensibility and idiosyncratic illustration style to several agencies. His work was conceptually driven, something his lifelong friend Lois would refer to as “the big idea.”
In 1958 he designed the book jacket for Psycho, the dark and familiar tale of Norman Bates’ descent into insanity and murder. Palladino made the most out of the single-word title, employing a distressed, stark white, bold, sans-serif typeface turned on its end and butting up against the edges of the black background. Tucked between the “P” and “S” in a light serif italic is the author’s name and the words “an inner sanctum mystery.” The only other element on the front cover is Palladino’s signature. The placement of the fractured type on the dark background perfectly conveys the disturbed personality of the book’s protagonist. Rather than rely on illustration, Palladino noted, “How do you do a better image than the word itself?”
Palladino captured the mood of the book so expertly that when Hitchcock bought the movie rights, he also hired Palladino to design the film’s poster and other advertising material. According to Palladino, Hitchcock “wanted the lettering to dominate the newspaper and poster advertising, with just a few photographs of the main actors.” Reportedly Palladino earned $5,000 for his efforts, only a little less than author Bloch received for the book’s film rights. Even Saul Bass stayed true to Palladino’s broken type for the opening titles (above), using a sequence of fractured white type on a black background that breaks apart and comes together again.