Look What Saul Bass Made Taylor Swift Do

The buzz around Taylor Swift’s new “Look What You Made Me Do” can go in plenty of directions. Is it about Kim and Kanye? What does Katy Perry think? Has Swift shed her “good girl” reputation? And who is she talking to on the phone?

But let’s take a minute to focus on what’s really important (at least to designers) — that clearly, the inspiration for Swift’s lyric video is the legendary Saul Bass.

Although Bass is known for iconic logos  — think Kleenex, AT&T, United Way — what you probably recognize more is his work with movies.

Bass broke into the film industry in 1954 when he designed the poster for Carmen Jones, and was then asked to design the title sequence. Up until that time, title credits were generally tacked on to movies, sometimes even shown on closed curtains. But Bass made them a critical part of the experience.

As he continued to create these sequences, his work became even more arresting — animating cut paper, choosing bold colors and making the type a part of the story.

Now, decades later, Swift calls on Bass to illustrate what she did (or didn’t) do.

Produced by ODD and an impressive team, the video uses strong colors and  silhouette animation that pull deeply from Bass’ style. The deep red and black is familiar from many of his posters — “Vertigo,” “Anatomy of a Murder” and “Spartacus.”

It’s the type that stands out the most. The blocky handwriting, much of it done by letterer Art Goodman, showed up in many of his posters and in many variations, and the type cut out from objects and figures also made regular appearances.

It’s even possible that lyric music videos only exist because of Bass, who pioneered the kind of dynamic use of type that propels you through the story. Bass started using “kinetic type” in his work with Alfred Hitchcock, like the classic “North by Northwest.” Lyric videos would be pretty boring if the text just flashed in and out like karaoke slides.

Interested in learning more about Saul Bass?

Here are a few places to start.

The Art of the Title is an incredible resource of movie title sequences, organized by designer and studio. Be prepared to go down a creative rabbit hole.

The Movie Title Stills Collection is a comprehensive set of stills from Bass’ titles.

The Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a collection of Bass’ movie poster work.

Saul Bass on the Web is an unofficial fan site created in 1998, fun for both the great information and the throwback design.

The “Hitchcock” font was inspired by Bass and is available for download from Typographica.


What do you think of the video? Or do you have a favorite Bass title sequence? Let us know on Twitter @aigadc.

By Claire Blaustein
Published August 29, 2017