The history of the Doomsday Clock design

As the 2022 number of seconds before potential apocalypse is announced, Michael Bierut and other designers discuss the history of one of the most important pieces of 20th century information design

Today, it was announced that the world is just XXX minutes/seconds away from total apocalypse. Since 2019, that figure has been teetering at 100 seconds.

This is according to American non-profit organisation the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and its Doomsday Clock, which has been breaking down potential humanity annihilation in the bleak but digestible terms of ‘minutes to midnight’ since 1947. The timings are estimated according to a number of factors including nuclear weapons programmes, climate change and more recently, world leaders’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and the widespread erosion of public trust in scientific and government advice.

While it’s easy to zone in on the very stark, quite literally life-and-death connotations of the Doomsday Clock, which celebrates its 75th birthday this year, there’s also a fascinating design story at the heart of it.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences, 1947, cover image by Martyl Langsdorf