“How close are we to catastrophic destruction?”​

Phillip J. Clayton
5 min readSep 10, 2021

Looking back at various books I bought in recent years, I know I made the right choices. Time, time may very well end in a tangible world, but in an otherwise intangible reality where the laws do not bend to our will, time is endless and ever moving forward. As a metaphor time can be used to induce change, and as I gave another read of Michael Beirut’s book ‘How To’, a fire is reignited, a love for communication, visual communication.

‘How to’ by Michael Beirut

Communication is quite simple, but when we try to speak to everyone at once it becomes problematic, visual communication is that unifying method of sending a message to a much larger audience in the simplest way possible. I arrived at page 106, ‘It is five minutes to midnight’ appears on the left page of a full spread, the right side chapter title says ‘ How to avoid doomsday.’

I recognize this because it’s embedded in my mind since childhood, ‘Bulletin of the Automic Scientists’ was before my time, but I was fortunate to have grown up in a home filled with books and information way before I even used a computer. I lived in libraries, I became obsessed with books about World War I, then I also went on to read World War II, information like this stuck with me and changed my perception of the world, at a young age I understood the impact of it all.

At some point I would eventually learn about The Doomsday Clock, I was fascinated, a simple graphic with so an important message. I had no idea what a logo was, but I understood the simplicity of symbolism (another obsession of mine) and the importance of symbols.

‘How to’ by Michael Beirut

Michael Beirut and Armin Vit suggested that the Clock be used as the logo for the Bulletin, they had redesigned the ‘Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ with the big headline ‘ It’s five minutes to midnight and the logo was now the clock, “Its non-specific neutrality has permitted the Bulletin to integrate data on bioterrorism and climate change into the yearly assessment, which has led to 20 changes to the position of the clock’s hands over the past 65 years.”

In 2017, The Doomsday Clock’s hands moved to 30 seconds closer to midnight, to leave it at 2 1/2 minutes away…

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced during a news conference Thursday that its advisory group is moving the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to midnight. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

I turned the page in ‘How To’ and on page 108 is ee the clock on the left side of the spread and on the right a paragraph that starts off with the ever curious question, “How close are we to catastrophic destruction?” I paused and said, “How are close are we?” to myself, as I am alone in my office at 4 am…I naturally started thinking about Coronavirus Covid-19 considering our current reality.

I also started thinking about what kind of visual communication is important right now, what should we be focusing on in a time like this? We can educate everyone, so that’s one, and we can also create easily accessible communication and stats and many have done these things, but what is the big symbol, what was done differently many years ago when the world was on the brink of nuclear war?

There is a lot to be said on how a group of nuclear scientists arrived at a clock, that “sidesteps overwrought imagery of mushroom clouds in of an instrument of measurement.” — ‘How To’, page 107.

Visually, from a design and creative perspective, The Doomsday Clock is excellent, it’s power and beauty as a symbol exists in its simplicity but the true appreciation came from what it represents. An enormous amount of information and quotes from some of the best designers, also before my time, started rushing into my mind.

“A logo doesn’t sell, it identifies. A logo derives its meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes” — paul Rand

What is the big symbol for Cvoid-19? I am still trying to figure that out and maybe someone else will, but I think it is important, I think it’s as important if not more crucial than a nuclear war. The entire planet has been brought to its knees by an invisible and biological enemy, not a weapon, but it has weaponized each of us that become infected, the damage is tangible despite who believes it or not, lives have been lost, and feel free to attribute that to anything you like, but an incredible amount of people have died from this invisible enemy.

Mauro Porcini and many others have spoken about the importance of Design, and how we need it now more than ever, this was not only before the arrival of Covid-19 but also during. It’s not a light statement, and naturally, we think about functions, and systems, processing, but design also extends to communication, and effective communication needs strategic thinking and a team effort of art, design, and the minds of experts on the subject. We need to not only solve problems but also find effective ways of highlighting the importance of what is happening and what it represents going forward.

Many of us do worry about what’s going to happen, and amidst despair and an overload of information, the majority of which is most likely wrong, all of it still unknown and has a mathematical probability to be completely wrong…We are trying to live in the present. This begs the question, should a Cvoid-19 symbology be a positive one, a futuristic one, or a hard truth one?

In time we will know, on Thursday, the 23 of January 2020, The Doomsday Clock was moved to 100 seconds top midnight…

The symbolic Doomsday Clock, which indicates how close our planet is to complete annihilation, is now only 100 seconds away from midnight. January 2020, bbc.com

…and perhaps that’s all we need, a clock that still serves its purpose and keeps time in check on our behalf.



Phillip J. Clayton

Brand consultant | Strategic advisor | International brand & marketing design judge: pac-awards.com | Writer | Creative director