Breaking Design

06 September 2013 on Design by Gennifer Richie

It’s been a long time since I’ve been engrossed in anything compelling on TV. My “season of life” permits me to occasionally enjoy a 30-minute segment of cooking or home improvement delight on Food Network or HGTV.  But most days I endure the discoveries of Buddy and Tiny on PBS Kids’ Dinosaur Train or hum the jingles of Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer that are ingrained in my mind from repeated play.

A few months ago, though, my husband came home from work with a 4½-season DVD collection of Breaking Bad, the drama series broadcast on AMC that has captivated millions of viewers. Set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the series revolves around a struggling high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He breaks down and turns to a life of crime, producing and selling crystal methamphetamine with a former student in a desire to secure his family’s financial future.

I was hooked on the story and promising character development midway through episode one, but what completely excited me—and still does—is the smart, relevant, and memorable design of the show’s logo and opening credits. Each integrates symbols of chemical elements from the periodic table. For example, the symbols Br and Ba for Bromine and Barium are used in the show title and logo Breaking Bad. A chemical element symbol is also cleverly integrated into each cast member name as it appears in the opening credits. Overlaying graphics of methamphetamine’s molecular formula (C10H15N), molecular mass (149.24), and the periodic table also loom on the screen. These design elements are expertly intertwined with the rolling smolder of crystal meth and a perfectly off-kilter musical score indicative of the series’ dark scale.

Smart. Relevant. Memorable.

Stop for a minute and consider the importance of design in this application. How differently would the show be perceived if its opening credits were simply created with the font Helvetica? Or if its logo had no visual ties to chemistry? Or if its theme song was missing that unsettling tone? Would Breaking Bad still be breaking rating records?

Celebrate Breaking Bad’s Brilliant Design Theme
Visit Breaking Bad’s “Name Lab” where you can see your own name transformed with chemical element symbols like the iconic logo itself. Try it now and then download or share the result on your favorite social media channel!


  • Liz
    6 years ago - Reply

    Jen I just love “peeking inside the head of a designer”. It
    helps me to look for meaning and creativity in everything. Thanks
    for helping me expand my creative observation skills.

    • Gennifer Richie
      6 years ago - Reply

      Liz, if you look for meaning and creativity in everything, then you’re a designer by nature, too.

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