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Note: Minor Breaking Bad spoilers below. Read at your own risk.
At Visual.ly, we’re big fans of using graphs to visualize social structure — and equally big fans of the TV show Breaking Bad. So when we caught word of a project that visualizes the relationship between over 75 Breaking Bad characters on a social graph, we had to check it out.
Andy Bergmann, the creative director at CNNMoney, posted the graphic to his personal site Dubly on Monday. Although Bergmann only began watching on Netflix during the show’s final season, he quickly caught up and felt there was much more to explore in the world of Breaking Bad than just what was on the TV screen.
“The combination of stellar writing, acting and direction on Breaking Bad created a really compelling and unique narrative,” Bergmann said. “Subconsciously, I was keeping some sort of mental model running of the characters, just to keep track of who was who. Just after the episode where Saul tells Walt that he knows ‘a guy who knows a guy who knows another guy,’ I sketched out a little node diagram of (guy)-knows-(guy)-knows-(another guy) which kept expanding over subsequent episodes.”
As the series grew in complexity, intricacy, and drama, so did Bergmann’s outline. While the graphic must be centered on Walt and Jesse’s relationship, it’s interesting to see how Bergmann chose to portray the various groups, sub-groups and minor characters that appear throughout the show.
“I started from that initial sketch, gathered as much data as I could find, and began putting together rough concepts. I steered off to explore several more structured solutions along the lines of chord diagrams and traditional network charts, but kept coming back to this flowing map concept, which felt like a more organic way to tell the story.”
Bergmann likens the social groups in Breaking Bad to “cliques in a high school cafeteria.” From the White family home to the DEA offices to Jesse’s drug-ridden bachelor pad, this is an apt comparison. But what makes the show really compelling, contends Bergmann, “is when those boundaries get crossed.” Anything can happen when Walt ventures into Tuco’s office, when Jesse calls Skyler, or when Hank, Walt, and their wives sit down for some tableside guacamole.
Projects like these not only prove the power of graphic design and visualization, but also the power of a captivating story. “Breaking Bad has such a rich cast of characters and intricate plot lines that it’s ripe for visualizations,” Bergmann said. “Due to its wild popularity there are copious amounts of documentation and analysis across the web – definitely no shortage of data.”
Jon Salm is an associate client analyst at Millward Brown Digital in New York City and a freelance data journalist in the Visual.ly marketplace. He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Washington and Lee University. You can find him online at about.me/salm.jon and follow him on twitter @S4LM3R.