Field Notes #2: Organization


National Geographic’s cover pages are distinct in that they typically feature one central photo or illustration and one headline. Most magazine covers feature headlines for a few inside stories, but NatGeo dedicates the entire cover to one feature or a theme for the issue. Consistent on each cover is the signature yellow frame and the nameplate. The nameplate is always in the top row and centered. It is sometimes partially covered by elements of the cover photo.

The purpose of the NatGeo cover page is to showcase a profound image and introduce the main feature or theme of the issue. As the cover photo takes up the entire cover, this is where the eye goes first. The eye then goes to the headline for the main feature or theme, which is usually centered on the page. The nameplate is understated to detract attention.

NatGeo covers evoke a sense of wonder, curiosity, and/or adventure, though the cover photos from issue to issue change drastically. NatGeo covers are also consistently dramatic.

Table of Contents/Index:

NatGeo’s table of contents is spread across two pages with ample white space. The top half of the page features a header and folio. The bottom half is the content list, which is divided into 4 columns. Page numbers for feature stories are greatly increased. The second page of the TOC features a large photo and more of the content list.


NatGeo’s TOC lists four departments/sections: “Proof,” “Embark,” “Explore,” and “Features. These are not divided into separate sections throughout the issue. Rather, NatGeo compiles stories that fit in each section in the TOC. 

“Proof” features cultural stories. “Embark” includes stories of innovation. “Explore” features photo-heavy stories, particularly about nature. “Features” includes the cover story and longer feature stories