Field Notes #6: Furniture in National Geographic

National Geographic’s use of furniture is simple and minimalistic, and it is almost always for practical or navigational purposes. The furniture–which features icons, keys, and lines–also creates a cartographic or map-like look. This fits well with NatGeo’s identity as a magazine about exploration, discovery, science, and culture.

Category Headers and Footers

Outside of section/department heads, NatGeo uses headings and footers to indicate a stories category. If an article is about plastic, it will have a header to denote the “Pollution” subtopic. Practically, this works well as a tool to allow readers to pick and choose articles based on their interests.  These headers and footers are also small and simplistic, which does not distract from the headline or disrupt the hierarchy.


Included in section heads are icons. These icons are thematic, matching the header titles. For example, the icon used in the “Proof” section header is a camera shutter. These icons continue to give the spreads a cartographic look and further indicate the kind of content within the section. The circular shape of the icons works well to add some variety to what is very linear spreads.


Section TOCs

Section heads also have TOCs, much like maps have keys. These also help readers choose what articles to read and work as navigational guides. The placement of these TOCs within the section head, as well as their simple design, fit well into the hierarchy of the section head without distracting from the article.


Lines and Dividers

The most heavily used furniture elements are lines and dividers. Headlines are usually accompanied by heavy underlines, and columns of text are separated by thin lines in the gutter. These not only draw the eye in a visual hierarchy, but they provide some visual variety and navigational ease to spread which feature many different elements.

The minimalist furniture used in National Geographic, while simple in design, is part of a complex visual hierarchy. While directing the reader, they also advertise the magazine’s identity as a proponent of education, conservation, and discovery.