Field notes on furniture: National Geographic

National Geographic, in sticking with its branding of clean, classic and timeless design, does not have a lot of furniture. Or, it does not have a lot of obvious furniture. The furniture are elements that an average reader probably wouldn’t really register — they are not showy, especially bold or noticeable.

First of all, the nameplate: while the sizing has changed over the years (it used to be a few sizes bigger up until November 2016), the typeface itself and the orientation on the page has not changed for quite some time. Like I’ve said in previous field notes, the nameplate feels very official and strong, and has a sense of timelessness to it — National Geographic is not one of those “trend” magazines, but a magazine here to stick around for quite some time (as it as already proven).

There are two different typefaces used for headlines: one for the feature stories and one for front of book. The feature story headlines are all serif and the front of book stories are sans serif. While there is variation in size and case (some titles have all capitalization, others only the first letters) for the feature stories, it looks cohesive enough to mark each story as a “National Geographic story.” For the front of book stories, these headlines all look relatively the same as they are the same size, all in caps. The uniformity of these headlines signals that these are more standard features of the magazine.

These are all from the March 2018 issue.


There is actually quite a bit of variation in drop caps — some stories have ascending caps, others descend, not all stories have a drop cap and sometimes it is one letter and other times it is one word. These drop caps also change typefaces too. I think it is a bit confusing and would be better if they just stuck to one style, but I can see why it works, too. The drop cap variation really plays to the individuality of each story; for example, the story that starts with a quote has the entire word as the ascending cap to emphasis the abruptness and impact of the story.

Two different examples of the start of stories in National Geographic’s March 2018 issue.


Labels are similar to captions in that they are all in sans serif type faces. For small amounts of text in chunks and sections, sans serif just makes more sense since it is casual.

How a spread is labeled in the March 2018 issue.

National Geographic uses a lot of vertical lines to divide content. For example, in the front of book section/department titles, it uses a vertical line to distinguish which part is in every issue (the name of the section) compared to what’s being specifically covered in this issue. It does mostly in the front of book stories, although there are some regular features (ex: Dispatches).

From the March 2018 issue.

Additionally, horizontal lines are also used to divide content. These horizontal lines differ from the vertical ones because these seem to separate the story from other logistical elements, like heds and names, stories and writer bios, stories and miscellaneous announcements, etc.

One piece of furniture that’s used in many magazines is a marker for the end of a story, which National Geographic uses on its feature stories. For Nat Geo, this is a rectangle, which looks like the actual physical shape of the magazine and of which it seems to use in other branding elements (like the logo on its website). This marker tells the reader that a story has ended, which is obviously helpful for stories that run through multiple pages, and, specifically for National Geographic, pages that don’t have any text on them except for photo cutlines.

The folio is always the magazine name, month and year for even-numbered pages, while the folio on odd-numbered pages is usually the name of the story.

Here’s an example of the story end marker, the left-side folio and the use of a horizontal line.

The From the Editor page is always right after the Table of Contents, and each one begins with the first sentence formatted in display type and marked by a vertical line on the left side. None of the other sections or departments have sentences in display type, so this is a clear indicator that this in the letter from the editor.

The editor’s letter in the March 2018 issue.

National Geographic doesn’t really use any icons, small graphics or dingbats, except for perhaps in large graphics themselves — there are no graphics really used across different issues. While I think this would make National Geographic more fun, obviously National Geographic’s vibe isn’t to be more “fun,” but rather timeless, cultured and elegant. Therefore, it makes sense that there aren’t very many graphical elements.

An example of a graphics page in the March 2018 issue.

In conclusion, National Geographic’s furniture is the type of furniture that you would normally never notice unless you removed it.


One Comment

  1. Hi, Haley … you might want to give this another go, as it doesn’t cover enough territory. What about captions? Drop caps? Headlines? Labels? Etc. … Look back on your notes if you need to refresh your memory about which elements to analyze. This post is worth more than the others, so you’ll want to make sure it’s thorough.

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