Join 3,441 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Who isn’t familiar with that wonderful yellow frame?
August 19, 2010 4:05 PM   Subscribe

The Timeless Beauty of National Geographic (and it's not about the photographs!)
posted by desjardins (25 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I thought it could teach us a few things about timelessness in graphic design, so I randomly picked four issues to look at"

[yellow frame] Color me a sceptic about the apparent randomness of the cover design selection. [/yellow frame]

That's a carefully selected series of covers or I'll eat my trackpad.
posted by vectr at 4:37 PM on August 19, 2010


Why do you say that, vectr?

Loved this link, thanks desjardins.
posted by Slyfen at 4:43 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there is a story/reason behind the yellow border.
posted by The Whelk at 4:54 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


This guy sure has it in for that floral border and its vestigial homage. I thought it was a classy homage to the past. To me, the magazine looks blander having dropped that subtle badge.
posted by scrowdid at 4:55 PM on August 19, 2010


I like the link too Slyfen.

I guess as a graphic designer, I'm suspicious that such a complementary set of covers chosen at random would work so well as a sort of a historical / photographic / cover design comic strip.

The composition of the first three is nearly identical (based on classical triangular proportions).

If you read it as a comic strip you have 'making contact', 'entering the vessel' and then 'being eaten'.

I could be wrong though (hopefully trackpads are digestible).

If there was a random NatGeo cover series generator, I'd likely post-rationalize the set as looking like a comic strip too.
posted by vectr at 4:57 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


If there was a random NatGeo cover series generator

This has to exist somewhere. It's just got to.
posted by desjardins at 5:04 PM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]



The composition of the first three is nearly identical (based on classical triangular proportions).


I thought that might be what you were thinking. The cave and the shark's mouth certainly seemed alike to me, I can see that the rocket has a similar diagonal too, although its similar-but-just-off angle actually makes it seem more less complementary to me than something completely different may have done. But the planet is quite different, and I guess the fact the other three have such a "classical" composition might in itself explain why this occured - a higher frequency of covers are built around the same basic proportions / focus points?

Personally, if I were writing this piece and wanted to slightly cheat my 'random' selection, I'd probably cheat away from that selection in order to find a more varied range of things to pontificate about. On the other hand, if my subconscious were doing the cheating, I might end up with that selection because the "classical" layout is so appealing.

Interesting point to ponder anyway...

If you read it as a comic strip you have 'making contact', 'entering the vessel' and then 'being eaten'.

I hadn't clocked that!

If there was a random NatGeo cover series generator...

I shall do a low tech version, and pluck four from my closest accessible stacks - which are currently piled in the bathroom so as only spines are showing, so no cheating, subconscious or otherwise, will occur! There's only a couple of dozen in there (not sure where the rest have got to!) and all from the last few years, so it won't compare to this guy's multi-decade range, but I'm intrigued nonetheless to see if I draw a selection that's noticeably less complementary!

........

Here we go.

The only comment I'll make is that drawing that "Saving energy" sorely tested my resolve not to cheat.
posted by Slyfen at 5:29 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love NGM with all my heart. For fifty bucks Australian a year, you simply cannot get better magazine and/or reading material. Beautiful, informative, thoughtful.
posted by smoke at 5:33 PM on August 19, 2010


Ah, my beloved NatGeo.

A finer magazine does not exist.
posted by bwg at 5:33 PM on August 19, 2010


Found this.

The site doesn't seem to have a random function limited to NatGeo, but the filenames look ordered, so it would be trivial to make one with one line of python/shell script/etc, for anyone so inclined.

If it weren't 1.36am I'd give it a go.
posted by Slyfen at 5:37 PM on August 19, 2010


Hmm, looks like the Yellow Border, with floral print, appears right about issue #209 (Feb 1910). Still just a list of the articles though. Pictures don't show up until #761 (July 1959) and then just simple graphics competing with the article titles.
posted by Panjandrum at 5:50 PM on August 19, 2010


The design ethic of Natl. Geo has always been a favorite. I'm not formally schooled, but I've studied the things they do -- the way they set headlines in white sans serif inside of black space in photos, the way they do sidebars, and their use of white space have helped me incredibly with some of the home-brew page layout I've done over the years.

You know what I really miss? The Smithsonian from the 80's and 90's. That was a clean magazine. Copious white space, very clean typography, and an identity that was pure class. For the longest time, they would not interrupt articles with advertising, choosing to only place it between articles, and it was very un-cluttered. At some point in the late 90s, they decided to modernize, and everything got bright, busy, crowded, covered in drop-shadows & 3D effects, and... blah. Haven't even seen an issue in about 8 years.

Harper's was another great example of clean and purposeful layout - I let my subscription lapse due to lack of funds towards the end on Lapham's tenure, and miss it, too.

I know there's some Wired people on MetaFilter, so it's probably of dubious politeness of me to say so, but I've always found Wired to be the most cluttered, messy magazine -- impossible to find information on a page due to the 50 fonts, combinations of orange, green and pink, and general busy-ness, in the name of wanting to seem hip and modern.

Magazine layout is hard, and real quality magazine layout is rare. National Geographic has stood their ground -- props to them.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:03 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


For fifty bucks Australian a year, you simply cannot get better magazine and/or reading material. Beautiful, informative, thoughtful.

And it's great collaging material.
posted by philip-random at 7:15 PM on August 19, 2010


National Geographic, Smithsonian, New Mexico and The New Yorker are my favorite magazines. I like them for different reasons. All three have the white spaces going for them.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:18 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


National Geographic @ coverbrowser.com

The (bright) yellow shows up in #416 (1927), the first color-photo-on-cover in #761 (Jul 1959).

Heard they cluttered it up with ads. Shame.
posted by Twang at 7:27 PM on August 19, 2010


On the other hand, there may be more to NG than meets the eye.
posted by sneebler at 7:45 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, wow, sneebler. That topic deserves its OWN post on Mefi. Great find.
posted by jeanmari at 8:13 PM on August 19, 2010


but I've always found Wired to be the most cluttered, messy magazine

True, but they do well for the clutter, and I think it intentionally suits the material, representing the messiness of the web. I don't think it's elegant, but it's serviceable in that regard.

An interesting aside: yellowbordermagazine.com is owned as a redirect. That's fidelity to branding!

I remember when they had the brilliant insight that the yellow border could be pulled away from its functional usage and become a logo, not just reminding one of the magazine itself, but of the camera viewfinder.

I found this interesting 1997 NYT article written at a point of change for the business.
posted by dhartung at 8:20 PM on August 19, 2010


I took a personal tour of NG a few years ago and was really impressed by how organized they are, with employees working there 30 or 40 years or more, all very talented and deep institutional knowledge and love, plus of course lots of excited young people (I think the garage has more bicycles than cars). The process of picking a monthly cover is intense, they come up with 20 or 30 candidates and do the full design for each (logos, etc..) and then "lock" the lead decision makers in a room till they all decide by consensus the best one. I happened to be there the day they had proofs up, and correctly picked the one they ended up using. Also the fact checking is more intense than a OCD Wikipedia featured article, behind every sentence, or fact, are multiple sources, a division does just that and has a parallel copy of each article loaded with footnotes, which are never made public but which you could probably access as a researcher. The articles are written to last for the ages as serious scholarship. Finally, I learned that NG's nearby competitor the up-start Smithsonian prefers to call NG "Old Yellow".
posted by stbalbach at 9:16 PM on August 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


OK, if there is one true and perfect print publication, one that will educate, excite and unite humans with one another in respectful wonder, it's Nat Geo. If there's one worthless, sensationalist, poor and piddling second cousin cable channel peddling pseudoscience and poorly, it's Nat Geo TV.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:15 PM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's just amazing! Whoever thought of associating yellow with photographs, I wonder? It makes me wonder, which came first, NG or Kodak?
posted by Goofyy at 10:52 PM on August 19, 2010


NG had a stable of 35mm SLR equipment for in-house use - one was Nikon, and the other was Leica. Leica would design lenses just for Nat Geo, including a remarkable modular high-speed telephoto lens system in R-mount. Nikon would design entire optical foundries for Nat Geo, and even today, their lenses have trouble rendering reds - their optical formulas were originally designed to make Kodachrome look even better than it was, and as a result, reds and oranges and some yellows look weird. Have a Nikon DSLR? Want to surprise yourself? Have your RAW processor emulate Kodachrome's color profile. Goes from, "Almost as nice as Canon" to "Wow, holy crap, everyone come look at how great this looks!"
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:20 PM on August 19, 2010


If there's one worthless, sensationalist, poor and piddling second cousin cable channel peddling pseudoscience and poorly, it's Nat Geo TV.

It seems also that National Geographic's website is at odds with their magazine's design ethos - very busy, jumbled, and constantly changing. I can't seem to hang on to a bookmark for more than a month or two, which is a shame, because people tend to look at the print publication as an archive. I wish the same could be said for their site.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:30 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


This post hits close to home. My dad, brother, girlfriend, & friends have all worked at NatGeo in some combination & in different groups over the past 20 years. I'm laughing as I read the complaints, because those are the same grumblings I've been hearing for years from the in- and outside.

stbalbach mentioned upthread about visiting and seeing the intense process of picking a cover. I'm pleased to no end and so proud of my dad for the numerous cover stories and stunning pictures he's directly responsible for. (He's actually been mentioned on the Blue before). Growing up I spent many weekends there, using the same tools to assemble school projects, pouring through books and magazines from around the world. It was there I first heard about server farms, lorem ipsum, the rule of 3rds, etc.

It's a great magazine.
posted by now i'm piste at 9:33 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


"NG had a stable of 35mm SLR equipment for in-house use - one was Nikon, and the other was Leica."

That's weird. One of the things that sticks in my head from browsing the Wall of Yellow at my grandparent's house as a kid (and the Wall of Yellow I am building for myself at home now that I've been a subscriber for a decade) is that every single issue had the "Wildlife as Canon Sees It" ad. I don't recall any Nikon ads, ever.

So I shoot Canon.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:33 AM on August 20, 2010


« Older Is the Trailer for 'The Shining' the Actual Film?...  |  "Ever since the time of dinosa... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments