The Value of Design: Reseach Behind the Project


You can learn something from every experience, and the Creating Impressions project was no exception. My project paid homage to the fantastic design work in National Geographic Magazine. I had the chance to study the design evolution of the magazine and learn about the Magazine Publishers of America.



As the deadline for submitting the art work was drawing near, I was putting some serious thought into a project theme. I was sitting on the couch, casually flipping through the latest National Geographic magazine when I realized how well the magazine is designed. I knew this was a theme I could build on. I started my research by looking through my collection of old Geographic magazines. The design had come a long way since since the first issue.

Design History

I started to look through a few of the older editions in my collection in addition to some online research. Looking at editions from the 1940 revealed the pages are filled with text in the same two columns throughout the magazine. Article titles are center aligned and in the same font as the body. It still had qualities of a “studious scientific journal.”

The book Graphic Design Today provides a few interesting design history facts about the magazine cover. The familiar yellow border and oak leaves and acorns “first gracing the February 1910 issue, was so successful that it remained intact with only minor modifications for nearly fifty years.” The designer given credit for this design is Robert Wier Couch of “Matthews-Northrups Works of Buffalo”. They were a “leading engraver and printer” of the time.

The book also mentions that the first cover photograph is on the July 1943 edition, which is one I have in my collection. Too bad it is not in good condition. If I remember correctly, the oak leaf border started to disappear during the 70’s and were pretty much gone by 1979.


Magazine Publishers of America

Magazine Publishers of America Logo

I also learned about the Magazine Publishers of America, which is a professional organization for the magazine publishing industry. I was not surprised to learn that National Geographic won three awards in 2008. A New York Times article explains,

“National Geographic won three National Magazine Awards on Thursday night, more than it had ever captured in a single year, including a prestigious award for general excellence the second year in a row.”


Project Theme and Message

The awards tell me that I was not alone in my high opinion of their magazine design. Good design has value because it delivers a pleasurable reading experience. Many people rave about the fantastic photo journalisim in National Geographic, but it is the designer that presents it with high impact.

The Show

The design project will be on display at Studio Place Arts in Barre until November 8th. Be sure to swing over to Barre and check it out. There is a fantastic stone sculpture art display on the first floor that is worth seeing. I noticed several interesting restaurants near the gallery if you wanted to combine your visit with a night out.

-Mark Karl