Back Story: Geograph is the official brand typeface of National Geographic, the cross-platform media company best known for its yellow-framed magazine. Two years ago, National Geographic announced it would be revamping its identity. As part of the overhaul, the company would be dropping “channel” from its TV programming, adding the tagline “further,” and rolling out a new visual identity courtesy of the studio Gretel that would live across the magazine, website, and TV channel. All this in addition to a massive redesign of its magazine. Geograph, a font family comprised of 24 styles, is the lynchpin to the brand’s fresh look.
Two years ago, National Geographic’s creative team got in touch with New Zealand-based Klim, asking if the foundry could design a custom font that would live as National Geographic’s main brand typeface across all of the company’s properties. At that time, National Geographic’s team had already been working with Gretel on the rebrand but was unhappy with the use of Verlag as the main display typeface and Neue Haas Grotesk as the main editorial font. They wanted an alternative for both without having to commission two different custom typefaces. In a lengthy explanation of the typeface, Klim founder Kris Sowersby recalls an email exchange between himself and National Geographic’s creative director, Emmett Smith: “Perhaps,” Smith wrote, “we could make something with a more neutral base with a ‘display’ version that ramps up its expressiveness.” Sowersby accepted the challenge.
How did it get made? Sowersby began by looking backwards. To get to Geograph’s contemporary form, he first wanted to understand what came before. To do so, he gathered 18 fonts from 14 foundries and passed them along to the National Geographic team, who weighed their merits and shortcomings. The team decided that Super Grotesk and Bauer Futura was the best place to start. As Sowersby recalls it, Nat Geo was into the idealistic geometry of Futura and the pragmatism of Super Grotesk. They also appreciated the flexibility of type variances in fonts like Tempo.
With those preferences in mind, Sowersby set out to craft a font family that had a variety of letterforms in order to give Geograph the flexibility and breadth that National Geographic was looking for. “Making alternates for a typeface family isn’t unusual, but I haven’t done it at this scale with a client before,” he writes. “I channeled the team’s typographic needs into a smorgasbord of options and let the team edit.” It was important for the different weights and styles of Geograph to work together while still looking distinct enough to achieve what Sowersby describes as “typographic texture.”
Why’s it called Geograph? We’ll let you take a wild guess.
Where can I see it? National Geographic began rolling out the typeface this spring online. It was used in the magazine’s Best Trips of 2018 feature, as well as in an interactive map on bird migrations. Expect even more Geograph as the web team continues to implement it on the beta redesign of the site.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Geograph is split into two main families—Geograph and Geograph Edit—each with a handful of styles. Geograph functions as the main display set and features the exaggerated geometries and sharp detailing that can carry an entire brand. Sowersby says designing Geograph was a series of making seemingly small decisions. They toyed around with incorporating the sharp joints and square dots of Super Grotesk, but ultimately decided on round dots and smooth joints more reminiscent of Futura. “They harmonised with each other, and provided a nice counterpoint to the sharp vertical cuts on the terminals,” he writes.
Geograph Edit is a little quieter, a little softer. Sowersby describes it as having “blunt detailing and a more robust finish.” Both sets have “Futura alternatives,” as well as a kooky crossing W to add some additional flavor when necessary. Sowersby affectionately calls Geograph “plain,” which might seem like a dud of an adjective until you realize that its plainness is what allows the typeface to function as multiple typefaces in one. Taken in context, Geograph’s simple aeshetics reflect the ever-evolving state of media—a solid base is a foundation for navigating the sharp turns a media brand will inevitably encounter in 2018.
What should I use it for? Geograph is a proprietary typeface, which means you can’t use it. But given that it’s aesthetically and spiritually influenced by Futura, we suggest you use the ubiquitous typeface for just about anything that benefits from exacting geometry. Logos, wayfinding signs, space travel—it’s everywhere for a reason.
What should I pair it with? Geograph, like Futura, is an artfully crafted palette cleanser of a sans-serif. Pair it with a geometric serif like Bodoni , fashion’s favorite font, or something a little edgier like Canela.