Li’l Robin on publication design

Strategic Design for Digital & Print

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Li’l Robin on publication design

Helping companies convey editorial content effectively through design

The design of a publication—whether a magazine, book, or website—is a key expression of its identity and editorial strategy. As creative director, art director, and designer, I’ve had the pleasure of working on projects ranging from a book for Kenneth Cole to the launch of new magazines and an upcoming children’s book series for Sterling Publishing. In each case, Li’l Robin takes a nuanced approach to articulating the voice of the publication through design. For our latest project in this arena, we created a new identity for the publication Catalyst Strategic Design Review. The redesigned issue debuted at the end of August.

The Challenge

Catalyst Strategic Design Review is a magazine published by the Design Management Program of Pratt Institute (the program that I graduated from in 2001). Offering case studies and feature articles, the magazine documents and explains design strategy for an audience of corporate decision-makers who have an influence on design. As the magazine’s editors write in their vision statement, “The mission of Catalyst Strategic Design Review is to stimulate thinking and encourage conversation about the role of strategic design in defining and developing an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable future.”

The magazine—written, edited, and designed by students, faculty, and graduates of the Design Management Program—had featured a variety of layouts and design sensibilities throughout its first four issues. To more effectively realize the magazine’s mission, Dr. Mary McBride, a member of Catalyst’s editorial board and Director of the Design Management Program, enlisted Li’l Robin to undertake the redesign.


Catalyst aims to reach business leaders, and we felt that to communicate effectively with this audience, the publication needed to have a solidly professional look. Since Catalyst had taken on several design variations, we decided that the first, and most important, phase of the redesign was to create a clear and consistent structure for the magazine. This would establish a branded consistency from issue to issue, so that readers would recognize the Catalyst aesthetic.

We achieved this by creating a thorough architecture for all the magazine’s elements—from the feature grid to visual touchpoints such as sidebars, information graphics, and the “Executive Summary” at the beginning of each feature article.

The Redesign

The re-envisioned Catalyst is vibrant, with a clean and consistent aesthetic that beautifully frames the editorial content and gives the journal a sophisticated look and feel.


To achieve the right tone for the magazine’s audience, we chose classic typefaces that convey the appropriate balance of elegance and seriousness of purpose. For headlines, we selected Miller Display, a striking display font that looks gorgeous when it’s large. That choice also makes the design modern, featuring as it does a large serif font with plenty of white space around it. The italic version of Miller gives the magazine a playfulness, so that its voice isn’t too earnest. For body text, we chose Trade Gothic.


Our goal with the typography was to give the magazine an invigorated beauty and grace. Here, the opener conveys visual drama and elegance by juxtaposing large-scale typography with a full-bleed image of a map.


In a story about Brooklyn Bowl, a pioneering LEED-certified music venue, a minimal design featuring an iconic visual conveys both interest and humor. Here and throughout the magazine, the design of features and sections allows photography and pull quotes to be showcased prominently.


We also designed sidebars, information graphics, and other clearly delineated visual elements to organize the magazine’s content and to provide numerous entry points for the articles.

As with all our design projects, we sought to create a thorough system that nevertheless allows for variation and creativity. The redesigned Catalyst has a consistency complemented by a visual intricacy; it’s a balanced palette of structure, complexity, and visual sophistication.

“Anke Stohlmann’s design work has breathed new life into the Catalyst brand, helped us refine our design process, and brought the magazine to a new level of professionalism,” observes Adam Zoltowski, the magazine’s Executive Editor. “Working with Anke is a great experience; her work is thorough, meticulous, and forward-thinking. She helped the Catalyst team develop a design system that is controlled, yet at the same time flexible, and the final design was clean, professional, and thought out to the nth degree.”

Dr. Mary McBride adds, “Anke brought an understanding of the program’s goals, and she gave the magazine the benefit of her discipline and expertise. She gave us the anchors, frameworks, and templates we needed. She also understood what the difference would be between the print and digital versions, and she was able to do the redesign in a way that would be best suited for both.”

Key points of the redesign

• Ensuring consistency in typefaces and the look of the page.
• Creating a hierarchy and grid for the page design.
• Crafting a design system for the front of the book and back of the book sections, so that the two sections were clearly interrelated and also differentiated from the feature well.
• Creating templates and establishing style sheets for every single element of the redesign,
so that the design sensibility will be consistent even when different designers handle the layouts
and art direction.

You can check out articles from the issue at the Catalyst website or purchase a printed copy here.

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