JSTOR logo

Evolving JSTOR's brand to enable a richer research experience

Project overview

JSTOR is a digital library for discovering and connecting research, images, and primary sources used by millions of people around the world. 

Our team created and launched a refreshed brand identity to support JSTOR's new strategic initiatives.

Company: JSTOR

Role: Lead product designer

Team: Kelsey Cavitt, Liza Pagano, Florence Lee, Matt MacQueen

Contributors: Lori Lundy, Jin Kim, Sung Mun, Matt Martin, Sam Pierce Lolla, Nick Sands

Timing: December 2019 – June 2021

Phase I: Laying the foundation

Why did JSTOR’s brand need to evolve?

In 2017, JSTOR acquired Artstor, an online library of images and primary sources from the world's best museums and artists, in a strategic play to offer a richer content experience apart from text-based content.

We wanted to strengthen the depth and quality of our users’ research efforts under one platform.

JSTOR's existing brand couldn't support this initiative and it needed to evolve.

JSTOR before shots

JSTOR search results pageOld JSTOR home page
JSTOR, "About JSTOR" hero image. It reads, "JSTOR is a digital library for the intellectually curious. We help everyone discover, share, and connect valuable ideas."Old JSTOR workspace pageOld JSTOR content viewer page
A group is gathered around a large meeting table to brainstorm ideas for the brand story for JSTOR.

Crafting a brand story

Our brand needed a source of truth, so the marketing team started the initiative by creating a brand story that outlined JSTOR's history, mission, and vision. They used learnings from inclusive workshops and internal and external interviews to bring JSTOR's story to life.

By crafting the story, it gave us a guidepost for all future brand decisions to be based off of.


JSTOR is for the intellectually curious -- both lifelong learners and those searching for answers to specific questions. We support them because the humanities, social sciences, and the arts help us contend with complex moral issues and show us how to lead a more meaningful life.


Born in libraries, JSTOR pioneered the digitization of academic journals. This relatively humble idea has had a profound effect. Rare, forgotten, and isolated materials join fundamental scholarship and become part of the discourse. Critical content is preserved for the future and discovery improves dramatically.


As a mission-driven not-for-profit, we partner with libraries, museums, and publishers to reduce costs and extend access to underserved populations. We provide a platform with innovative tools for teaching and research, new ways to use data, and the ability to share special collections.


We believe in the power of knowledge to change the world for the better. As researchers search for insights in established disciplines and emerging practices, JSTOR will continue to deliver an environment where they can understand our history and help chart our future.

Photo credit: Kelsey Cavitt

Phase II: Establishing our brand identity

Visual exploration

For the design phase, I partnered with our Creative Director,  Liza Pagano, who led the brand and marketing implementation. I acted as the bridge between brand and product, leading up the product design implementation.

We kicked off our journey by creating moodboards that reflected the essence of the brand story, ensuring we went wide to see what could be possible for JSTOR.

This video captures our first day of moodboarding. We were on the hunt for inspiration at one of the libraries at the University of Michigan, where JSTOR was originally founded.

A white wall with three different concepts of moodboards. We printed off our moodboards and taped them up on the wall. The first column is the "Support" concept, the second column is "Discover." And the third column is "Connect."

Early design directions

We unpacked themes from our brand story to help us visualize possible directions.

We came up with 3 visually distinct concepts named Support, Discover, and Connect.

JSTOR "Support" concept moodboard. It's a collage of various images that represent the Support concept, includes pastels, rounded corners, etc.

Concept 1

A softer, friendlier feel with pastel colors, humanist typefaces, rounder shapes, and people-focused imagery.

JSTOR "Discover" concept moodboard. It's a collage of various images that represent the Discover concept, including rich gradients, intriguing and dynamic images, and interesting sharp shapes.

Concept 2

A bolder, stronger approach, with bright colors and gradients, grotesque and bold typefaces, and dynamic and intriguing imagery.

JSTOR "Connect" concept moodboard. It's a collage of various images that represent the Connect concept, which includes contrasting colors (like black, red, yellow), modern typefaces, simple icons and a Bahaus vibe.

Concept 3

A simpler, cleaner direction with contrasting colors, modern typefaces, sharper shapes, and graphical imagery.

A group of designers is in JSTOR's design studio around our standing desk. We are presenting some conceptual designs on our large tv screen on the wall.

Trying the concepts out in the UI

The concepts were brought to life by our entire design team over the course of 4 weeks.  Liza and I assigned each designer a concept to explore and provide high-fidelity mockups of a few key product pages.

Each week, we iterated based on feedback from our weekly design reviews. We encouraged them to go wide and see what could be possible. It was such a fun experience and our team had the chance to be part of the journey to help us ultimately narrow down to just two directions.
See the kickoff deck for our working sessions ->

A collage of user interface design concepts
Two directions hero image

Phase III: Testing our designs

Two design directions

After diverging on the separate concepts, we converged and spun up two different directions to test with users.

User feedback

We wanted to compare our users’ current perception of JSTOR with the new directions by measuring directly against the Brand Framework.

We conducted two separate tests to act as inputs for making decisions for a final direction.

A scan of a side by side comparison of our two different design directions. There are hand written notes we took while interviewing our users on their impressions of the design directions.

Test 1

Design Comparison Interviews


We conducted 8 in-person user interviews to understand and identify existing perceptions of JSTOR compared with impressions of our new design directions.

Learning goals

  1. Does the experience still feel like JSTOR?
  2. Is it an environment where they would be comfortable working?
  3. What is their current perception of JSTOR and how do these new directions compare to it?

Test 2

Expression Comparison Survey


We conducted a click test survey with 50 users from a Usability Hub panel, optimizing for feedback outside of our direct space. We wanted to directly compare the design directions using the Brand Framework.

Learning goals

  1. How do the design directions align to our brand framework?
  2. Does one of the directions represent JSTOR better than the other?

What did we learn?

We distilled our learnings from both tests into a few primary learnings and opportunities to keep in mind when converging on a final direction.

1. JSTOR's differentiator is the quality of its content

It's essential to elevate the content and that it continues to be high quality, curated, and peer-reviewed. The quality of the content is the most important aspect to communicate on JSTOR in its presentation. It should not be overpowered by the branding.

2. Our users associate JSTOR's brand with its logo and primary JSTOR red color
Our customers know and love JSTOR's logo and JSTOR red. We have the opportunity to lean in to our existing branding beacons for stronger brand continuity.

3. The simpler designs performed better, but there's room for including more visual interest.
Between our two directions, overall the second direction represents and feels more like JSTOR, but it lacked intrigue and was described as "sterile." We should continue to provide a dependable experience that brings more visual appeal and dimension.

Phase IV: Final direction

Brand expressions

After months of ideating, reviewing, testing, and refining, we narrowed in to create an elevated and inclusive final direction that is now reflected as JSTOR’s brand identity.

Color moodboard, consisting of arctic landscapes, the northern lights, and other scenes from nature.


The color palette is inspired directly from our brand story, “JSTOR is for the intellectually curious.” All colors in the palette complement JSTOR Red.

We interpreted “intellectually curious” as nature in all its vibrancy. Our moodboard consisted of powerful sunsets, the northern lights, and arctic landscapes. We wanted to capture the feeling a researcher gets when they discover or learn something new.

Night Blue
Glacier Blue
Living Coral
Marble Gray
A concept for a printed image card for describing JSTOR.A red JSTOR hat, a front and back view.A red and blue JSTOR tote bag.An interpretation of a Stan Smith / JSTOR collaboration sneaker.JSTOR rugby shirt conceptJSTOR crewneck sweatshirt. It's white with red, coral, and blue stripes.


We selected two typefaces—Ivar, a serif for headings, and GT America, a sans serif for body copy. By having both serif and sans serif typefaces, we aimed to provide intrigue and contrast, enabling a more scannable experience to parse through thousands of search results. We also wanted to select typefaces that were legible and humanist to support an accessible and authentic experience.

Ivar is strongly influenced by the grace and sturdy construction of Times. The typeface stands on the shoulders of giants: the design refers to the dependable text faces from the mid-1900s, which in turn were rooted in classic designs from the 16th and 17th century.
GT America
GT America sits at an interesting crossroad – it’s a grotesque sans serif with more of a human touch than usual in the genre, leading to a much better performance in legibility and readability, especially on screens.

Selecting accessible typefaces

JSTOR is full of text-based content, so it was important to select a typeface that had great legibility and readability. Users parse through thousands of results to do their research and we didn’t want to make their job harder.

Ivar x-height exampleGT America x-height example

Generous x-height

We selected typefaces that had generous x-height. The shorter the x-height, the smaller the letter will appear, which can cause the type to become illegible.

Ivar open apertures exampleGT America open apertures example

Open apertures

Apertures are the opening gaps found in certain letters such as c, e, and s. Large and open apertures aid readers in deciphering letterforms.

Ivar humanist exampleGT America humanist example


We wanted to select a typeface genre that is characterized by the presence of a hand. Their forms reference the stroke of a pen, feel more organic, and have a human touch.


We wanted to make our icons a valuable addition to our UI, rather than just a decorative element. They aren't stealing the show and support what users are trying to do when they come to JSTOR. Our icons follow a square shape, inspired by JSTOR's logo, to create an ownable and consistent set.

Creating our icon set

Our icons seek to provide clarity and convey brand personality, but must first communicate meaning. Our set was created with our icon principles in mind to ensure they were accessible and aligned to the brand.

Simple over detailed
Icons should have simple lines and shapes, with restraint on the creation of icon variations.
Clear over conceptual
The icon should easily help users understand what it represents. Interpreting abstract icons can take more time and effort.
Family over friends
Icons should feel related, and if not, they can look out of place. This can cheapen the design and mistrust from the user.
Labels over no labels
Whenever possible, pair an icon with text to help users quickly comprehend their meaning and the action being represented.