By Ian Volner
“When she started out, she was in awe of everything, completely sweet and lovely and terrific,” says Pentagram’s Paula Scher. “Now she’s still that, but she’s also savvy as all get out.” Scher is talking about Drea Zlanabitnig, a graphic designer who at the ripe old age of 25 has managed the journey from studious sincerity to design-world success. In 2008, straight out of New York’s School of Visual Arts, Zlanabitnig (“Zlah-nah-beet-neeg!”) came on board full-time at Pentagram. Last spring, Zlanabitnig left the office and landed at The New York Times Magazine, just as it was undertaking a visual revamp.
Designer at The New York Times Magazine
From: Jupiter, Florida
Lives in: Brooklyn, New York
It has been largely a matter of luck, claims the designer. “I left Pentagram to travel and freelance,” she says. “One of [The Times’] designers had just left, and they asked me if I could come in.” Zlanabitnig arrived for what she thought would be a brief hitch with the magazine; after nearly a year, she’s still there, with no sign of a let-up.
Her work, as in a series of layouts for The Times’ new “One-Page Magazine,” is often highly detailed, even frenetic, packing in as many good ideas and one-liners as it can. The same energy courses through last year’s cover illustration (art directed by Zlanabitnig) for the magazine’s education issue, which could pass for a doodle-covered notebook were it not for its exquisite balance. Though she can be equally bold—see her Bloomberg Businessweek illustrations imagining the U.S.A. as a corporate brand.
Scher calls Zlanabitnig “obsessive,” but the young designer says she’s just going with the flow—although in her case, it’s a pretty intense flow: “listening to a song till I can’t stand it, eating a certain type of sandwich every day until I hate it. I dive in head first, for better or worse.”