Three times in four years from 2011-2014, Toronto weekly magazine/newspaper The Grid was named one of the world’s five best-designed newspapers by the international Society for News Design (SND). Last week however, the paper announced it was shutting down immediately after just 162 issues.
Star Media Group launched The Grid in May 2011, filling the void left by its defunct alt-paper Eye Weekly. Featuring “street level” content geared toward the city’s downtown core, it published 70,000 copies per issue and was available for free.
“We wanted to celebrate the city, but not through a biased perspective. We’re not New York, we’re not London, and that’s OK. We’re great ourselves,” said creative director Vanessa Wyse, who has been with the mag since the start.
Wyse and team wanted to up the ante for free weeklies. “We wanted to make people reluctant to throw it out,” she said. Experimentation was a key message early on. “One of things I tried to teach the designers, and also editorially speaking, is that this thing comes out on the street every single week. If we mess it up that’s OK because there’s another one coming. I think it was important for everyone to take risks,” she said. “Trust your instincts.”
While the publication was popular with readers and respected by peers, it struggled financially in a poor ad sales climate. Its final issue (pictured above) came out last Thursday. For one last look at one of the country’s best-looking print publications, we called up Wyse to walk us through some of her favourite layouts.
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FOURTH ANNUAL CHEF’S GUIDE TO TORONTO (May 22-28, 2014)
Vanessa Wyse: The team was so small and people were willing to do anything. One of the things I’ll take away from this is that no matter how hard it got–and it really was the hardest thing I’ve done professionally, given the timeframe, the resources and the level of detail that we put into each issue–no matter how hard that got, nobody ever phoned it in.
For this one we had this lovely picture and all the pieces, but the type was not working. And at about 2:30 a.m. [Monday night, production day deadline] I said to [associate art director] Nicola Hamilton, ‘let’s draw this.’ And so at 2:30 in the morning she starts whipping out this type and that gave it the energy that we really wanted. Once she did that, the entire package came together.
[Photographer] Matthew Barnes found this amazing old hospital set like they use in movies. These guys in the photo are a local comedy troupe, there’s only four of them and we dressed them up as sperm. We let [Barnes] take the idea wherever he wanted to go. This particular layout won a lot of awards, and I think it shows how fun The Grid was overall for both the contributors and for us.
In terms of the design, I didn’t want to over-design any of it. The photo was amazing; our photo editor Shelbie Vermette-Grant did a really good job in putting this together. The last thing you need is crazy type going all over it.
[Oliver Jewellery owner] Russell Oliver is the gold man. Shelbie had this amazing ability to talk people into anything and still show them in a positive light. Even though we wanted him painted gold from head to toe, we weren’t making fun. One of the things that we were really conscious of from the beginning was to never be mean. Snark was never a part of the language we used and I think that was really important in the photography as well. He was such a great sport.
Rob Ford is the big story here in Toronto and we obviously had to touch on that. Along with that comes pick-up photography and things that are not appealing. So these are the opportunities that you get to play with big, bold type, and all of the little details like the hashtags.
[Designedge: Your previous point about not poking fun at subjects stands out here.] Absolutely. And he does not make that easy for anybody. But we wanted to tell smart stories about what could happen–we did numerous stories giving him a mythical attack plan, like ‘here’s five steps to fix it all…’ [Senior editor] Ed Keenan does such a great job explaining what this could mean to the city without all of the dramatics that you see everywhere else.
This is definitely one of my all-time favourites. Who else is going to let you put the butt of a dog on the cover? We weren’t afraid to mess around with the logo so we changed the words, it was all those little touches that made this something that you could really relate to. There’s a lot of thought that went into this, but it was not precious.
I loved the cover and the inside. [Photographer] Finn O’Hara did such an amazing job on this, and again it’s another one of those stories where you give the photographer a great idea and let them run with it. We left it really simple. There’s obviously a lot of design thinking that went into this but it’s not overly done. It’s a great story about smoking outdoors in February and how that must take some dedication. [The ice] is this weird special effects gel. The poor subject almost had to shave his face because he couldn’t get it out!