Rudy Lee

Toronto Life’s Christine Dewairy faces design challenger

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Stepping in as the art director of a city magazine just two years after a redesign means no chance for another overhaul. Still, Christine Dewairy is making the look her own—even if the reviews are mixed

At Maclean’s, art director Christine Dewairy was responsible for redesigning a tired magazine for the “grandparents,” as she puts it, that was lagging on the newsstand. But when she became responsible for an additional three magazines (MoneySense, Canadian Business and Profit), she found herself doing more overseeing and less designing. So when Toronto Life  editor Sarah Fulford—who was impressed with her work because it’s “sensitive to editorial content and has a wonderful narrative sense”—offered her a job, Dewairy jumped at the opportunity.

Fulford is happy with her choice and the magazine’s look. “It seduces the reader to be engaged with the content,” she says. “It brings life into the content.” Dewairy’s style is to keep her design simple and abrupt, exactly what worked so well at Maclean’s and the business magazines. But a city magazine is a different beast and, to grab readers, it needs a different approach to its art.

In 2009, Jessica Rose worked with Fulford to overhaul the look of Toronto Life. When she and Fulford decided to resurrect the iconic red box logo, Rose hired Henrik Kubel of London design firm A2/SW/HK. They fell in love and this year Rose decided to move to England to be with him.

That left Fulford in need of a new art director, but not another look. “With every redesign, you live with it and grow with it,” says Fulford. “I hope there is no major redesign in Toronto Life for the foreseeable future.” No matter, according to Kelsey Blackwell, who worked with Dewairy at Saturday Night magazine: “Jessica Rose created a solid foundation with her redesign, which is a great fit for Christine’s sensibility.”

Still, Dewairy has been able to bring her own style to the magazine. When Brian Morgan, art director at The Walrus, saw September’s “Exodus to the Burbs” cover—with its thick and block-like slab serif text—in the window of a newsagent, he knew it was Dewairy’s work. “I immediately knew that she was already imprinting her vision on the magazine.”

In both the September and October issues, Blackwell sees balance, elegance and more illustration entering the pages of Toronto Life. October’s “The Truth About Tim Hudak” issue features a strong portrait of a politician staring at readers—a classic magazine cover. The November issue is intriguing because of the cover line (“Who Earns What”), not because of the anemic headshots of Torontonians such as comedian Russell Peters, the National Post’s Christie Blatchford and Toronto police Chief Bill Blair.

Perhaps that’s why not everyone is a fan. Though several art directors refused to comment, James Ireland is outspoken. While he believes that the magazine has come a long way under the Rose redesign, he’s disappointed that Toronto Life now looks as though it was designed before the computer era. “It looks like a throwback to the ’70s,” he says, and he should know since he was the magazine’s art director during that era. “It doesn’t seem to jump off the page.”

Typographically, there are two main ways to approach magazine design. The first is to throw in anything, any font, any typeface treatment. The second is to select strong, consistent typefaces and ensure they become the brand of the magazine. Dewairy has chosen the former. October’s “Best of Fall” feature has a let’s-get-this-out-as-fast-as-we-can look; it is not as polished and doesn’t push any boundaries or break any new ground. The front-of-book treats its titles with a weak typewriter font that gets lost in white space and the back-of-book titles lack consistency.

Fulford says the magazine aims for every cover to jump out at readers because it’s a challenging time to be on the newsstand. “You do everything in your power to communicate the content of the story in a really effective, grabby way,” she says. “We stand apart and we get readers’ attention. We draw as much attention as possible to the story.”

But Ireland argues that a monthly city magazine requires finesse and time to make it special. “I don’t think she’s a bad designer. I think she’s taken an attitude towards the pages where she’s just banging them out,” he says. “I don’t think this art director, creatively, is kicking any doors down.”

The result is that Toronto Life lacks the polish and refinement of an elegantly packaged magazine such as New York. “Did the chef forget the paprika in there?” asks Ireland. “Because there’s something missing.” The magazine is still good, he says, but the design leaves him thinking, It wasn’t as good as it should’ve been.


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