5 Questions with Vanessa Wyse of Toronto's 'The Grid'

5 Questions with Vanessa Wyse of Toronto's 'The Grid'
The Grid is a "city" weekly--not to be confused with an "alternative" weekly--published by the Toronto Star. Dubbed "Toronto at street level" (thus, "The Grid"--see what they did there?) the newsprint publication is distributed on the streets and for free.

"We wanted to turn the idea of a free urban weekly on its head and create a new kind of product. A kind of a hybrid. Something that looked and read like a magazine but physically was more akin to a newspaper. A mag that has relevant content, clean and contemporary design and highly-produced original photography. Something that readers would be a little bit reluctant to throw away at the end of the week," says The Grid's CD, Vanessa Wyse. "We wanted to reflect the true feeling of Toronto. There is a very raw approach to the photography and the tone of the magazine. It can be very tempting to look at great city mags like New York and take our cues from there, since they do it so well. But I think we have been successful in creating a magazine that is completely different."

Apparently, a few people agree. The Grid just celebrated its first anniversary by cleaning up in the design categories at Les Prix du Magazine Canadien (The Canadian National Magazine Awards), winning 4 golds and 2 silvers. Let's see how they did it ...


  • The Canadian National Magazine Award winner. May 19, 2011
    The Canadian National Magazine Award winner. May 19, 2011
  • The TOC
    The TOC
  • Section A / City
    Section A / City
  • Section B / Life
    Section B / Life
  • Section C / Culture
    Section C / Culture
  • Section D / The List
    Section D / The List
  • The first anniversary issue
    The first anniversary issue

1) What's your background? Where else have you worked and what was your path to The Grid?
I'm a homesick Aussie, originally from Sydney. I started out working in custom publishing and annual reports for the Australian Tourism Commission, Pirelli Tires, and a few other corporate clients. Then I was the Deputy AD at Cosmopolitan Australia for a while.

I moved to Toronto in 2000, where I joined The Globe & Mail as Associate AD of Report on Business magazine and worked on other publications and e-zines that The Globe produced. When my current publisher/editor-in-chief, Laas Turnbull, approached me in the fall of 2010 about helping him create a new city magazine, I jumped at the chance. It's been a wild and crazy ride, that's for sure.

2) Did you create the overall look and feel of the magazine? If so, what (and who) were your inspirations?
I did. From the beginning there were a few things we knew had to be part of the yet-to-be-named magazine. We wanted large documentary photography, various entry points into each story (infographics, marginalia, stats), no traditional FOB or BOB, but sections more closely tied to a newspaper architecture, a cover that didn't necessarily have to sell the cover story as the largest item, and a fun, lively editorial tone. The whole editorial team worked very closely to grow these throughout the book.

In terms of inspirations, I love magazines. I am always searching out and spending way too much money on magazines. So the inspirations when creating The Grid spanned everywhere. From Bloomberg to New York, New York Times Magazine, IL (I love all the marginalia and charts), Snob (they have beautiful type), great food photography in Chef's Special from Australia, i newspaper from Portugal, covers from Metrolopoli and Magnes. The list goes on.

Another thing I really wanted to do was embrace the fact that we are printed on newsprint. So I spent a lot of time looking at European newspapers. Just looking at the shapes, typography and architecture (and not being able to read a word) was very inspiring. 

3) When one looks at The Grid, besides great design, you're hit by cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. What's the thinking behind the basic CMYK color scheme?
I'm terrible with color. I just love black, white, grey and if I have to one other color. So The Grid is broken up into 4 sections, each with its own color. The color is used for navigation purposes and almost nothing else. I also discovered that these colors print best on our paper so why fight it.

4) Is there an iPad app coming?
Yep. We are in the process of building it as we speak.

5) When a magazine is called "The Grid," I've gotta think a lot of thought went into the design of, well, the grid. Can you talk about that process? How compelled were you to make the underlying grid a part of the overall design concept?
The grid plays a crutial role in the design of the mag. One of the greatest challenges of a city magazine is to accomodate all the fractional ads. It's the nature of the beast. I had to create a grid that would allow the editorial to be flexible and fit in the ads when necessary. It was also a matter of survival. The ad layout is changing right up to the last minute but we need to be able to design the stories earier in the week. We have a very small team, so I had to make sure that any ad changes would have minimal impact on the design team and still leave plenty of time for the fun stuff like infographics, illustrations, marginalia, and brainstorming photo ideas.

The grid is a 20-unit grid. I've worked with something similar before. All the text and images hang from the same point from the top of the page. There is a large white space above and type or images where little extra bits can be layered in. Our pages are very tall so this white space offsets the feeling of too much grey text.

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