Insights: RGDs discuss the closing of The Grid and the future of editorial design
With the recent closure of award-winning Toronto publication The Grid, RGDs share their thoughts on the future of print and what the shift to digital might mean for editorial designers. 



Michael Barker RGD, Acme Art and Design

Randal Boutilier RGD, Principal at 12thirteen

Donna Braggins RGD, Associate Dean at Sheridan College

Angela Norwood RGD, Associate Professor at York University

Jim Ryce RGD, Jim Ryce Design & Direction

Janice Van Eck RGD, Art Director and Designer


From a design perspective, how did The Grid stack up against other Toronto publications? What did you think of their recent redesign?


"I think The Grid had a very clean approach that made it very readable and engaging. The focus on photography really made the pages stand out, and all of the supporting graphic elements were used in a tasteful manner. Unlike other dailies and weeklies, The Grid had more of a magazine feel - it was a nice breath of positive space in a visually cluttered publication landscape. The attention to detail and quality seemed to bottom out in recent weeks, when they changed their size to a smaller format and released an issue rife with easily-avoided print errors. I would’ve liked to see them at least have an official ‘Final Issue’, much like ‘Eye Weekly’ did before it was shuttered (and replaced by the Grid). I think management did a disservice to the writers and artistic talent by closing it down so quickly - especially after running with cost-cutting changes in physical size for such a short span of time." - Randal Boutilier RGD 


"Design-wise, The Grid was a success. It was energetic, with lots of entry points into the content and it paired well with the editorial voice it was conveying. I think Vanessa Wyse is probably one of the top art directors in the city and her push for quality design and interesting infographics really helped people see the cultural richness of life in Toronto in a fresh way. The international awards for design that The Grid won were well deserved." - Janice Van Eck RGD 


Does the closing of The Grid signify the end of print media? 


"I don’t think it signifies anything other than the general struggle that all print publications are undergoing in light of the shift to online platforms. With ad revenues being siphoned away from print media, there is a pressing need in paper-based media to do more with less." -  Randal Boutilier RGD 


"I expect the Boomers and, to some extent, Gen-Xers will provide a limited market for print publications in the near future, but I think it's fair to say that readers, even deep readers, will likely give screens their complete attention in the future, and so by necessity will advertisers (though not necessarily in that order). Without advertising funds, populist time-sensitive print media such as weeklies and dailies are in peril." - Michael Barker RGD  


"Why does a publication that is so well recognized for both editorial and design achievements fail in this climate? As its parent company stated, it is lack of advertising. But this is the dilemma faced by all media as the traditional revenue model has eroded and a new model has not emerged to replace it. Great editorial still has the power to attract readers and The Grid was a testament to this strength. Finding the revenue to fund great content is still possible, but resourcefulness and ingenuity are required, as more must be done with fewer resources." - Donna Braggins RGD


What does the decline of print mean for designers? 


"It means that, now more than ever, designers need to be adaptable and not shut themselves off from any design opportunities. While I think there are  opportunities for ‘print-only’ designers, not being informed of developments on media-rich platforms can be detrimental for future career opportunities. It’s nearly impossible to be a specialist in both print and digital design, but we should all be networked with other designers who can fill in our knowledge gaps. Being aware of what we know and what we need to learn will allow us to take on jobs that are outside of our comfort zone and continue to build our skills in the process." -  Randal Boutilier RGD 


"As a designer who still mostly works in print, I think it’s unfortunate that there is so little emphasis on the value of this medium. That being said, design in any form is about problem-solving and ideas. Even though the context for that creativity may be changing, I believe designers will still apply the same thought processes they’ve always used to deliver design solutions in this changing landscape." - Jim Ryce RGD


"With design business models constantly in flux, it is as important as ever for designers to possess the skills to seek and define design opportunities rather than take the reactive approach to providing "solutions" within problem-solving paradigms. Design students who insist on specializing in print these days do so at their peril, especially if they do so at the expense of exploring how print and digital media can interact. However, there will always be space in the field for highly creative designers sought for their particular visual style or design sensibility. Those designers who approach their practice through inquiry and higher level design thinking will be able to transcend specific media and make relevant work." - Angela Norwood RGD  


"It is no longer enough for a designer to work in print without the ability to translate design and navigate content across different platforms. Knowledge of visual storytelling is core to the designer’s role. The editorial field is also an area of design that builds a depth of critical abilities that can translate into other areas of design." - Donna Braggins RGD


What (if anything) can print publications do to survive? Will there be a place for print in the future?   


"Many years ago, when I read weeklies with regularity (or daily newspapers for that matter), it was usually in the context of being either in transit on the TTC or in a cafe or bar taking a break with the paper. In both leisure and transit, the paper must now compete with my mobile device, a channel that carries a seemingly infinite number of enticing distractions (music, movies, games, social media, etc.) And even for “local” news — the supposed saviour of the local paper — the digital realm has me covered. Where I used to pour over the weekly listings of events, movies and concerts in EYE and NOW, a Google search now offers the same information, whenever I want it, supported by movie trailers, concert clips and online schedules. There is a place for print media in our culture — and I mean a “place” quite literally — and I think locating this place is key to any determinedly print publication that wishes to be sustainable." - Michael Barker RGD 


"Despite the loss of this well respected publication, I remain optimistic that the editorial community and the role of designers in this field will evolve as committed people continue to search for new and viable business models. Talented people such as publisher and editor Laas Turnbull and inspiring designers like Vanessa Wyse will persist in contributing to compelling and successful content." - Donna Braggins RGD 


What does the future look like for editorial design? 


"If you’re looking for editorial design and job security within the parameters of large media outlets, then I feel you’re out of luck. The pre-occupation within media outlets now seems to be online, with an increased focus on click-throughs, ‘list-icles’ and social media integration. This struggle has already been played out for writers, who were among the first round of people to suffer from downsizing in print media. If you specialize in this area, you need to do what writers have done - freelance and get working online! It may mean less formal print editorial design work, but it will keep your skills sharpened and relevant."  -  Randal Boutilier RGD 


"I expect the future of editorial design lies, unsurprisingly, in the digital realm, with the temporary exception of luxury/fashion/lifestyle publications aimed at affluent boomers. The good news is that editorial design online seems to be enjoying a golden age — the tools of digital authorship, and tastes of the digital readership, are maturing, and online articles, and by extension editorial design, are becoming more sophisticated. The New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning “Snow Fall” article is the obvious inspiration for the “long form” trend, but many players have jumped in the game since, including Adobe with its latest incarnation of Adobe Muse, a tool that should make digital editorial design at least somewhat more accessible to designers without coding skills." - Michael Barker RGD


"I don’t believe that the vibrant nature of the editorial community will disappear. It will transform and has already shown that it is adapting to a world with multiple platforms, new modes of delivery and new production processes.  The role of design in this community can only become more critical in a future where stories are told in increasingly visual ways. Our culture is visually driven and design is essential to the future of magazines." - Donna Braggins RGD 


Is it realistic to maintain the knowledge, techniques and design sensibilities associated with print design without printed media?  


"Definitely! The fundamentals of design have been established through print for hundreds of years, and throwing away this knowledge would be a huge disservice to more media-rich design. As with artistic movements and technological achievements, new developments always come by refining the work of the past. While the way we intake information may change in the shift from paper to screen, the design fundamentals of organizing information will be timeless." - Randal Boutilier RGD


"The hard skills of editorial design: art direction, layout, typography, storytelling, remain central in the digital realm — though new opportunities and expectations exist for integration of multimedia elements for entertainment and depth. The big change will probably be to the workflow. The integration of multimedia elements requires a varied team (or skill set), overseeing editorial and art direction and close collaboration between developers, videographers, animators, designers and authors — a truly collaborative and multi-disciplinary authorship." - Michael Barker RGD


"I hope that knowledge isn’t lost. I don’t think that print media is dead, by any means, and quite often quality editorial digital media wouldn’t exist without the rigours of the print production process and the designers and editors who collaborate to produce exceptional editorial design. I think that the delivery vehicles at the moment need to be so multi-faceted (print, web, iPad, phone) that the sheer volume of delivery methods is also a contributing factor to the financial losses. I have yet to see a digital editorial vehicle that could sustain itself without the print component in terms of subscribers." - Janice Van Eck RGD 



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