Client: Canadian Art Foundation, Toronto, Canada

Helping revitalize a Canadian icon

For Canadian Art, Canada’s oldest and most influential visual arts magazine, we directed the creation of a new website while also devising a strategic blueprint for the organization’s road forward.

No Media are excellent to work with: thorough and professional, with considered knowledge of current trends and how they dovetail with usability. I’m particularly thrilled to have a website design that respects writing and writers, and that brings the best of our print layout to readers’ screens.

David Balzer, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher, Canadian Art

With the arrival of David Balzer as its Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher in 2016, Canadian Art magazine began a process of long-overdue transformation. Though still the country’s oldest and preeminent title covering the visual arts, the magazine had failed to keep up with both the changing media landscape and the evolving discourse around contemporary art. It was starting to look tired and out of step. Younger audiences — curators, educators, collectors, artists — were not seeing their priorities or interests reflected in the magazine. Dramatic changes were needed if it was going to return to relevance. 

Before he and the Canadian Art Foundation came to us, David and the staff had already executed an impressive turnaround at the magazine in his first year, radically shifting its editorial direction with the inclusion of new voices, along with more timely and relevant content, while overseeing a thorough redesign of its pages that resulted in a more elegant, engaging and contemporary look. Its newfound relevance was immediately felt; what Canadian Art had to say suddenly mattered again. Issues on newsstands sold out, as did the talks the magazine organized. They published one of the best magazine covers of 2017. People were reading the magazine who hadn’t before. We were too, especially for the way it was now taking risks, trying new things and introducing us to artists we weren’t aware of before.    

The magazine may have been revitalized but other parts of the organization had to catch up. Its editors were still stuck with a glitchy, outdated and poorly designed website that did not reflect the visual sophistication of the publication. There were also larger strategic and operational issues; as the centrepiece of a non-profit foundation partly supported by donors, with ancillary initiatives in event programming and education, a strategy was required that better aligned the new editorial direction across all its activities, while addressing how the needs of key stakeholders critical to the long-term viability of the organization could be met.

No Media contributed on two fronts. First, we oversaw, managed and provided creative and technical advice on the creation of a new Canadian Art website. Around the same time, we undertook a thorough audit of the magazine (including design and editorial) and its audience, supplemented by a competitive landscape analysis of peer publications in the visual arts. The goal was to develop a coherent, wide-ranging strategy paper to guide the organization going forward. 

For art direction of the new website, No Media worked closely with the award-winning Toronto studio Monnet Design, developing a new design system that was minimalist yet dynamic, typographically refined and generally more consistent with the look of the print magazine. Multiple templates were created to allow for more experimentation and play in the layout of individual stories and displaying of images. The new design also extended to the organization’s programming and foundation activities, as well as newsletters and social media, articulating a consistent brand language across all touch points with Canadian Art’s audience. 

Behind the scenes, we worked closely with the developer Matthew Crider to ensure the implemented Wordpress system made sense not just from a technical point of view, but for the editorial staff who would have to use it day-to-day to do their jobs. We consulted extensively with all the staff for whom it was going to drastically change their jobs, figuring out what they needed, what they dreamt of, and how we could best and most flexibly respond. Playing a joint role of quality assurance and technical direction, we worked hard to make sure that operating the site made creative sense, and that the tools at hand would help everybody produce and publish innovative work, without imposing unnecessary or ill-considered technical limitations that held them back or made their jobs harder. 

No Media provided the Canadian Art Foundation with great service. Chris and Patrick applied impressive rigour in interviewing a wide range of external stakeholders as we embarked on the first phase of our strategic review. They were also patient and collaborative in canvassing key internal stakeholders at each phase of the process. The result, a clearly written and thoroughly analytical report punctuated by bursts of creative thinking, has provided us with a key document as we continue to evolve our non-profit organization. We couldn’t be doing it without No Media’s help.

Debra Campbell and Gabe Gonda, Co-chairs, Canadian Art Foundation

For the strategic review, No Media began with an extensive stakeholder survey, interviewing representative members of the art community, including artists, educators, museum directors, curators, collectors, and sponsors. Along with the findings from a rigorous landscape analysis of international visual arts titles (both print and digital), and our own insights in editorial and brand strategy, No Media provided Canadian Art with an exhaustive, deeply researched set of recommendations intended to build upon the magazine’s recent reinvigoration.