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How Chris Dixon became the most iconic designer of his generation

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hen Chris Dixon arrived at Vanity Fair in 2011 from New York Magazine he began reworking the typography, page design, illustrations, infographics, and photography to evolve the iconic publication section after section, page after page. Having started his collaboration with Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes of Commercial Type on a six-month process to redesign Vanity Fair’s logo and create a new custom display typeface back in 2012, Dixon approved a fresh interpretation of Didot for the prestigious magazine in 2013.

Born 1967 in Saskatchewan, Canada Dixon studied psychology at the University of Saskatchewan but when he took part-time art and design classes he “discovered what graphic design really was”. Having accepted into Vancouver’s Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design for a three-year program in 1997 it was his graduate project that caught the eye of visiting teacher Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters who offered him a job as an art director. This is how it all started.

“I’m typographically led. For me, to solve a problem or make the thing special it’s the typography.”

A graphic designer by heart, Chris Dixon has spent more than 17 years designing at a wide variety of publications and companies, including  the Financial Times, the New York Times Magazine, Ogilvy & Mather, as well as eight years at New York magazine where he helped execute of the most highly-regarded magazine redesigns in recent years the Design Director at Vanity Fair since 2011, has evolved the magazine’s overall look with a very contemporary yet classic in its typographic elements refined design with poster-like covers and well-crafted and detailed, but still bold and muscular typography. Here we present you with some quotes of his typographic wisdom for a very compelling adventure in the land of the letter.

“My brother is a film director and I sometimes liken art direction to film directing. They start with a script, basically just words on white paper, and they read it and start to imagine and visualise it. You can do it a thousand different ways – if you take the same script to different directors they’re going to visualise it in very different ways. In editorial design we do a similar thing. You read a manuscript and it’s got a certain mood to it, a certain tone, and we work to communicate that. You can pull out certain words in the headline, or reduce the headline down to one word alongside a photograph and you get a tension between word and image.”

“I’m typographically led. For me, to solve a problem or make the thing special it’s the typography. Vanity Fair didn’t necessarily have that as one of its key strengths, so that’s what I’m mainly trying to do here now. I work on the photography, too, but I think that’s much more successful than other visual parts of the magazine; it’s a great big machine here that works really well. So it’s the typography and the general page design here”.

“Our Didot needed to be versatile. VANITY FAIR is a general interest magazine, and in any given issue you have a huge range of stories, from Hollywood to the civil war in Syria to a profile on Tony Blair. The new typeface had to be flexible enough to work with all those topics. I also wanted a Didot that would play well with other type — some covers get rather involved typographically and we’ll mix VF Didot with Solano, VF Sans, Flama, Futura, and we’re always looking for the perfect script face… Our Didot has weights that feel more journalistic, less delicate. Christian and his team understood the need for versatility, and we ended up with seven distinct sizes, each with multiple weights… It also gives us a huge range to work with, our covers tend to be type-heavy, and the range allows us to keep the covers looking typographically lush”.

With information from Eye Magazine, Gym Class and CBC Radio Canada