Jeffrey Docherty

Jeffrey Docherty’s desk, there’s a marked-up copy of the
science and culture magazine Seed, where he works as art
director. He flips through a recent issue, pointing out a handful of
practically imperceptible design errors he has tracked for future
reference, until he lands on the cover story about science’s
relationship to the arts. “The only one unscathed,” he says
wryly. The spread features a photo of an Alexander Calder sculpture, a
spidery mobile with dangling, perfectly balanced wires and abstract
shapes—an ideal intersection of art and engineering. As with all
of Docherty’s work, the story’s design is the model of
restraint even as it offers an extra flourish: A silhouetted re-working
of the mobile links both headline and the photo and repeats throughout
the article as a visual echo.

This nuanced fusion of art and content
is all over the native New Zealander’s work, starting with his
time at Australian architecture magazine Inside. There, Docherty
was responsible for art directing and creating custom typefaces for each
issue. Even when grouped together, each issue of the magazine feels
distinct from the next. “I don’t really have a
schtick,” says Docherty, who’s hesitant to name one
influence lest he forget a more important one. “There’s an
information overload; you see new stuff every day.” He eventually
cops to spending a lot of time on Flickr.

After Docherty moved to New
York in 2006, he freelanced for The New York Times Magazine,
where he appreciated the challenge of pushing the boundaries of a
storied, structured layout grid. Not surprisingly, he’s attracted
to the permanence and educational value of a magazine as opposed to
branding work. “I kind of got tired of spending a month designing
a business card and thinking someone will just throw it out. …A
magazine has a life span.”

Docherty may be making his name in
magazines, but he has a wide range of skills. His diversity stems from a
broad education at Christchurch College of Art & Design, as well as his
advertising background in New Zealand and Australia, where he learned
that there’s no room for specialization. “You really thin
yourself out a little bit,” he says. “But that was a good
thing because a lot of jobs would come in and there was no budget for
illustration, so I would take it on. You would do everything.”

Perhaps as a result, he flutters from bold to delicate easily: the
eye-catching covers of Richmond House, a book of Polaroids; his
illustrated version of the Paper logo, which, with its line art
and dangling daggers, hints at heavy metal music and geometry class; and
the complex line drawing on the cover of Meredith Bragg’s
Silver Sonya CD.

Things didn’t always come so easily to
Docherty. As a 16-year-old, he owned an Omega 600 but had no internet.
“A friend of mine ran a snowboard company and I was like,
‘Oh, I’ll try and use my crazy fonts on my computer.’
And there were those amazing Corel Draw CDs,” he laughs. “I
probably thought they were cool.” It’s a long way from clip
art in Christchurch to high-end magazine work in New York, but Docherty,
with his sophisticated craftsmanship and endless curiosity, has made the
trip look effortless.