Canadian typographer Rod McDonald came to VIU to speak about his work and to promote the upcoming Carl Dair typography workshops in Canada. The lecture took place on Oct. 16 at the Nanaimo Campus.

Typographers design typefaces, which are sometimes commonly referred to as fonts. VIU academic students are probably most familiar with the Times New Roman, twelve-point font as it’s required in many essays and assignments. VIU Graphic Design students in attendance at McDonald’s lecture had their own favourite and least liked typefaces.

“I don’t like Papyrus,” Coby McDougall says. “Or Curlz MT.”

Graphic Design student Laura Curan smiles and says she doesn’t like Helvetica, “just to be controversial.”

McDonald gives clues as to why these typefaces might be unpopular during his lecture.

“Typography is communicating with type […] Typefaces are almost invisible,” he says. “It’s hard to see them, because you’re not supposed to see them—you’re supposed to read them.”

He adds, “If I show somebody a typeface and they start talking about what the author said, you have no idea how happy that makes me.”

In 2001, McDonald created a typeface for Maclean’s. It was the first typeface ever commissioned by a Canadian magazine. The typeface for Maclean’s content is called Laurentian. McDonald spoke of the challenges in creating a typeface that suits the tone of the content it will be voicing. Specifically, McDonald was designing Maclean’s typeface in the midst of the magazine’s 9/11 coverage.

“The voice that you make also narrates horrific events,” McDonald says. He says he was looking for neutrality and realized, “what we were after [was] Peter Mansbridge.”

McDonald says the process of designing a typeface involves looking at every letter from different perspectives.

“I turn it around,” McDonald says. “When you’re designing, you have to break the habitual view.”

McDonald says half of the time involved in making a typeface is spent on “making the letters look good at all sizes.”

The letters in a typeface have to work at a large 72-point, as well as at a small 10-point.Other weights for the typeface also have to be created. This includes variations of italics, bolds, bold italics, and small caps.

McDonald created a revival of Canadian typographer Carl Dair’s Cartier and called it Cartier Book, because he intended it to be used for books.

“I subtlely made letters go from left to right to aid readers,” MacDonald says.

The Cartier Book typeface can be seen on signs in Canadian parks.

McDonald says the Carl Dair typography workshops aim to teach people on the rules for setting type.

“Now everybody handles type; teaching of proper type should be taught in elementary school,” McDonald says. “[Setting type] was dumped on people without teaching them the rules.”

McDonald’s latest font is Classic Grotesque, and is available on <>.



Basic Typeface Glossary:

(Courtesy of Linotype, full glossary available from <>)

Typeface: The shape of a character in an alphabet with letters, numbers, and symbols, which is identified by a family name.

Family: All the related variants of one typeface design, for example, different weight variants, width variants, upright, italic, bold, etc.

Font: Traditionally, a complete set of characters for one typeface at one particular type size. Now used more loosely as a synonym for “typeface.”

Serif: A small stroke projecting from the main strokes of a character. Some popular serif typefaces are Times Roman and Century Schoolbook.

Sans-serif: Typefaces without serifs, such as Helvetica, Optima, or Futura. The term “sans seri” is derived from French and means “without serifs.”

Small caps: Capital letters with the same optical height and proportions as the lower case letters of the same typeface.

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