Cartier is a typeface family of four roman weights, an italic complement to the Regular weight, small caps – and a feat of remarkable design. It successfully melds qualities that make a typeface distinctive with those that insure lasting value. Few designs are as elegantly functional and stunningly attractive.
The beginning of Canada’s centenary year, January 1, 1967, is generally given as the date for the introduction of that country’s first important typeface. This isn’t close to the correct date.
While Cartier, drawn by the Canadian designer Carl Dair, was first shown to the public in January of 1967, this was more an idea for a typeface, than a typeface itself. Even when a font was eventually produced in the fall of the same year, it was still not a finished design.
The story of how Carl Dair’s design idea became a typeface design begins when another Canadian lettering artist and type designer, Rod McDonald, moved to Toronto. “I went to work for Mono Lino, the company who had exclusive Canadian rights to Cartier. I was, of course, seduced by the design and tried to use it often – but just couldn’t make it work as a proper text face.”
From time to time, McDonald would experiment with Cartier, trying to transform it from lettering to a typeface, never reaching a successful conclusion. Then in the early 1990s something happened. “I felt that my career had plateaued. I was doing a lot of word-marks, but yearned to do more. I looked at Cartier again. In 1997, at the ATypI Congress in Reading, England, I approached Allan Haley with the idea of making a digital typeface family based on Dair’s work. His encouragement sealed the deal.”
The project soon became McDonald’s passion. “I was intimately familiar with the design, and, thanks to Massey College of the University of Toronto, was able to spend lots of time with Dair’s original sketches and more finished renderings. I began to understand what Dair was trying to accomplish. My goal was to become the drawing office the Cartier never had. I wanted to complete Dair’s work and distill his idea into a typeface design.”
When asked, what is the most significant difference between his design and the original Cartier, McDonald’s answer was simple, direct and telling of what it takes to make a successful text typeface family. “Dair’s accomplishment was the design. I tried to make it a working typeface. I spent the first year doing that: cleaning up the inconsistencies, removing the quirks; basically regularizing the design. The next year was spent putting energy back into the typeface; giving it back the life Dair gave it. The second year was the hardest.”