The Monotype Grotesque typefaces were among the first sans serifs cut for hot-metal machine typesetting. Designer Rod McDonald describes them as “hidden gems that deserved to be updated.” In 2008, Monotype gave McDonald the go-ahead to draw what was to become the Classic Grotesque typeface family. In retrospect, McDonald comments, “I had no idea how demanding – and rewarding – the project would be.”
History of the Typeface
First released in 1926, the origins of the original Monotype Grotesques can be traced back to two virtually forgotten German typefaces: the Venus and Ideal Grotesk designs. “I spent a lot of time studying those two,” recalls McDonald, “in addition to the Monotype Grotesque family. Influences from other early 20th century typefaces, like Aurora, also crept into the design. I have always liked the letter shapes of these older sans serif faces and particularly appreciated their letter fitting.”
McDonald made his first digital sketches for the Classic Grotesque family in 2008. Although his progress was slowed by custom typeface projects, the ensuing four-year design process is a testimonial to the time and commitment he invested in the family.
“Designing Classic Grotesque was more complex than I had anticipated,” McDonald acknowledges. “This was largely because I initially based my design solely on the early Monotype Grotesques. As a result, elements of the Arial design – which also has its roots in the 1926 sans serif typefaces – kept intruding into my design. Then one day I realized that all I had to do was go back to the same typefaces that Monotype had used to develop the Grotesques. After that, Arial ceased to be a problem and I found myself working on a new design inspired by three classic sans serifs: Ideal Grotesk, Venus and Monotype Grotesque. As if by magic, I also discovered that this was what I had wanted to do all along.”
About the Designer
If Canada had a Typographer Laureate, Rod McDonald would be a worthy candidate. Since the beginning of his career in the mid-1970s, McDonald’s work – as a graphic designer, lettering artist, educator, historian and writer – has encompassed virtually every aspect of the typographic arts. Notably, he was also among the ﬁrst designers to switch to drawing typefaces on the computer in the mid-1980s, and he was soon providing custom fonts to ad agencies and design studios. McDonald’s commercial typefaces include the Cartier Book design, his interpretation of Canada’s first typeface; the Laurentian family, a highly successful design originally developed for Maclean’s magazine; the Smart Sans typeface, named after Canadian design pioneer Sam Smart; the best-selling Slate and Egyptian Slate families; the ITC Handel Gothic design and the Gibson typeface, which McDonald produced in homage to the late designer, John Gibson.
About the Design
The Classic Grotesque family includes seven weights, from light to extra bold, each with a cursive italic complement – for a total of 14 styles. The family is available as OpenType Pro fonts, allowing for the automatic insertion of ligatures, fractions and the alternate two-story ‘g’ and single-story ‘a’ McDonald designed. Pro fonts also include an extended character set, which enables the setting of most Central European and many Eastern European languages
When asked about the intended uses for Classic Grotesque, McDonald’s answer is, “Well, graphic and interactive designers will probably use Classic Grotesque in ways that I would never imagine. I’ve used pre-release versions of the family in ads and in books, and they worked remarkably well in both. I can’t think of many places where Classic Grotesque won’t perform well.”