The story of Laurentian began in 2001 when the Canadian magazine, Maclean’s, invited Rod McDonald to join the design team to “renovate” the 96-year-old publication. McDonald would be responsible for designing a new masthead and for the overall typography of the magazine – including the design of a new text typeface family for the magazine’s pages. This was the first time in history that a Canadian magazine had commissioned a custom typeface.
In asking McDonald to design Laurentian, Maclean’s charged him with creating a face that was lively and yet never interfered with the other elements on the page, or with the content it expressed. Two historic models, Garamond and Caslon, served as the basis for Laurentian’s design – although Garamond is clearly the more dominant gene.
The pragmatic details of magazine composition also influenced the design. “Because of the relatively narrow columns we were limited to a type size of 9.5 points; 9 would have been ideal graphically but it was felt to be too small for the average reader,” McDonald explains. “The narrow columns meant that the face would have to be somewhat condensed, although I didn’t want it to have a pinched appearance.” This meant that the characters would have to be modest in width while keeping the lowercase x-height robust.
Like many other magazines, Maclean’s is printed on an inexpensive paper stock on high-speed web presses. “It was almost impossible to get any kind of good contrast between type and paper,“ says McDonald. To overcome these less-than-ideal printing conditions, McDonald gave the letters sturdy serifs and a modest contrast in stroke thickness. In lesser hands, these design traits too often result in letters that are bland and appear dense on the page.
McDonald's genius is evident in Laurentian’s comfortable economy, legibility, and quiet liveliness. “In the end,” says McDonald, “I created what I like to think is the quintessential Canadian face. It’s inclusive of many points of view and cultural backgrounds.”