The downfall of CG Cartier is that it is lettering and not a typeface. Lettering and calligraphy allow for individuality in character shapes. In a text typeface, however, each letter must carry the information necessary to easily identify it as belonging to that font. The most difficult task in typeface design is producing an anonymous letter that still possesses verve. The individuality Dair gave CG Cartier precludes it from being a successful text typeface.
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 CG 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 CG 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 CG 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 CG 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 CG 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."
McDonald's completed work, Cartier Book, 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."
Dair’s design was first shown in 1967 at the beginning of Canada's centenary year, and is generally credited as the country’s first important typeface. While certainly a high point in the chronology of Canadian design, Dair’s alphabet fell short of fully making the leap from lettering to typeface.
What does this mean? Lettering and calligraphy allow for variety and individuality in character shapes; the overall design parameters of a hand-drawn alphabet are relatively loose. In a typeface, however, all the characters must share a consistent underlying structure. The most difficult task in typeface design is producing letters that are sufficiently “anonymous” to work in harmony with each other, yet still possess distinction and verve.
Rod McDonald’s Cartier Book, while based on Dair’s design, refines the original’s distinctive character shapes into a unified, commanding typeface family. Cartier Book easily creates arresting display settings and distinctive text copy that is remarkably legible.
Dair’s accomplishment was the design,” explains McDonald. “I tried to make it a working typeface. I spent the first year 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.” He added, “The second year was the hardest.
McDonald’s design feat successfully melds the qualities that make a typeface distinctive with those that ensure lasting value. Few designs are as elegantly functional and stunningly attractive as Cartier Book. The family includes three roman weights, with small caps and an italic complement to the Regular weight.