Skip to main content

Classic Grotesque™

By Monotype

Rod McDonald
Classic Grotesque by Rod McDonald:a traditional font with a modern face
An update of Monotype Grotesque that was first published in 1926, Rod McDonald's Classic Grotesque combines both traditional and contemporary elements of typography. With its many fascinating details, Classic Grotesque is at home in print and web designs.
The growing popularity of grotesque typefaces meant that many new sans serif analogues were published in the early 20th century. Setting machines were not compatible with each other but all foundries wanted to offer up-to-date fonts, and as a result numerous different typeface families appeared that seem almost identical at first glance and yet go their separate ways with regard to details. One of the first fonts created with automatic typesetting in mind was Monotype Grotesque®. Although this typeface that was designed and published by Frank Hinman Pierpont in 1926 has since been digitalised, it has never achieved the status of other grotesque fonts of this period. But Monotype Grotesque was always one of designer Rod McDonald's favourites, and he was overjoyed when he finally got the go-ahead from Monotype in 2008 to update this hidden treasure".
The design process lasted four years, with regular interruptions due to the need to complete projects for other clients. In retrospect, McDonald admits that he had no idea at the beginning of just how challenging and complex a task it would be to create Classic Grotesque™. It took him considerable time before he found the right approach. In his initial drafts, he tried to develop Monotype Grotesque only to find that the result was almost identical with Arial®, a typeface that is also derived in many respects from Monotype Grotesque. It was only when he went back a stage, and incorporated elements of Bauer Font's Venus™ and Ideal Grotesk by the Julius Klinkhardt foundry into the design process, that he found the way forward. Both these typefaces had served as the original inspiration for Monotype Grotesque.
The name says it all: Classic Grotesque has all the attributes of the early grotesque fonts of the 20th century: The slightly artificial nature gives the characters a formal appearance. There are very few and only minor variations in line width. The tittles of the 'i' and 'j', the umlaut diacritic and other diacritic marks are rectangular. Interestingly, it is among the uppercase letters that certain variations from the standard pattern can be found, and it is these that enliven the typeface. Hence the horizontal bars of the "E", "F" and "L" have bevelled terminals. The chamfered terminal of the bow of the "J" has a particular flamboyance, while the slightly curved descender of the "Q" provides for additional dynamism. The character alternatives available through the OpenType option provide the designer with a wealth of opportunities. These include a closed "a", a double-counter "g" and an "e" in which the transverse bar deviates slightly from the horizontal.
The seven different weights also extend the scope of uses of Classic Grotesque. These range from the delicate Light to the super thick Extrabold. There are genuine italic versions of each weight; these are not only slightly narrower than their counterparts, but also have variant shapes. The "a" is closed, the "f" has a semi-descender while the "e" is rounded.
Its neutral appearance and excellent features mean that Classic Grotesque is suitable for use in nearly all imaginable applications. Even during the design phase, McDonald used his new font to set books and in promotional projects. However, he would be pleased to learn of possible applications that he himself has not yet considered. Classic Grotesque, which has its own individual character despite its neutral and restrained appearance, is the ideal partner for your print and web project."

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.”

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.

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.”

Download the Classic Grotesque type specimen

Grotesque Sans
Sans Serif