In 2001, Maclean's invited Rod McDonald to become part of the design team to renovate" the 96-year-old publication. The magazine wanted to offer its readers a typographic voice that was professional, clean, and easy to read. Above all, the typeface had to be able to speak about the hundreds of unrelated subjects addressed in each issue while remaining believable and uncontrived.
A tall order, perhaps? Now add in that this would be the first text typeface ever commissioned by a Canadian magazine. McDonald, who some have called Canada's unofficial "typographer laureate," took on the challenge.
McDonald used two historic models as the basis for Laurentian's design: the work of French type designer Claude Garamond, and that of the English printer and type founder, William Caslon. From Garamond Laurentian acquired its humanist axis, crisp serifs and terminals that mimic pen strokes. Caslon's letters are less humanistic, with a more marked contrast in stroke weight and serifs that appear constructed rather than drawn. These traits also made their mark on Laurentian.
Using these two designs as a foundation, McDonald drew Laurentian with the narrow text columns and small type sizes of magazine composition in mind. He gave his letters strong vertical strokes and sturdy serifs, a robust x-height and a slightly compressed character width
A tall order, per McDonald's genius is evident in the face's legibility, quiet liveliness and in the openness of the letters. The result is a typeface that not only met Maclean's demanding design brief, but also provides exceptional service in a wide variety of other applications.
Laurentian is available in three weights of Regular, Semi Bold and Bold, with complementary italics for the Regular and Semi Bold, and a suite of titling caps."
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.”