A Review of Rod McDonald: True To Type

This review is not as fresh as I would normally prefer, a busy schedule leaves little time for reflection. However, it is important to reflect upon great ideas and sometimes even the smallest of moments. In an intimate setting, Rod McDonald spoke candidly to a modest gathering of design students and professionals eager to hear about type. It was unlike any type talk I have heard before, and that’s a good thing!

I recall an impressive slide of logos, mainly typographic. I soon learned that Rod McDonald did these logos by hand, and that he often catches himself wondering “My god, did I do those by hand?!”. Yet, he did, because there was a time when our precious Creative Suite was non existent and the skills of old-school designers are just that impeccable. McDonald opened with an important point that in Canada, the lessons in typography are inadequate compared to how important it is in our daily lives. Typography is the backbone of design, and supposedly makes up 60% of the world’s communication (whether that number is true, I do not know, but it is believable). It is important to note that, according to McDonald, those who make fonts are generally not fond of being called “Typographers” as the term technically applies to one who is arranging type to present language (perhaps us designers would better suit this term at times). In essence, those who make fonts are Type Engineers; Frutiger said a large part of type making is engineering, McDonald shares this sentiment. With this clarity, I will try to be as respectful as possible in my use of language.

True to Type is a revival of Carl Dair type workshops. A blurb about him can be seen on the GDC website. These workshops were to train designers; of which he trained many, including Allan Fleming. This dying practice of type workshops has inspired True to Type: Designing & Communication with Type— a tour across Canada which kicked off in Vancouver on October 15th in a Vancouver Film School auditorium. McDonald shares his thoughts on this lack of education on type in Canada as a matter of too-much-theory-not-enough-practice. In order for us to be great with type, and understand it, we need a bit of both under our belts (which we are barely getting in our education). While theory is important, practice is the reality of setting type where we continue to prove and disprove theories. Even crudely put, no one treatment is appropriate for all fonts.

Dair designed “Cartier”, which became Canada’s first domestic typeface and was designed from the original Canadian glyph forms. McDonald says while he worked with the face to set the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the font became difficult to use with more complex European languages. He knew it was a good typeface, but it needed improvement. When designing type, it has to work. Possible settings must be considered such as languages and weights. When Dair designed Cartier, he said he didn’t design it with various weights aside from Roman and Italic because the historical context didn’t account for them. McDonald had us laughing when he pointed out the obvious: this is the modern world! In theory, not having a selection of weights because of the historical influence is nice, but in practice it is detrimental to the success of the typeface’s functionality and practical purpose. In McDonald’s efforts to improve Cartier, he found himself to be a drawer as opposed to the maker. He made necessary changes that would have originally been made between the making and the casting— had Cartier gone through a typical process, which it did not.

To continue on this notion of practicality, Rod McDonald moves on to discuss the design of Laurentian for Maclean’s magazine. In Maclean’s first redesign it lost 65 words per page. The editor passionately exclaimed to Macdonald that he didn’t care what the type looked like, he just wanted his 65 words per page back. With this in mind, says McDonald, it’s important to consider the primary size of use for a typeface. If you love a type at 18 pt. but will mostly be setting at 10pt, assess the face’s function at that size. Look carefully and see the type in action because, in the case of Maclean’s, money and quality can be lost at the expense of (perhaps apathetic) form-centric design.

Rob MacDonald delivered a wonderful talk during which many of us were laughing. He has a wonderful sense of humour, and a great deal of experience. He had a knowing twinkle in his eye and I was the wiser when I left VFS that evening. I hope the tour continues to be successful and the audiences grow. I will leave you with the expression McDonald used to explain his process designing his latest Classic Grotesk (an ideal face which had to be beyond Arial!):

“I finally realized, in order to go forward I had to go backward.”

That action was go back to look at the previous grotesks in the series in order to innovate on his own. I like the expression “Creativity is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration”, but Inspiration can go a long way! Oh, and you’ve been warned— do not fall in love with a letter! 


Design is Still Business First

Currently I am the Director of Marketing at Optinet Systems Inc, specializing in business technology and unified communications. Optinet has been a sponsor for the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) for five years now and yesterday was the fifth luncheon and panel discussion at the Hotel Georgia! It is a grandiose space; I had never been before; the attention to detail is stunning. That aside, I had a great time meeting the attendees and handing out our little goodies. Once sat for lunch, we became flies on the wall and were there to listen to the panel. The topic was request for proposals (RFPs) and Relationships – as RFPs are increasingly used by clients depending on the nature of their situation– even despite having used the same firm or lawyer for several years.

Though we may assume the lowest bid would win, it was almost immediately addressed by one of the panelists (and mentioned many times thereafter) that cost is in fact not the highest concern for consideration but rather how the client would like to assess the best value for their money. In my market research for the various marketing and design projects I am encountering recently, I have found “added value” and “value for money” to be recurring in the psychographic profiles of Canadians. It applies as much to a bottle of wine as an RFP from a noted law firm. As RFPs often mean various businesses coming together, there is a greater need to find that added value and for full disclosure on who needs to be included based on the differentiating specialties of particular firms and their lawyers (like designers, especially freelancers). In short: no surprises! So when cost is essentially a low concern when hiring, it is a high concern when it comes to client’s pet peeves. There should be no surprises in billing and no unnecessary costs (like your lunch when you weren’t in fact working). If you are bringing in a junior to work on the project, or a specialist, let your client know. If you are a freelance designer or a small studio, don’t bill for something that did not directly contribute to the job and don’t withhold information which concerns your client; that’s a great way to show disrespect and they probably will not return. Another big thing a client may consider apart from cost effectiveness, is responsiveness. If your plate is full, let them know when you will be free. If the client needs the job done as soon as possible, send a list of recommendations. This doesn’t mean you’ll lose that client all together; it reflects well on you. Don’t let emails or projects sit for days or weeks, acknowledgement, time management and communication is key.

In fact, client relationships play a very large part of proposals and bidding for jobs (even when you have worked with a client on many occasions). We know the old adage “it’s who you know, not what you know”; many people gain business through referrals from their networks. The formal nature of an RFP gives long-term clients the bonus of seeing their regular firm (or agency) strive to be creative problem solvers and find ways where they can add value (there, i’ve said it again!). Does this sound familiar to you? It is my belief that one should earn their income every day, not coast through on the bare minimum (On this same note, RFP’s grant other firms opportunities, it just depends on the nature of the problem whether or not this is necessary; so one should not be insulted that their usual client is looking at other service providers). It is dangerous to think you know your client so well that you don’t carefully assess each problem. You should grow with your clients and be flexible and compassionate to their needs.

Maintaining the Relationship
If you haven’t heard from a client in a while, drop them a line or send them information that is relative to their business (ie: an article or news via e-mail or twitter). This interest in them and their market and industry will be appreciated and keep you on the forefront of their minds. Maintaining a relationship is something that all of the panelists at the LMA agreed on. Sometimes it is even a good idea, and appropriate, to bridge a business relationship to a social one. Let’s face it, we still talk business at the hockey game or the backyard barbeque! In the case of one creative director or account representative to a long-standing client, it may be a good idea to gradually introduce the client to other creatives or account reps within the studio so that the connection extends beyond an individual. This can be done by holding an educational seminar or event (as this is less confrontational and overwhelming). Another great thing to do when working with a new client is to take initiative in learning their business. Go for a tour, ask questions, get a feel for their company culture. This shows that you’re proactive and perhaps even sincere! A client should be comfortable with you, and you should should be comfortable speaking to them about their business, in terms they understand. The more you know their business and they know yours (remember, don’t alienate them with jargon), the more you can optimize the experience (cough, value, cough). Of course, we all know, sometimes a client thinks they have one problem and it is our job to assess whether or not that is in fact the problem; and  if not, bring it to their attention.

We’ve all been there before: you tried your darndest, dressed smart for the interview and answered every question to the best of your ability– but you didn’t get a call back. It is the case businesses will not win a bid; whether your an agency, studio or in this case a law firm. No offense should be taken, we were assured by the panelists, if you wish to set up a meeting to discuss (with due discretion) what went wrong, or where you fell short. If you take your notes carefully, it could mean you win the next time that company looks for their next problem solver because you made the effort to understand how their decision making process works and what they’re looking for.

Independent Practice: Anti-Spec

This is a late post of what I presented on Friday the 11th for a first crit. I have found that my independent practice has organically become about me trying to find my voice as a designer, and designer as producer, in the industry. I have been venturing into a lot of writing, formulating opinions, and sharing them in the social media sphere. I try to ensure that my messages are relevant to others in the industry so that I may participate in “the bigger conversation” as opposed to sitting idly “because I am a student”.

Since I have come to England I have been living with recent design grads and have noticed their frustrations around unpaid internships. Some have had to hop from one internship to another; some without even being offered lunch or travel expenses! This bewilders me. In a time where everyone is struggling in one way or another because of the economy, the recent grad; who is qualified to do the work that professionals are doing now; who has thousands of pounds of debt; is considered ill-experienced and thus their time is not even worth minimum wage? It makes me cringe to think I am getting a degree only to find that if I stayed working my union job at the grocery store I would be getting paid double the minimum wage by the time I finish school. Granted, doing a job I am completely bored by and not something I love like design. Never the less, the unpaid internship does offer “valuable experience”.

Now, could I not just do spec-work and participate in designing for crowd-sourcing clientele and call that experience? Many would turn around and say “Well, no! Because that would be taking away from freelancers, studios and agencies. That’s unethical.” So, what is a graduate to do? It’s a shame that our generation can earn a Degree in Graphic Design (an ‘Art’ Degree is no longer necessarily synonymous) which is not held in high regard by most businessmen/women in the first place, and still the creative industry says Continue reading


Pereira & O’Dell designed the identity and packaging for a new liquor brand co-founded by Formula 1 driver Nelson Piquet Jr. and friends. ‘B’, The Honey-Cachaça Stinger is made with sugar cane from Brazil and refined to create “a perfect blend of sweet and citrus, adding honey, lemon and generous doses of sophistication”.

As far as the identity goes for ‘B’, the simplicity is that of an understated kind. One of the strongest aspects of the design is the logo; a far representation of a bee in order to direct the viewer’s focus on the stinger, as well as directing the eye down the label. The sleek design of the insect body and the monogram “B” steers the branding toward elegant and stylish, as opposed to looking kitsch when there are so many brands associated with bees. The sleek humanist type, which displays the drink’s name, sits on the vertical line; nicely balancing the overall design. The golden glow is an attractive nature of the beverage and this is accentuated with the clear bottle. ‘B’ is a fantastic identity which will really stand-out on shelves or behind the bar. The comments are piling up on design and packaging blogs around the net, looks like ‘B’ will be well received in not only the US, but Europe as well!

The Antlers @ The Borderline, London

On Sunday, Aaron and I went to see The Antlers! It was absolutely gorgeous. The frontman sounds fabulous on record, but even more hauntingly-so in concert. I felt so lucky to be able to see them in such a small venue, considering their growing popularity and despite their hunger (the poor lot hadn’t eaten and someone gave them pringles on stage!). Aaron wrote a review for Toystereo, and Hard Up. Read on!

Courtesy of The Fly, I was able to witness The Antlers intimate gig at The Borderline, London. The magazine recently announced the bands fourth album ‘Burst Apart’ would hit the #1 spot in their top 50 Albums of 2011. Quite the achievement. I was a bit hesitant at the first listen, however after a couple more plays the record becomes purely beautiful. After four albums the Brooklyn based band have not got fans by the masses. They remind me of Elbow, where after every album they get more and more recognized, which is amazing as most flop on the second or fatal third.

The Sunday evening was one of the best intimate gigs I have been to. Frontman Peter Silberman hit all notes with transcendence; his sound is pure whilst being reminiscent of Jeff Buckley’s vocals. And when the band played Hounds the crowd were just lost in the music; in Darby Cicci’s experimental synth-keyboard; in Michael Lerner’s slow but pounding drums, complimenting Silberman’s beautiful vocals. Lastly, I must add this is the second time running at this venue where half the band ended up in the crowd rolling around the floor with their guitar.
– Review by Aaron Kitney

Media Pro 2011

Last week was mediaPro; a two-day event where the best companies and minds in marketing and media come together for a trade-show to promote themselves, network, and hear some engaging (some less-so) speakers. The event took place on the 1st and 2nd of November; since my birthday is on the 2nd, we decided to attend the event on the Tuesday. mediaPro is held at Olympia 2, in Olympia. We walked in, got out “Freelance Graphic Designers” badges, and spanned across two floors there was free stuff everywhere! One booth even had a help-yourself grab-bag stand.

Aaron and I chatted up a few pros, and I picked up fabulous print samples from Headley Brothers Digital. Aaron and I had our eye on a couple talks in the Print and Publishing Theater and while one regarded the use of tablets (a bit dull) the other was a lot more informative. Bauer Publishing presented on the first ever fully interactive magazine: FHM. Each page, we learned, was watermarked so that when you point your phone at it, you are then taken to a page via your smartphone. Each venture of the interactive experience was designed from the print to point-of-purchase, or call-to-action – which is really exciting because not only does it track the user’s experience from point A to point B (good for advertisers), but it delivers (great for readers)! There’s no half-way to find yourself dumped on a page that isn’t even designed to be viewed on a smart phone. If you like what Robbie Williams is wearing, you just point your phone and shop the exact styling head to toe! This is truly good news to a marketer, advertiser, creatives; anyone interested in UX (user experience).

After the Bauer talk we strolled out to find ourselves upon an Adobe CS 5.5 tutorial on designing apps and using dreamweaver. They make it look so easy, don’t they! The second tutorial was about working one editorials in InDesign, and jumping into Photoshop to turn your photograph panoramic (repeating background fill), or deleting unwanted figures in an image. I have been using CS 5.5 for a while now, and was blown away by the shortcuts we were shown in the tutorial. It was a fantastic way to end the day, we were glued to the screen!