By: Emily Plunkett

Canadian typographer Ron McDonald answers questions for an audience of about 150 students on Nov. 2. The type designer was once commissioned by Maclean’s magazine to create a typeface for use in their publication.

Reading a page of text is something we take for granted. We absorb the words, contemplate the arguments and take away information and facts.

Rarely noticed is the painstaking time it takes for a publication designer to figure out just what typeface or font will work best for the story; nor would we ever give a second thought to the people who designed the words we see.
The visit of typographer Rod McDonald on Nov. 2, however, changed some of Algonquin’s graphic design students and faculty.

Beginning his career as a painter for a sign company, the Nova Scotia-based McDonald progressed to designing lettering for an advertising company in Toronto.

“Working as a lettering artist brought me in closer contact with the world of type and that gradually lead to work on producing typefaces,” said McDonald. “I have never considered myself to be an artist, rather I think of myself as a designer and maker of typefaces, but not an artist.”

To graphic design professionals, McDonald’s work is far reaching and extends beyond his humble self-profile.
“He’s a typography designer and he’s Canadian, and that’s a bit of a rarity,” said graphic design professor and coordinator Andrea Emery.

“Most of the time we’re studying designers, both graphic and typographic designers that are American or European. To have him come to Algonquin, we are pretty excited about that.”

During his presentation, McDonald touched upon several topics surrounding his work, particularly how he designed Laurentian, a font commissioned by Maclean’s magazine.

The audience of about 150 students, teachers and professional designers and were entranced by the in-depth analysis of every little cut and addition McDonald made to each letter. He explained that a successful font for a magazine depends on how many words will fit into a page because of the font design.

“As any editor would say, we need a word count,” said McDonald. “What I was able to do was to produce a font that was relatively easy and worked well in stock, and got a maximum number of words [into a story].”

The students who listened to McDonald were impressed.

“At the beginning of the presentation, I was like ‘What was going on?’,” said first-year graphic design student Daniela Chavez Ackemann.

Chavez Ackemann, 23, explained that she had never heard of Rod McDonald before his visit.

“Slowly, after he started to describe the process, it became clear to me how much work goes into [type design]. The differences [between fonts] are so miniscule, especially when it comes to reading fonts,” she continued. Going home after the presentation, she says she found herself carefully choosing a font for an assignment.

Teaching typography is an honour, Emery said, because she gets to show students that printing type is not
that old and that we as a civilization have been doing it since about 1440. She also says people take type for granted.

“To have someone like Rod McDonald who crafts letters and makes letter form is amazing and a great honour. I don’t think a lot of students realize [this].”

In response to his presentation, McDonald said “I would like to think that students get a better understanding of what goes into a typeface.”

“In today’s world, so much of it is focused on design. ‘Oh that’s a nice looking type face. That’s neat.’ Whereas professional designers will often say, ‘That works well. That fits.” Yes, they are looking at the design and they like the design, but they’re also like ‘Does it work?’ There are a lot of nice looking typefaces that don’t work.”