In 2009, Porchez Typofonderie was asked by Canadian Business to improve their current masthead which was to be used for their upcoming redesign. They discussed the possibilities with Jason Logan, in charge of the cover redesign, about the future design. The first step was to correct all problems with the current typeface used to set the new nameplate: Onyx.

Onyx in Encyclopedia of Typefaces, by Jasper, Berry and Johnson.

Onyx is one of a few extra condensed Didot (sort of) on the market. But some of the letters do not work at all with others. Such as the A with its lower bar; the narrow D; the wide and open C to give a few examples. The round counters are also very straight. The diagonal of S is so crude that it creates an overtly strong dynamic from top left to bottom right. All theses details do not fit very well with the rest of the typeface. The overall feeling is that this typeface looks to be designed by engineers and not by designers. At least, we know that nobody will design fonts such as this today!

Set in Onyx.

The first objective was to find some design connections between the various letters. Not an easy task as it is very condensed and there is a high contrast which didn’t help in regards to good spacing. The basic serifs are roundish on their terminals; the C and S features another style of serifs compared to letters like the E. Finally the A, N, and U have another kind of serif on the thinner stems.

One of the first version: adding weight to thinnest stems.

One of the first ideas, quickly rejected, was to add weight to thinnest stems, such as on the A, N and U. Mostly because theses letters are the main difficulty of the Canadian Business lettering. The result was a bit too old-fashioned and calligraphic in some ways.

Triangular and sharp serifs.

Soon enough, Jean François Porchez came upon the idea of designing angular sharp serifs. This proved to be a good idea and began to help with many of the necessary changes. Then, a careful width adjustment of all letters improved the general effect.

At the time, Jean François was unwittingly influenced by the French typefaces from the 1950s such as Meridien and Vendôme. As you can see in this image, just scanned for the article, and yet never referenced during the project.

Vendôme Étroit from Fonderie Olive general specimen. See larger size on Flickr.

Two comparisons of few letters: Onyx in gray, the final piece of lettering created by Jean François Porchez in black.

A rounded version.

Jason Logan wasn’t sure about the sharp serifs, and Jean François tried a more rounded version. But they arrived at the same conclusion that it wasn’t the right option because the result lost so much needed energy and the brand became too traditional and basic.

Before/after.

Only a few hours after the last round of proposals Jason responded via email, 9.5 is our chosen direction. I love it. You have given the letters teeth without compromising the formal grace that we started with. It feels both crisply modern and historically grounded. Everyone here is excited about it. I feel that it is just a matter of the fine details now.

The next step was to adjust some letters, such as the S, which were not yet well balanced; and to make few decisions about the serif placement on the top of A and bottom right of the N in order to regularize the two words. With all of these details corrected and adjusted, the final minor thing to do was to balance each serif in order to maximize the overall spacing. So, on the final version, some serifs are short and others long to create optical balance for each letter within their respective words.

Interviewed by Marketing Magazine following the relaunch, Jason Logan described the new masterhead as: as being like a “well-tailored suit.” It aspires to have a more “slick European” flavour, as opposed to a “blunt” American tone.

A few covers, after the redesign. Check a comparison before-after via Issuu.

The full project was, as today its more and more the norm, conducted via emails, pdfs, and only one call. The Canadian Business redesign was launched in Autumn of 2009 and everyone was happy with it.

Credits

By Alexis Zephir. All rights reserved. Many thanks for the editing of the English version to Tiffany Wardle.