Typeface Review

Classic Grotesque

Reviewed by Gary Munch on March 13, 2013

Here’s Rod McDonald’s thorough take on one of the many roots of mid-century sans serifs: the Monotype series. A very capable synthesis of the design themes that later became Akzidenz, Helvetica, and Univers, Classic Grotesque has that pared-down industrial sensibility of no-nonsense neutrality meant to get the point across and then get out of the way. Slightly condensed forms in the lowercase make for a full line that yet is uncrowded or tight; the projectors are long enough to register firmly, but not so long as to intrude on the even set of the type.

What must be remarked on is the sad history that Monotype has with modern sans: the dread Arial. In commissioning Classic Grotesque, Monotype has made some atonement for the Big A. Here, the tropes — the angled cuts of ‘C’, ‘G’, ‘J’, and ‘S’, the spurless ‘G’ — that make Arial different from its, uh, good twin are presented in a context that makes them work. They are sourced from other, much earlier Monotype designs (McDonald referenced Ideal, Venus, and Monotype Grots), and are so much livelier here. And blessedly, the sad ‘R’ is replaced with a sturdy Akzidenz straight leg.

Classic also has a high waist in its caps (and lowercase ‘e’) that cleanly contrasts its workaday overalls with a well-fitting jacket. With a pleasantly drawn italic (the ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘f’, and ‘l’ are unexpected but welcome), Classic is ready for the factory, workroom, boardroom, and studio.

Gary Munch is Lecturer in Design at the University of Bridgeport (CT, USA), teaching type and typography in the graphic design program. His latest typeface design is Really No. 2.


  1. I have to say that I think this effort was a missed opportunity. The old Monotype Grotesque is an unusually interesting family (especially compared against contemporary typefaces) in that each of the various styles has a form that suits their weight or width, rather than conforming to a strict, overarching structure. While some styles venture a bit too far afield, you can tell they all belong to the same throng. I know the goal for Classic Grotesque was to unify these ideas, but I think the project went too far. What should have been done is update the functionality and features of the MT Grot fonts, maybe slightly tone down a few of the quirks, and add new weights/styles — but not grind them up and ooze out something more regularized. I hold out hope that Classic Grot is its own thing and that MT Grot will get its own revival someday.

    I say all this with the utmost respect for Rod McDonald who I think is a fine type designer, and whose work, like Laurentian, is lovely and very under-appreciated.

  2. Mark Simonson says:

    I think it’s a little weird that the sample settings use the alternate glyphs only.

  3. True, the main specimen provided to us uses the alt glyphs. This image shows both, but we should have another sample with words using the standard glyphs. I’ll get on that.

  4. Not sure how this aligns with Stephen’s comments, but to my eye it looks like Classic Grotesque is trying to do simultaneously the things that Kris Sowersby’s National, Hannes van Döhren’s Supria Sans, and Fred Smeijers’s Ludwig each in their own way do better.

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