Command Type: The Typographic Quest of Carl Dair FGDC

March 4, 2013 event in Toronto, reviewed by Joel Derksen

Command Type: Dair to be Different

Carl Dair FGDC (1912-1967) Typographic Designer | Marking the re-release of Dair’s classic book "Design with Type," Rod McDonald CGD, FGDC explores the life and work of one of the most complex and contradictory figures in Canadian typography.

The story of Carl Dair FGDC was presented to a packed house. All chairs were full and people clustered around the back of the room, leaning against the exposed brick wall that separated Swipe Design | Books & Objects from the presentation area.

Familiar faces included members of Coach House Press and CDA: a mix of seasoned veterans and newcomers. The lights dimmed, and Rod McDonald CGD, FGDC, introduced us to the history of one of Canada's most important typographers.

Carl Dair's story is one of pioneering and discovery, one that resonates today in the field. Dair, a self-taught designer, began work in advertising design and moved on to open his own studio with Henry Eveleigh.

Rod illustrated Dair's sharp contrast and departure from the norms in graphic arts of the era. Where Dair's work is minimalist and abstracted, the standard graphic artist of the era worked with brush scripts and illustrations – the type we associate with mid-century diners.

Dair's choices in calligraphic style are also unconventional and speak to his self-taught nature by making choices in his approach that a formally taught calligrapher might not make.

The theme of pioneering and being self-taught is pervasive throughout Dair's career. He was dedicated to craft and teaching, but he was always student himself, trying to find his way to greater and greater typographic creations, with few in Canada before him to guide his path. Eventually, Dair moved to Europe to learn how to punch cut and to create his famous typeface, Cartier.

Rod's narrative of Dair's career ended on this point: had Dair had more time, he surely would have revisited Cartier and reworked it. His pioneering vision moved Canada's design to the international stage, but it also shows us how much more Canadians need to accomplish as typographers, type designers, and graphic designers.

by Joel Derksen, Designer at Lowe Roche /

Photos: Pavel Ispravnikov

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