Communications Magazine

Canada, as a consequence of being the generally quiet, sensible, good neighbor it is, does not always draw the rightfully deserved attention to its accomplishments, Prime Minister Trudeau being a notable exception, of course. As far as the world of graphic communication is concerned, the ongoing design and promotion program of Cooper and Beatty Limited provides a professional case in point.

The Toronto-based firm of Cooper and Beatty is a long-established (50 years), highly reputable type house whose promotional effort is marked by a complete absence of burdensome self-interest. Moreover, it is characterized by uncommonly good design, good sense and interesting information, all of which brings us to the fountainhead of the effort, Jim Donoahue, the multi-talented creative director of the company. While the word creative has been rather cavalierly scattered about these days, it seems particularly just and fitting in Donoahue’s case.

Donoahue is an idea-maker who builds a notion from its gossamer beginnings and, with his bright copy and tasteful design, fashions it into a full-bodied exceptional promotion piece. In this seed-to-full-flower process, elements have to be kept on a periously balanced keel. Bringing an engagingly conceived and designed message about type and typography to a peculiarly knowing and critical audience, neither Donoahue the writer nor Donoahue the designer can be first among equals. An effective performance before a jury of one’s peers is no lightly taken assignment. Bearding the quarry in his lair, so to speak, requires special sensitivity and an accompanying restraint. Design becomes the almost silent bearer of content-visible, but free from any of those self-indulgent excesses of virtuosity and flamboyance.

The Cooper and Beatty in-house promotion and advertising, impressive though it be, is but part of Donoahue’s range. As creative head of a distinguished typographic firm, it goes without saying that he has the ever-present responsibility for maintaining the company image on a paradigm-level of sorts for clients and contemporaries. In his role as typographic and design consultant, Donoahue is summoned to lend his expertise to an assortment of problems that may have him straightening out a collection of printed matter for the Canadian Government to designing commercial trademarks for companies in the private sector. The latter arouse a special Donoahue interest because their seemingly taut simplicity is, in essence, a synthesis of complex sensations, ideas, images and meanings.

Donoahue, a native Canadian, comes from Walkerton, one of those miniscule company towns (Walker Distillery) whose population is just under a thousand. An outstanding student at the Ontario College of Art, he was, after graduation, quickly absorbed by the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal where he met and worked as a graphic designer with Norman MacLaren, the eminent innovative pioneer of the animated film. MacLaren, a unique artist, non-conformist in style with a passion for personal integrity, had the concomitant inspiring effect on his assistant. From the Film Board, Donoahue went on to work with Alan Fleming, one of Canada’s most distinguished designers and a former creative director of Cooper and Beatty. Between his association with MacLaren and Fleming,” the young Donoahue enjoyed the best of a young designer’s world, a dimension of experience that was extraordinary. While the approaches and the personal aesthetics of these two important figures may have varied, they were bound by commonness for integrity and personal search and standard.

The mosaic of experience was filled out with stints at TDF, Toronto’s largest design studio, and finally in the agency domain. Donoahue acquired a respect for the design value of the written word while working for Goodis, Goldberg, Soren, a lively Toronto agency which predicated itself on the advertising principles exemplified by Doyle Dane Bernbach. With Jerry Goodis as his mentor, Donoahue added still more breadth to his repertoire: the art of writing lively, crisp advertising copy. If need be, the finishing strokes to the already well-sculptured talent were applied while in the employ of MacLaren’s, a large, more orthodox agency, perhaps described as Canada’s response to J. Walter Thompson.

The last four years have given Donoahue the moment to be more completely his own man; in taking his largesse of talent, experience and style and inventively spreading it over a broad spectrum of projects, Cooper and Beatty being among the foremost.

These are days when attention-getting appears to be measured more in cheap dissonance, even mindlessness. One occasionally wonders whether a rational approach can stand up to the din of the noisy but hollow success. An eye cast northward across the border toward Jim Donoahue’s estimable work hearteningly suggests that there can be abundant invention without giving up any claim on reason.

– Jerome Snyder

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