Sociotype is a design-led type foundry from the minds of renowned London creative studio Socio
Using the experience gained from crafting bespoke typefaces for clients for over a decade, London-based creative studio Socio have launched design-led foundry Sociotype; beginning with two distinct typefaces – Gestura and Rework. These typefaces, as well as future releases, will be presented in their own issue of the Journal – a content-rich printed publication much more comparable to a magazine than the traditional type specimen. To learn more about it all, we caught up with Creative Director of Socio and Sociotype Nigel Bates, Type Designer Joe Leadbeater and Creative Director and Editor of the Journal, Nic Carter.
EM After more than 15 years as a creative agency, what triggered the idea to launch Sociotype?
NB We’ve always developed very typographically driven identity systems in our work with Socio, so the idea of launching a type foundry has been an aspiration for a while. We started out developing basic, single style typefaces for client projects, and the larger families naturally evolved from there.
JL I’ve been designing type for about eight years now, but most had been either self-initiated unpublished projects or single styles of display type for brands. Designing type in your own time is always challenging, as is developing type within a short time frame for a brand project. The idea with Sociotype was to see what could happen if we removed those time constraints.
EM Moving forward, how will you and your team share the time between Socio and SocioType?
NB We have a dedicated team that will oversee the general day-to-day running of Sociotype. Their time will also be spent marketing our retail typefaces, designing custom type for our projects and developing new typefaces. The wider Socio team will be also be involved in campaign work for any new retail typefaces as well as designing future issues of the Journal.
JL I hope to maintain a ‘middle ground’ between the two: managing new Sociotype launches, but also maintaining a connection with Socio. There can sometimes be a disconnect between foundries and studios, and we’re in a place where that isn’t the case.
NC For most of us in the studio, our work with Sociotype and the Journal runs at a very different pace to our client work with Socio. Client projects are very immersive and typically last between 3 and 12 months. We’ve had intensive periods with Sociotype, particularly running up to the launch, but it’s also something we can let bubble away in the background. This gives us a different perspective than if we’re all on it full-time. It allows ideas to form gradually and helps us to maintain a long-term view, but it also means we regularly return with fresh eyes and new things to contribute.
EM How did you decide on Rework and Gestura as the two typefaces to launch with?
NB We initially developed Rework and Gestura for client identity projects, where we couldn’t find quite the right thing in existing retail typefaces. This seems ridiculous to say, given how many typefaces are available today, but as a designer, you become so attuned to the nuances of type, that if you know what you’re using isn’t quite right, it can really bother you. You can either put up with it, or make your own.
JL Both began as single styles for client projects, with work continuing as they were being used by the client. This meant we could gather feedback and make adjustments in response to how they performed in real life, which has hopefully led to each being more usable.
NC There’s a pleasing symmetry to the idea of launching the foundry with just two type families; one a serif, the other a sans serif. The two families also have very different personalities – Gestura has a flowing calligraphic quality, while Rework feels robust and mechanical.
EM What lessons have you learnt from the creation and launch of these first two typefaces that’ll inform your future releases?
NB We’ve learnt a lot about the process of creating type for commercial release, and specifically what works best for us. We realised early on that the Journal would be a far more integral part of the ideation process, than a conventional type specimen. The act of writing and gathering content was fundamental in helping us to develop narratives that drive the type design itself.
NC Setting up the foundry has been a very collaborative exercise. We’ve learnt a lot from working people from outside our immediate team, like Diana (on Gestura) and Franziska (on Rework), who are both formally trained type designers. Or with Henrietta, on the editorial side. Having the benefit of input from people of different backgrounds, with diverse skillsets – designers, writers, developers, photographers – has certainly enriched the process for us, and has helped to steer things in creative directions that we wouldn’t necessarily have taken, or been able to take, on our own.
There can sometimes be a disconnect between foundries and studios, and we’re in a place where that isn’t the case.
EM Can you tell us about your upcoming Sociotype Journal’s and why you’ve decided to present your typefaces in this more unconventional, longer format?
NB Type specimens are great, but they are often focused on selling the characteristics of a type family at the expense of showing it in a realistic context. We felt that an editorial platform was a much more natural format, as it allowed us to use type like a designer would on a live project by considering how the type worked in context of a page layout. We felt that viewing the typefaces in this way – alongside illustration and image – offered a more rounded view of the different expressions that would be possible from the type family as a whole.
NC We’re all guilty of having books and magazines on our shelves for their aesthetic value, rather than their content; there’s nothing wrong with that. But having put so much work into developing each type family, we agreed that the idea of using pangrams, or repurposing content from elsewhere, would be selling them short.
So we decided to create original content instead – words to be read, rather than just type to be looked at. Certainly not the quickest or easiest thing to do, but the Journal format gives us far greater scope to demonstrate the personality of the entire extent of each type family. It’s a very effective way to show how a large optical family can flex to give different moods. On some spreads, the type feels meditative and still, while on others it’s brash and loud. There are consistent features throughout the issue of course, but each article has a different feel. Gestura has 42 styles, so it was a challenge for our designer Alicia to show all of them without the whole thing falling apart.
Each issue will focus on a single theme, inspired by the characteristics of the featured type family. For issue #1, which features Gestura, our theme is The Gesture – the idea of communication by hand. We have 224 pages (10 essays and 7 image-led pieces, plus a more conventional 28-page technical type specimen), which gives us the breathing room to explore our theme from many angles, casting a different light on it with each article. For issue #1 we look at political posturing, protest, Picasso, experimental VR, sign language poetry, the New York subway, and lots more. The content is eclectic, but it adds up to create something that has genuine depth but is also very readable.
The Journal certainly isn’t a conventional type specimen, but it’s not a conventional magazine either. The print is certainly more special than you would see in most magazines, there’s no advertising, and we’ve only produced 1500 copies. We’re looking forward to seeing how it’s received. We think designers will find a lot to enjoy, but hope it will find an audience beyond our immediate peers too.
Each issue will focus on a single theme.
EM What’s next in the release schedule?
NB We’re currently working on Issue 2 of the Journal, which will feature Rework and should be out next Spring. We’re also planning to release our third retail typeface; a grotesque with regular, condensed and expanded proportional styles.
JL We’re certainly not short of ideas for new type families, and we have several that are currently in various stages of development. I’m very excited to get back to them once the foundry is up and running. It would also be great to work on some larger custom commissions, or bespoke versions of our commercial releases.
EM What is your vision for Sociotype as it develops over the coming years?
NB First and foremost we’re planning to release more type families in the months and years ahead. Beyond that, we’d like to do more custom type for brands, and potentially expand the publishing side too.
JL I see the foundry and the Journal as places for us to experiment. Typography is literally everywhere, so our work could be pulled in any direction. I look forward to new collaborations, to working with new forms of media, and to seeing how developing technologies, like variable type, will change how designers use type. It feels like the future is wide open, and I’d like to think we can be a part of it.
NC Perhaps the most exciting prospect for us is to finally open up what we’ve been working on for the past three years, and to get a response to it. We’re looking forward to seeing what we can learn from our audience. Having conversations like this one, and seeing how Gestura and Rework are used by other designers once they’re out of our hands, is all part of the process. There are many things we’d like to do, but I’m sure the conversations we have over the next few months will play a role in deciding where things go next.