Sociotype Journal Issue Two is here, once again challenging the typical format of a type specimen
There is no doubt that Sociotype Journal Issue One – as much more than just a type specimen – was a success. A beautifully-designed platform of ideas, essays and thoughts, the inaugural issue – with feature typeface ‘Gestura’ at its core – received a Type Directors Club Certificate of Typographic Excellence in the editorial category. As big fans and stockists of the first issue, we were keen to learn more about Issue Two – which delves into the topic of ‘makeshift.’ Taking us behind the scenes, Creative & Editorial Director Nic Carter and Designer Alicia Mundy revealed the journey of the second issue and the lessons that entailed.
PT This issue celebrates the art of improvisation and the ‘makeshift,’ how did this idea stem from the feature typeface, Rework?
NC The mix of typographic influences that went into Rework’s design are related, but diverse in terms of scale, media and historical context. This gives Rework a slightly makeshift, hybrid feel – some parts feel very mechanical, while others feel organic. The more you look at it (and we’ve spent a long time looking at it), the more you spot these slightly mismatched details, that shouldn’t work together but somehow do, that give it a sense of a thing that’s been repaired or reworked over time. That felt like an exciting thing to explore, so we just went with it.
The research process is fairly intuitive and it tends to happen organically.
PT How did you approach the initial research process and direction of the content?
NC The starting point was Michael Wolf’s images of the strange and wonderful things he encountered in Hong Kong’s back alleys, particularly the Frankenstein-like chairs, shrines and shelters rigged up by restaurant workers for their smoking breaks. I’ve been a fan of Michael’s work for years, so these images were the first thing that came to mind when we began discussing the theme. Michael sadly died a few years ago, but we got in touch with his widow Barbara, through his London gallery, and she was extremely supportive. It couldn’t have worked out better. His work really set the tone for everything else.
The research process is fairly intuitive and it tends to happen organically. As with Issue One, we found that the more you pick at a particular thread, the more it unravels and the more threads that leads you to. It’s a messy, but very rewarding process. Of course, the content actually needs to be coherent, so there’s careful editing involved, but I do really enjoy those instances when it's possible to get unnatural combinations to click. Like in Derin Fadina’s essay, ‘Why Do Men Dig?,’ which features the Mole Man of Hackney and Elon Musk. Who would have ever thought those two would buddy up?
That initial research phase becomes a series of editorial briefs (essentially Notion pages with synopses and a ton of links to obscure blogs, Reddit threads and wikiholes) for Henrietta, who commissions and edits the essays. Then once we have our essays we begin the second phase of research, looking for images to illustrate the essays and to create complimentary image-led content that will hopefully augment the theme and bring in some new perspectives. We try to maintain a balance of types of images – archival oddities, old and new artworks, reportage photography, and holiday snaps. We only have a small budget to licence or commission images, so we have to be imaginative, although we do spend a lot of time sending email requests to use images, particularly for the essays. These restrictions undoubtedly contribute to the particular aesthetic of the Journal. If we could use whatever images we liked, it might end up looking like anything else.
PT Who worked on this issue from the Socio team and beyond?
NC We produce the Journal alongside our studio practice with Socio and Sociotype, so we have to be very economical with our resources. As with Issue One, the core team was just myself and our designer, Alicia. Nigel (Creative Director at Socio and Sociotype) and Joe (Type Designer) offered input at various points throughout the process, Henrietta helped us commission and edit the essays from our team of fantastic writers, Brendan (Designer at Socio) shoots our press images for us, and James (Partner at Socio) helps us liaise with production and distribution.
We couldn’t do this without the generous support we’ve had from Fedrigoni, our printers' Identity, and our distributors Ra&Olly, not to mention all the independent stockists we’re working with now. In fact, the support we received from those stockists for Issue One was perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of the experience. We hope to do more for Issue Two, starting with a launch at MagCulture in London.
PT Out of all the fascinating and unusual stories Issue Two explores, which ones have had the biggest impact on you?
NC I ended up writing more than I had intended to for this issue, as after the initial essays had been written, I felt there were other things we needed to cover. The essay about protest architecture was an eye-opener, particularly the section on Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement. And the picture essay on immersive zoo habitat design started out fairly light-hearted and a bit kitsch, but I uncovered some fairly dark material while researching it, so the final thing is pretty heavy. The great thing about focusing on a single theme per issue is that while some articles carry more weight than others, they all add up to something.
AM For me, it would be Creativity in Confinement, an article that explores art created by individuals currently or previously incarcerated. To accompany the piece we contacted several artists – Tameca Cole, Mark Loughney, Lee Cutter and Donny Johnson. Their statements are a testimony to the reality of life in prison and offer a more personal connection to people who are often just statistics. The racism and brutality of the prison-industrial complex is something I had previously associated with the US but through working on this piece discovered that the UK has similarly disturbing privatised prisons – made profitable by the exploitation of their populations. These systems are rotten to the core. The journal’s ability to bridge light-hearted and more difficult issues makes working on it so interesting.
PT As your feature typeface, the extended grotesque ‘Rework’ has a very different character to Issue One’s Gestura, how did this dictate the design direction?
AM As a type specimen, my task was to showcase Rework’s personality and uses across a range of styles. We knew from the outset that Issue Two could have more attitude, because Rework’s slightly extended letterforms are blocky and have quirky mechanical details. I particularly loved breaking the rules – doing things like using the micro weights at a larger size so the ink traps become a visible and intentional part of the design. Rework is not classically beautiful in the way that Gestura’s calligraphic letterforms are but it does have a surprising ability to be quiet and more contemplative too, particularly in the lighter weights. Not only did the typeface change but so did the content – in this issue we explore some gritty subject matter which informed the layouts of each article. Across both issues, the type’s character and theme work in tandem to give each a distinct personality, which will continue to evolve in the future.
NC Rework has quite a diverse personality with all the weights and its four optical sizes, but on the whole, its slightly extended proportions give it a robust, structural feel, which is very different to Gestura. There were practical considerations, like how because of Rework’s slightly extended proportions, we used the grid differently, dividing the page into two equal columns. Then as Alicia says, because the Journal is also a type specimen, we have to demonstrate each of Rework’s styles and as many glyphs as possible (1080 to choose from per style!).
Each article has its own typographic identity.
PT Why did you opt for the four-colour palette?
NC In order to demonstrate the full range of Rework’s styles, each article has its own typographic identity. So we use colour as a consistent thread, to give the issue an identity as a whole. Issue Two features three recurring colours – the teal of the cover, red and a fluorescent yellow Pantone, which we use for type and page fills, and also as a highlight in certain images, where we swap it in for process yellow. Alicia had some fun dropping it in as some very small details here are there, so we can play ‘hunt the Pantone.’
PT What did you learn from the process of making Issue One that informed how you made Issue Two?
AM In some ways, Issue One was an experiment. We set out with an idea in mind of what we would make but I think the final publication was far more extensive than we had anticipated. We came out of that process with increased confidence and a drive to push the next issue even further. Securing a distributor gave us more space to focus on the editorial decisions and we are really happy to be able to feature a wider range of stories in this issue. I think we've taken it up a notch this time around!
NC Issue One was the first editorial project of this scale that we had attempted, so it was a very steep learning curve, and we had to make a lot of stuff up as we went along. For example, the process of picture research for publication is very different to our regular studio practice. The challenge of populating a 240-page magazine with mostly licence-free imagery is huge.
PT Following on from the inaugural issue, what did you want to change and what did you aim to keep the same?
NC The positive reaction we received after publishing Issue One gave us the confidence to be more ambitious both editorially and with design. I guess we saw what was possible, and then tried our best to improve on it. The content is more in-depth, with a couple of longer essays and longer introductions to the image-led articles, a couple of which have almost become short essays in their own right. The editorial approach and basic production format have remained the same, as have some of the more structural elements, like the cover, contents and divider pages, but otherwise, most aspects of the design have changed, simply because we’re designing the issue around a very different type family.
AM As the intent of the journal is for the design to shift and change with each typeface release, we had to ensure there was some continuity. The cover framework and general magazine structure have stayed the same – allowing the new content to occupy the space in a different way. As in Issue One, we continued to experiment with production techniques, such as incorporating special inks into imagery. This time a bright yellow ink is a thread running throughout the magazine, from tiny hi-vis jackets to massive HGV tarps.
I think we've taken it up a notch this time around!
PT And in a similar vein, what lessons can you take from this issue?
NC With Issue One, our goal was to put out a type specimen with real, engaging content that wasn’t about typography. Beyond that, we had no real idea what form it would take until we were at least halfway through. I wouldn’t say it was easier this time around, but it helped to have a model in place. If Issue One set the bar and Issue Two raises it, we’ll do our best to raise it again for Issue Three.
PT What ideas do you have for Issue Three, and when can we expect it?
NC We originally planned to release an issue every 6 months, but we’ve since realised that around 9 months is more realistic. Issue Three will feature our new grotesk Onsite, which we’ve been offering as a pre-release trial and will get a full commercial release soon. We originally developed Onsite as our in-house typeface for Sociotype (you can see it on the website and in the technical specimen of each Journal), so we’re looking at themes of domesticity, belonging, shelter.
We’ve already commissioned ten essays, and will begin picture research and design fairly soon, once the smoke has cleared from the launch of Issue Two. Most of the content we’ve created so far focuses on the point of tension where commercial and vernacular architecture meet and where commercial imperatives rub up against the needs of the individual. It’s quite political, but as with Issue Two, the politics is often discussed in the context of design, whether that’s in a professional context or from people making stuff up as they go along, a bit like we are…