The Designers: Socio’s Alicia Mundy on relocating to Copenhagen and her love for editorial design
After a morning walk with her dog, Socio’s Alicia Mundy can be found at her desk overlooking a picturesque Danish graveyard. After years of working in London, the British designer took the plunge to relocate to the charming city of Copenhagen. Following the launch of Sociotype’s Journal Issue One, she spoke to us about the exciting process of designing its maiden issue, alongside a reflection of her design career thus far, for the twenty-fifth entry into our series, The Designers.
PT Hi Alicia, how are you doing?
AM Hey Poppy, I’m doing well, thank you. Really enjoying these longer summer days!
PT Nice! Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how that led to you becoming a designer at Socio?
AM I discovered graphic design and photoshop thanks to Tumblr in the early 2010s, using my first MacBook to make incredibly bad fan edits of my favourite TV shows. My path into the industry actually began when I graduated from Norwich University of the Arts in 2017. I can’t quite believe that’s five years ago now. I ended up choosing the Design for Publishing pathway, which specifically focused on editorial and print, a course I don’t think exists elsewhere and absolutely loved it. One thing I have always enjoyed about design is the opportunities you get to immerse yourself in such a wide and often random range of subject matter. That course exemplified this – inquisitivity was embraced and encouraged.
I was born and raised in London and therefore was in a fortunate position to be able to do some internships while I figured out what sort of work I wanted to be doing long-term. Whilst I loved editorial design I quickly realised that it’s a very small area of the industry. As I’m sure many graduates find, the transition between the fun of university and the reality of the job market is pretty tough and my mental health and confidence took a hit. I had also realised that being around nice people was as important to me as doing good work. I guess it was quite fortuitous then to be offered an internship at Socio and then a month later was offered a full-time role. I suppose my route into this role wasn’t quite as conventional as some but I can’t help feeling like that might be a good thing, it’s interesting at least!
There is also a level of humility that comes with admitting that you’re not the best at everything.
PT Can you highlight something you’ve learnt during your time there?
AM As my first real job in the industry, I’ve learnt so much. One thing I’ve become aware of over the last few years is just how enriching different viewpoints and backgrounds can be to the design process. I think there is a real pressure on young designers to be doing everything, to learn to code, to animate and design type. But realistically not everyone is going to be suited to every skill set or even necessarily drawn to that process. There is also a level of humility that comes with admitting that you’re not the best at everything, especially in an industry where machismo is often expected.
A design business like ours is a sum of its parts and I do think that Socio has been able to bring together a really interesting group of designers each with different experiences and skills. This interplay has shaped the business and helped define the work we want to be doing in the future.
Collaborating with other creatives really is one of the most rewarding things about working in this industry and I find myself valuing their expertise and perspective more and more. More needs to be done to stop the industry from being such a hegemony. Our work can be better, more compelling and reflective of society as a whole if we work with people who think differently to us.
PT What is your usual Monday morning routine?
AM I wish I had an impressive answer to this question but I’m really not a morning person at all. After I’ve successfully woken up I have a shower, take my dog for a walk and then sit down at my desk with some breakfast.
I’ve always tried to create thoughtful work.
PT What does your setup look like?
AM I’m working remotely so most days I’m at my often messy desk at home with a lovely view over a pristine Danish cemetery. Here it’s normal to walk your dog around there or even have a picnic so it’s always nice to look up from my screen for a minute and see people going about their lives. My goal for the next month or so is to find a co-working space to mix up the days a little.
PT What is your favourite stage of a project?
AM That’s a hard one! I think perhaps research, immersing yourself in the content or subject matter and finding your ‘way in’ to the project. I really enjoy going into this with an open mind and allowing what I discover to guide my design process. I’ve always tried to create thoughtful work and I don’t think you can do that without fully understanding the topic in question. And honestly, nothing makes me happier than sketching in my notebook whilst surrounded by books.
Sociotype Journal has become something that non-designers are interested in too!
PT Can you tell us about the process of working on Sociotype’s Journal? How did you find it? Were there any surprises along the way?
AM The journal is a bit of a strange beast, part type specimen and part magazine, it really was unlike anything I’ve had the chance to work on before. During the conception of Socio’s type foundry, Sociotype, there had always been an idea to try and reimagine how we would show the breadth of each very extensive type family. Sociotype’s intent is to create functional type across a wide range of optical sizes, type which is meant to be used and read. It felt appropriate then to make a specimen which offered a tangible, active reading experience.
Obviously, a self-initiated project of this scale is not normally the type of work that design studios undertake but, thanks to the pandemic, we had the space to make it a reality. Our editors, Nic Carter and Henrietta Thompson, curated and commissioned a really intriguing set of articles and ideas for image essays and it was my job to make sense of these on the page all using the first typeface, Gestura.
From the outset I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge, figuring out how to show 45 styles of a type family without the whole thing feeling disjointed or messy. The content, (all based around the theme, ‘the Gesture’), whilst really interesting, was incredibly diverse which offered another headache. How do you segue between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Crips in the same article? Our budget for imagery was limited and the magazine has no advertising so a lot of time was spent on image research, mostly out of copyright or Creative Commons licensed pieces. I enjoyed that process as it’s so unlike the commercial work we undertake day to day. You’re on a treasure hunt and when you find something good it’s really rewarding. Several of our image essays were borne from things that we found while looking for other content, like Virtual Realities, the images of mulleted NASA engineers with their new Gestural UI gloves and VR headsets. To me it demonstrated the value of allowing a little extra time for research and being able to cast the net wider, sometimes you’ll be surprised by what you find.
The creation of a magazine is as much about structure, pace and content as it is about the page layout which was a steep learning curve for Nic and I. Whilst we’d both worked on many a print job, neither of us had produced anything near this scale before. Our trusty flatplan was an ever-evolving thing, the magazine becoming more extensive and ambitious as we got stuck into the design. In the end, it ran to 224 pages with ten essays, seven image-led articles and a 28-page technical type specimen of Gestura.
The design process itself was driven by the need to show just how much you could do with Gestura, how it could be both quiet or elegant in one instance and then boisterous the next. The natural answer to this was to give each article its own identity and respond to the content conceptually through type and image. This was underpinned by a fairly rational grid and page furniture to ensure it didn’t feel too fragmented.
I had a lot of fun working with these spreads, figuring out how Gestura could be used and how each article could come to life. It was a big undertaking but a hugely rewarding process at the same time. I remembered why I enjoy working with long-form content and feel really fortunate to have gotten the chance to feel so engrossed in something I love doing.
We were really happy with what we’d been able to create but you never really know exactly how something will be received, after all, it is a little bit of a strange publication to explain. Luckily people really seemed to like it and thanks to the hard work of the whole team it is now stocked in over 40 independent stores around the world. Not only did we manage to make a pretty unique type specimen but Sociotype Journal has become something that non-designers are interested in too!
I’m trying to stay mindful of improving both my professional and creative skills.
PT What do you think is the most important skill a designer can have that isn’t design?
AM That’s a tough question! Over the last couple of years, I’ve become aware of the importance of good communication and how large a role it plays in the process of collaborating. Clearly, the pandemic altered the way we work internally and how we communicate with clients – perhaps we are now more aware of how beneficial purposeful discussion can be. Personally, I’m trying to stay mindful of improving both my professional and creative skills and hopefully become a more well-rounded designer in the process. I would love to see a drive towards more structured mentoring, feedback and open discussion across the industry. New designers need this in order to reach their full potential.
PT What led you to Copenhagen? What’s it like to live and work there?
AM I love London but after two years of lockdowns, having to move house multiple times as landlords sold up and sitting in a box room every day was getting a little bit boring. My partner and I were looking for a bit of an adventure and considered where we might like to live, Copenhagen was top of the list. We’ve only been here two months so it’s very new but so far we’re both enjoying the more relaxed pace of life, how much easier it is to be active and just how much there is to do in such a compact city. You’ll have to ask me again once I’ve been through a Danish winter but so far it’s really lovely. Obviously, it’s not as easy as it once was to move abroad but we feel really lucky to have the chance to make a new place our home.
PT How have you found the transition to a different country? And how do you find working remotely with the Socio team?
AM Day to day, my work life hasn’t changed a huge amount, bar the time difference. We have been remote for two years now so we’re very well versed in how to work like this. Currently, I’m designing Issue Two of Sociotype Journal, bringing our second release, an extended grotesque called Rework, to life in print. Our theme explores the art of improvisation and just like Issue One has some fascinatingly odd articles including creating art under incarceration, vert skating, hobby tunnelling and ‘Manly Improvisation.’ The typeface also has a very different attitude to Gestura so it’s exciting to see it start to take shape.
PT What are you looking forward to this year?
AM This year will be full of changes for me as I will be leaving Socio once the second issue is complete. The combination of moving and rediscovering my love of editorial design has led me to want to explore new opportunities either in a full-time capacity in Copenhagen or to take the plunge as a freelancer. I’m grateful to have had the chance to work with the guys at Socio, it’s been a great few years but I’m now really excited to see where a new adventure might take me!