Good Reads: Sociotype Journal is pushing the boundaries of typography

From the team behind design studio SocioDesign and type foundry Sociotype, the new biannual magazine is envisioned as a platform for thoughts on culture and society – but also happens to be a type specimen

Founded in 2004, SocioDesign is a London-based design and strategy agency that works with consumer-facing brands ranging from tiny startups to household names like Sonos. Last year, the studio launched its type foundry offshoot SocioType with a view to helping its clients stand out in an increasingly noisy world.

“Our work at Socio has always been very typographic, so the idea to launch a foundry for retail type was a fairly natural progression of the work we were already doing,” says creative director Nic Carter. “It’s early days, but it certainly feels like maintaining a design practice as Socio alongside Sociotype is helpful, as it enables us to judge our work both from the type designer and the user’s point of view.”

More recently, Carter has also taken on an additional role as editor of Sociotype Journal, a new platform for thoughts on culture and society that also happens to be a type specimen. “Having put in so much hard work to create the two type families that we launched the foundry with, we felt that a conventional specimen would be selling them short. Instead, we wanted to create a more engaging, active experience – words to actually be read, rather than just type to be looked at,” he says.

The plan for each issue of Sociotype Journal is to invite some interesting people – mostly from outside the world of type design – to explore a single theme, inspired by (and typeset in) a particular type family by Sociotype. “In terms of our editorial approach, we’re interested in the way things connect to one another, within individual articles and under the theme of each issue,” says Carter.

“Some of those connections aren’t what you might expect, and it was important for us that the tone of content should fluctuate. There’s a mix of high and low, historical and contemporary, serious and throwaway, all rubbing up against each other in interesting ways. We use the tagline ‘specimens of culture’. That’s a terrible pun, but it’s a pretty accurate reflection of our approach, which is to pick up things that we find intriguing, and arrange them together, for comparison and contrast.”

The journal’s first issue, The Gesture, was inspired by the calligraphic qualities of the foundry’s serif, Gestura. Inside its pages, the features look at gestures of power and political influence; sign language poetry; the secret codes of the illuminati; NASA’s gestural VR programme from the 90s; the cultural and historical significance of the raised fist, and more.

“In terms of design and art direction, each issue will present us with a new challenge, because the featured type has to be handled differently every time, and because each time we need to demonstrate the breadth of personality of an entire extended type family,” says Carter.

“That’s evident in issue one, where the type on some spreads 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 it’s own character. Gestura has 42 styles, so it was a challenge for our designer Alicia to show them all, without the whole thing collapsing.”

Looking ahead to issue two (which will be typeset in Sociotype’s second font Rework) and beyond, Carter says he hopes the journal will lead to some interesting and unexpected collaborations. “The reason we decided to found the journal in the first place was to create a space for our type to carry ideas that would provoke thought and start conversations, so it would be great to think that some of those ideas could extend beyond the pages of the journal itself.”

Sociotype Journal Issue #1 is out now, with 10% of the profits going to social enterprise The Black Curriculum;