VirusFonts release Doctrine

Doctrine, the latest typeface from Jonathan Barnbrook’s VirusFonts, has its roots in an unlikely source…

Doctrine, the latest typeface from Jonathan Barnbrook’s VirusFonts, found its first outing on the sleeve of David Bowie’s new album, The Next Day (above). Released commercially this week, the typeface has its roots in the most unlikely of sources…

By now we should be used to the fact that when it comes to influences and references, the work of Barnbrook Studio is more wide-ranging than most. But the origins of Doctrine, the first commercial font release from Barnbrook’s type foundry VirusFonts for three years, still manages to intrigue. Yes, it’s a typeface born out of the livery of the national airline of North Korea: Air Koryo.

While the basic structure of the sans serif face owes a debt, VirusFonts say, to such classic sources as Adrian Frutiger’s Univers and Max Miedinger’s ubiquitous Helvetica, the key reference can be found on the battered fuselages of Korea’s national carrier, Air Koryo:

“VirusFonts has long been interested in the link between ideology, language and typography,” explains Jon Abbott, who designed the face along with Jonathan Barnbrook and Julián Moncada. “This concept inspired Doctrine.”

“The idea of the infamously repressive North Korea, which severely limits the opportunities for its citizens to travel, actually having a ‘national carrier’ could be “something of an oxymoron”, Abbot continues. “With a dubious safety record and dismal reviews, there’s something wonderfully naïve about Air Koryo’s attempt to look like a serious airline.”

Koryo, he says, has “rudimentary aircraft livery and branding, often crude in application and at times, even looking hand-painted. This peculiar conceptual mix – part political philosophy, part corporate branding – was [our] inspiration.” Marrying Koryo’s idiosyncracies to what Abbott claims to be the “most ‘ideological’ of typographic forms” – neo-grotesques such as Univers and Helvetica – creates a more ‘human’ alternative, he says.

Beyond the ideological, Abbott says that Doctrine’s influences also encompass Edward Johnston’s eponymous sans for the London Underground (note the diamond shaped dots in an alternate lower case ‘i’) and Paul Renner’s experimental drawings for Futura.

The Doctrine font family comprises two distinct styles, Doctrine and Doctrine Stencil, each of which comes in five weights (Thin, Light, Regular, Bold and Black). Open type features include stylistic alternates, discretionary ligatures, super and subscript and fractions. Doctrine Stencil specificallly has numerous titling alternates – there are up to four versions of each glyph. These versions can be accessed via the Titling Alternates and Swash Character functions.

It’s in the alternate characters and glyphs that Doctrine’s designers, Abott, Jonathan Barnbrook and Julián Moncada, have managed to incorporate further historical and cosmopolitan references. The “long s”, for example, fell out of mainstream use in the early 19th century but has been revived for use here – as shown in the above sample image in the word “congress”. Also shown above (and below) is the alternate lowercase e that is clearly inspired by epsilon, the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet, plus an alternate, hooked lowercase f.

Also note the asymmetric alternate capital A above which directly refrerences the Air Koryo livery.

For more details about Doctrine and Doctrine Stencil, visit

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