Kate Vasey Article By Kate

The Designer Behind The Typeface: Sofie Beier


Originally from Denmark, Sofie currently resides in Copenhagen where she had previously studied graphic design many years ago. Since then she has taken a PhD in Typeface Legibility at The Royal College of Art in London, released her own books called Reading Letters: Designing For Legibility and Type Tricks (BIS Publishers), won a Creative Circle Bronze Award for Karlo type family and is doing Independent Research on Typeface Legibility for Visually Impaired Readers. She currently works as an associate professor at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (KADK) where she spends her days teaching & writing about type design. I spoke with Sofie to find out more.

Being originally from Denmark, has growing up there inspired any typefaces you have created?

Denmark has a long historical tradition for creating sturdy simple signage typefaces. I love the no-nonsense feeling of these letters. Whenever I have the change, I try to implement that approach in my own designs. One example is my typeface Ovink, which is inspired by the street signage of Knud V. Engelhardt from the years 1926-27.

Ovink Type Family available at The Northern Block

As there is quite a distance from us to yourself, how did you find the communication between yourself and The Northern Block team? Did you find any disadvantages with being unable to meet the team face to face?

I find no disadvantages, I can Skype and e-mail. That is plenty communication for me.

Where is your ideal creative environment to create your typefaces?

I can work anywhere. I am rather skilled at eliminating out site noise. I enjoy listening to scientific podcast while I design type. This is the only time in life where I am truly capable of doing two things at the same time, that makes me feel very efficient.

With your PHD in Typeface Legibility from The Royal College of Art, how important is legibility to you when developing a new typeface? And does that influence the style of typefaces you design or do you like to experiment with different styles too? 

Legibility is important when reading a sign from a great distance, when looking quickly at a digital display while driving a car, or when reading very small point sizes on print. In other situations, the expression of the type is more essential. We know that typefaces of strong personalities can provoke semantic associations in the reader. Such effects can be very usable in headlines and advertisement.

When laying out a full typeface family, I prefer to design some fonts that are mostly functional, and some fonts that are mostly expressive. For the regular and semi bold weights my focus is always on designing legible fonts, these are generally designed for a broader usage and can function in different kinds of reading situations. An example is the larger typeface family Karlo, which includes the functional serif and sanserif styles, and the more expressive style KarloOpen. KarloOpen is not very legible, it is, however, very noticeable and I think it supplements the rest of the typeface family well for headline settings.

Karlo Type Family available at The Northern Block 

This typeface, Karlo won a Creative Circle Bronze Award in 2015. How did it feel to win this award? 

It made my very happy, I did not expect to win as this award is often given to more commercially orientated typefaces. I was so convinced of not getting it that I stayed away from the award show, which I obviously regretted afterwards.

I've noticed you are currently doing independent research on Typeface Legibility for Visually Impaired Readers, can you tell us more about this project?

I recently received a big grant from the Danish Council for Independent Research. I am very excited about this. It enables us to run a range of new investigations into legibility related matters. We can now focus on improving reading material both for readers with normal vision and for readers that are visually impaired.

Traditionally, there has been a tendency for researchers into typeface legibility to compare the legibility of different typefaces. The outcome of such investigations informs us only on the relationship between the specific typefaces under investigation. However, it provides very little material that can be translated into the design and usage of other typefaces.

Our approach is to isolate one typographical feature at a time to investigate the effect. We are hoping to find answers on the optimal letter weight, width, x-height, spacing and letter skeleton, and to identify whether such parameters vary between readers of normal vision and readers of low vision.

You have also recently released a new book called Type Tricks (2017, BIS Publishers) too, what can we expect from this book?

My new book Type Tricks is a hands-on book with a lot of illustrations and very little text. I have written it for designers interested in getting started on designing typefaces. It contains a lot of ideas on how to sketch, how to perceptually improve the design of letters, how to letter space, how to design diacritics and much more.

I was missing a book that I could refer to in my own teaching, as there are so many small details to remember when starting out as a type designer. I would have liked to have had this book myself when starting out, I hope it can help others.

Type Tricks by Sofie Beier (Source)

And how does it compare to your previous book Reading Letters: Designing for legibility (2012)?

My first book Reading Letters is an attempt to present existing knowledge on legibility related matters in a format that hopefully feels relevant to designers. The research field of typeface legibility is highly interdisciplinary, we need to understand the history of type as readers are conservative and basically prefer to read what they are used to; we need to understand the practical application of type to make the findings relevant to the practicing designer; and we need to understand the psychological aspect of reading to be able to come up with valuable scientific findings.

Where can our readers pick up a copy of your books from?

The books can be purchased through Amazon, or through my publisher: http://www.bispublishers.com

And lastly, what advice would you give to someone thinking of working with The Northern Block on a typeface collaboration?

My experience so far has been solely positive. I find great advantages in being represented by a relative small foundry. The personal relationship is better, and the decision-making process is not as long as you would expect at bigger foundries.

A big thank you to Sofie for taking part in this interview. And thank you for reading. Want to see more from Sofie? Be sure to check out Ovink, Engel New Sans, Engel New Serif, Karlo and Spencer type familes.

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