Can you translate a memory into a digital font family? Klim and Dia collaborate on Söhne

The renowned New Zealand type foundry talks us through its latest typeface Söhne, inspired by Unimark's visual system for the New York subway. For its release, Klim collaborated with kinetic type foundry Dia.

Renowned type foundry Klim has stepped into unchartered territory for its latest project. The New Zealand type foundry has recently released its 26th font and 12th typeface collection release, Söhne. Meaning ‘sons’ in German, Klim’s newest creation comprises four families – Söhne, Söhne Schmal (condensed), Söhne Breit (wide) and Söhne Mono – and commemorates Akzidenz-Grotesk but is framed through the reality of Helvetica.

“It captures the analogue materiality of Standard Medium used in Unimark’s legendary wayfinding system for the New York subway,” explains Klim’s director and lead type designer Kris Sowersby. It all started after the founder visited New York and experienced the pragmatic subway signage for himself. Many years later, he can still recall the memorable impact of the design, as well as “the physicality and presence of those letterforms.” And from there, back in Wellington, the project became an exercise of translation. The task at hand ultimately posed this question for Kris: “Could I translate a memory and visual impression into a digital font family?”

The result, Söhne, echoes many of Unimark’s masterful details. The tight and confident letter spacing, the presence of the white letterforms and the hand-crafted angled terminals particularly evident on the “c”, “e” and “s” of Standard Medium. Kris admired how the anonymous grotesk heritage felt perfect in its public context and as a result, Söhne became a project primarily about capturing the analogue materiality of these hand-drawn letterforms in digital form.

What’s more, marking the release of this visceral typeface, Klim approached kinetic type foundry Dia to further encapsulate Kris’s memories and sensations from his time in New York. Delighted to be collaborating with the typographic research agency that he’s always admired, Dia created a series of films exploring the sense of materiality and memory behind Söhne’s conception. In the past, Klim has set itself apart from other type foundries with its emphatic type animations exploding across the screen in an awe-inspiring effect. But where this work has been produced using animation and code in the past, this time around, for Söhne, the films are created using custom analogue processes to match the hand-crafted methodology behind the new font family.

“We created custom analogue processes using a variety of printing techniques and headache-inducing chemicals (in some cases even fire) to produce a wide range of improvised films,” says Kris. “We then adjusted the timing in post to bend reality even further.” The result, is a curated selection of over 100 tests, an exemplary showcase of two leading studios at the forefront of typographic investigation. The collaboration came about through Klim’s long-time collaborators Alt Group after the type foundry “hit a wall with [their] abilities with motion graphics.” After Mitch and Meg met at a design conference in Brisbane (and bonding over “a few tinnies and a bottle of red”), Kris asked the Dia founders to work on the “grotesque accidents” films. “They’re the best in the game,” adds Kris on the acclaimed New York and Geneva-based studio, “their seminal kinetic typography is distinctive, fresh and highly influential."

Though Söhne’s versatility and clarity deem it appropriate for a near-infinite amount of purposes, whatever its users choose for it, Kris would “like [the user] to feel the materiality of the typeface, to explore its typographic atmosphere." He continues: “At a deeper level, I’d like users to understand the place we occupy in time, to appreciate that we can only build upon what has come before. It’s our responsibility to continually transform and adapt the typographic materials that have come before.” Currently available to download as a test font pre-purchase, Söhne has been on pre-sale since early 2019 and has already been used by a limited set of brands.

GalleryKlim: Söhne

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About the Author

Jynann Ong

Jynann joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. She went freelance in 2022.

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