Kris Sowersby, type designer

As founder of the New Zealand-based Klim Foundry, Kris Sowersby has created a range of typefaces that are widely used in newspapers and magazines across the world. Founders Grotesk, Tiempos and Domaine are recent examples of his work that will be familiar to anyone working in publishing.


We invited Kris to select magazines from his collection in Wellington. As ever, we asked for a new issue, an old issue and another thing.


A new issue: Stemme
The Stemme website says: ‘Each issue hosts eminent and unexpected commentary from a range of design disciplines. We strive to probe beyond established design disciplines, challenging current design discourse and showcases projects, processes, and points of view.’

Stemme is only two issues young. I like its ambition. I like its severe design aesthetic, seriousness, and local remit. The production values are high across the board, which communicates focus and commitment. Furthermore, the accompanying website (designed by the renowned Sons & Co.) mirrors and complements the printed magazine perfectly. This is quite important to me, because it shows the cross-discipline understanding — too many contemporary magazines fumble the www aspect of their output.


An old issue: The National Grid
Over its eight-issue run, The National Grid billed itself as:
1: “A peripheral publication for graphic design”
2: “A provincial publication for graphic design”
4: “A Frail Barricade for Graphic Design”
5: “A Colonial Outpost for Graphic Design”
6: “A maintenance manual for graphic design”
7: “A Civil Defence for Graphic Design”
8: “A catalogue for Design and Designers”

Clearly indicating the wide-ranging eclectic seriousness of Mr Valentine and Mr Wood as editors. It was fiercely local, but they maintained an outsider perspective. When the national design “discussion” maintained a business-centric client-focussed outlook, Valentine & Wood probed the outskirts of design culture. I was 25 when I got the first issue, not long out of design school. I didn’t quite understand it, I was baffled and intrigued by what it was, what it said and what it stood for. Now — 10 years later — I appreciate their stance and how it made me think.


Another thing: Helvetica and Times used in issue one of The National Grid.
National was one of my first typefaces, I didn’t know much and was very green. I was keenly interested in learning about typography and typeface design, filled with the unflappable zeal endemic to recent graduates.

During this time I got a copy of the first issue of The National Grid.

It was typeset in Times & Helvetica, incidentally pre-dating the “default” typography and contemporary resurgence of both typefaces. However, I was mildly appalled: how could such a New Zealand publication dare to use “foreign” typefaces? I used to imagine “accents” for typefaces: Caslon was British, Bodoni was Italian, Garamond was French and so on. I thought it would be nice to have typefaces with a New Zealand accent, something made by locals for locals. (This was actually part of the impetus for starting Klim in a wider sense.)


And, so, with these fevered thoughts I drew National. More specifically, National was drawn to be the exact opposite to Helvetica: looser spacing; old-style figures as default; unambiguous forms; shorter capitals; a “true” italic; smallcaps; angled Grotesk terminals. The general functional aim was to make something suitable for text at small sizes, something more classically “typographic”. The first specimen of “The National Gothic” appeared in issue two of The National Grid. You can see the clear influence of Jost Hochuli’s typeface specimen design — I had just managed to save up enough money to buy a new copy of his wonderful “Printed matter, mainly books” — which was the most expensive book I had purchased up until then.

Out Now: Voyage D’Etudes, #1

We first discovered Voyage D’Etudes just over a year ago: an online travel ‘scrapbook’ edited by Refinery29’s fashion director Paula Goldstein Di Principe. The site features travel memories written by journalist and photographer contributors (dubbed the #globalgirlgang), and each article has the tone of a diary and is accompanied by images of objects collected during a trip.

This month, Paula has released her first every physical scrapbook – a large-format collection of images, stories, moments, art, people and places sourced during her time travelling through America (which she describes as ‘one of the most addictively inspiring places on earth’). Each page is hand-drawn, pictures have been cut out and put together with ‘gluey fingers’, and there’s lots of inky and blotted text that was written on a typewriter. It’s handmade and scrappy like a Rookie yearbook, and Paula doesn’t call the publication a magazine but rather ‘part art book, part zine, party diary’.

The scrapbook relishes in the kitsch and the iconic: there’s Dolly Parton’s memories of growing up in Tennessee, street photographs of New York City, a story on Walt Disney, and a look at the changing faces of Barbie. There’s also a bespoke playlist with a song for every State (to ‘transport you’ across the USA), portrait pictures, images of Buzz Aldrin and Cuban-American musician Willy Chirino, and pictures taken on open roads with disposable cameras. It’s a highly personal and intimate love letter to pop culture which contains a sprinkling of the energetic and ironic sensibility of Marfa Journal and Fruitlands Zine.

Footnotes #A

We’ve seen a few heavyweight tomes arrive at magCulture HQ recently; last week we featured the new Alpine Review, a 306-page wonder, and the 232-page second issue of HOLO is awaiting attention. But this week’s magazine of the week Footnotes is from the other end of the scale spectrum, a mere 52 pages.

At a time when discussion and crtiticism of graphic design has become broader but too often shallower – so much is easily available online without any context or analysis – we need design magazines that dig a little deeper and remind us of the deeper side of graphic practice; exactly what Footnotes does.

Published by Swiss typographer Mathieu Christe from his La Police foundry, this small magazine is for the typographic obsessive. What I particularly like about it is its relationship with time and (type) history. An extensive piece about typewriter typefaces highlights a lost period in typesetting, one I remember from Uni. In the sixties and seventies IBM and Olivetti both manufactured typewriters with changeable typefaces, an early precursor of DTP.


The extensive collection of typewriter samples in Footnotes is backed up by a reprint of an introduction to the faces by Alan Bartram, taken from Herbert Spencer’s Typografica magazine.

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The theme is further developed with a case study of contemporary type foundry Atelier Carvalho Bernau’s typeface Josef, based on Olivetti’s Candia typewriter font (above).

The magazine is well-designed, making use of the typefaces it discusses and rich in useful detail: footnotes play a key role in editorial and visual content and it follows the modernist ideal of little decoration or adornment beyond the content itself. And just red and black, naturally.


Footnotes is neatly positioned between two poles: at one extreme is the absolute type obsessive for whom much of the content will be familiar but enjoyable, at the other the young designer scratching around for context. It fits this role perfectly – well-researched, enthusiastic and engaging.


Against all this sober typographic investigation, the front cover image might seem obscure and out of place. It’s actually an early use of the typewriter face Atlas, apparently the face of choice for the forensic scientist. The image is a notated piece of evidence from a famous ransom case.

We’ve chosen Footnotes as our magazine of the week to remind us how publications can succeed at any physical scale. We love both them small or large –  it’s the quality of the overall entity (text, image, design, production) that counts.

Footnotes will be appearing annually, with issue B due mid-2017.

Meet… Intern, 01.12.16

For the 13th magCulture Meets night at the magCultureShop, we welcomed Alec Dudson, founder/editor of Intern magazine to discuss his new fourth issue.

Alec explains its ‘Career Path’ theme, and photographer Kelia Ann McLusky joins him to tall about their collaboration in the issue.


We’re grateful to Park Communications for their support of magCulture Meets

November 2016

Our latest monthly round-up includes magazines about movies, sneakers, photography and music across a few old favorites and a healthy number of brand new launches.


Shelf Heroes, #5
Just over a year has passed since film fanzine Shelf Heroes first hit the..,. well, shelves, and it’s now already onto its fifth issue. Illustrated submissions pull inspiration from movies beginning with a chosen letter of the alphabet – with E we see Evil Dead II, ET, Elf, The Exorcist, Eternal Sunshine, The Elephant Man and more.


Crepe City, #3
The magazine for sneaker collectors returns with a larger page size and sharper design. Otherwise it’s business as usual: history and contextual texts sit among cataloguish images that will appeal to the obsessive collector.


New release: Staple, #1
The Pilot issue of Singapore-based Staple is themed ‘The Dizziness of Youth’. While a magazine about teenage angst is by no means unheard of, we like the new title’s global outreach when it comes to contributors and the ground it covers.


New release: Runaway, #1
Perfect for the tourist who likes to run, a city guide combined with running guide. This first issue deals with New York, usefully flat and a popular marathon destination, and offers detailed route maps.


Sentimental, #3
Founded by French photographer Romain Seller, the third issue of the London-based biannual is themed Monsters. One of the most striking things about the title is indie-fave Bruce Usher’s art direction, specifically the logo typeface he developed using a tube of mayonnaise.


New release: Brownie, #1
A fascinating launch, a bilingual photography magazine from Shanghai that looks to open up the form to a wider audience. Produced by Lost publisher Nelson Ng, we’re excited to see issue two.


New release: Pasture, #0
Another UK based bi-annual magazine that looks at the stories behind food, and delves into the environment and the people behind it. The title has a very rustic vibe, and its emphasis on sustainability and seasonal produces gives it its unique point of view.


So Young, #11
A special edition of the music x illustration magazine that uses its larger-then-normal A4 pages to look back at the bands the magazine ahs featured so far. Bigger pages suit the mag.


MC1R, #5
The Hamburg-based magazine for red-heads is still going strong – it’s obviously found its niche and has a strong community of ginger followers. Issue five continues with much of the same, and that’s art and design based articles focused on the culture surrounding red hair.


The Lee Cooper Collection
Another well-produced mag in the Document series; each one looks at a single brand, in this case the classic denim of Lee Cooper. Neatly designed by Charlotte Heal.


New release: Luxe Noir, #1
This new biannual describes itself as a ‘coffee table magazine’ devoted to promoting contemporary African art and design. Produced in Johannesburg, South Africa, the magazine celebrates diverse traditions and a range of artistic expression from the African continent.


At the Table #2
The first issue of this London food mag was called Toast; now renamed to better suit the breadth of its food coverage it’s a smart, intelligent reflection of the events platform it represents, but maybe lacks the spark to make it stand out from the many food indies.


New release: Hearts, #1
‘The Smell of Adolescence’ is the first theme of this London-based fashion title. Inside are a series of shoots examining the beauty of being young and the awkward side of youth culture.

Stack Awards 2016

Last week’s Stack Awards were a positive way to end a pretty miserable 2016. Indie magazine makers from across the world gathered at London’s Book Club to hear judges announce the winners, but more than the awards themselves, this was a celebration of independent pubishing.

Last years debut Awards night set the tone: informal, relaxed, beery, a world away from the white-clothed winy ballrooms of traditional awards nights. This years second edition was busier still, the dark cellar room packed with indie figures from Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, US, Lebanon, Turkey. The international nature of indie publishing was well reflected, but London’s central role was evident in the shortlists.

As with all Awards, the winners were left buzzing while those that didn’t win will have felt a little deflated. But ultimately this was a celebration for all, and the night reflected the supportive nature of the indie world. It was great to see people mixing and meeting, surely the main purpose of the evening.

Independent magazines continue to go from strength to strength, and both the shortlists and winners lists demonstrate the breadth of the form. The Launch of the Year list was particularly impressive: three strong but different magazines that will surely grow to join more established titles like The Gentlewoman and The White Review.

As I write here I assume everyone reading knows most of these magazines. But we can’t be complacent, there’s a bigger world out there. I learnt recently that a senior management figure at one of the UK’s biggest magazine publishers had not heard of The Gentlewoman. Absurd though that seems, everyone involved in indie mags needs to make sure we don’t end up in our own filter bubble.


As a judge, it was a particular pleasure to hand the Magazine of the Year trophy to Kirstin and Ernst of MacGuffin (above). Their magazine sums up everything that is exciting about independent mags. It’s an intriguing, original idea that completely reinvents an existing genre (the design magazine) and appeals beyond the core design audience – the way it places design in the contentx of so many other disciplines means anyone with an ounce of curiousity will find it engaging. MacGuffin is a truly original idea that revels in its content, design and production. I could write on about it, but in the end you need to have the magazine in your hands to understand and enjoy it – it’s the physical object that makes it count. What better praise can a magazine attract? And I know my fellow Mag of Year judge Gail Bichler felt similarly definite about the choice.

Congratulations to Steve Watson and his team for the success of the Awards, and to all the entrants, shortlisted titles and winners.

It was great to be back at the Book Club, especially now the Printout evening have ended, but the first challenge for the 2017 Awards has already been set: they’ll surely need a larger venue. Fingers crossed we’re not heading to a hotel ballroom.

We have a year of magazines ahead of us before the 2017 Awards. Bring it on!

Save 15% on the winning magazines at our London shop and online (use code STACK).
Until Saturday 10 December, while stocks last.


Magazine of the year: MacGuffin
Ladybeard – commended
The Gentlewoman – commended
Launch of the year: Real Review
Racquet – commended
Ladybeard – commended
Editor of the year: The Happy Reader
Eye – commended
Flaneur – commended
Art director of the year: Voortuin
Lost – commended
Elephant – commended
Cover of the year: Parterre de Rois
Water – commended
Shellsuit Zombie – commended
Best use of photography: Gather Journal
212 – commended
The Exposed – commended
Best use of illustration: Ladybeard
Amuseum – commended
Ride – commended
Best original fiction: The White Review
American Chordata – commended
The Lifted Brow – commended
Best original non-fiction: The Outpost
Oxford American – commended
American Chordata – commended
Student magazine of the year: King’s Review
Nii Journal – commended
Metazine – commended
Stack subscribers’ choice: Drift
Ladybeard – commended