Sophia is an independent typeface designer and alumna of the MA Typeface Design (MATD) course at University of Reading. Recently she designed The Unicode Standard version 14.0 book cover and was included on the 2021 Women of Typographic Excellence list.
Her first font Streco launched 2 months ago on Future Fonts. An accompanying journal post tells the backstory of Streco and shows some early version sketches. Next to this she is working on a variable gradient font project which is possible thanks to a new development called COLRv1. Sometimes she also livestreams her work on Twitch and Youtube.
How did you end up studying Typeface Design at Reading? Was it always that specific course you wanted to study?
The first person to direct my attention to the MATD course was Paul McNeil who supervised me during my BA final year type project. I made contact with the MATD course leader Gerry Leonidas and convinced a fellow type-enthusiast and friend to visit the university campus with me.
I realised I wasn’t ready to take on this new lifestyle yet, so I went back to work in UX/UI design for a few years while co-organising Type Thursday London events in my free-time. Some MATD students, including my buddy, came to London to present their typeface projects with us, which was pretty sweet.
In the end it all came full-circle. Following my friend’s MATD journey and my involvement in the type community inspired me to enrol on the course 2 years later.
What is your favourite thing about typeface design?
I love that typeface design is something that one can grow old with. It’s also considered a low-stress job which is quite an underrated perk in my opinion. You might notice that in many design disciplines the average age is much younger, whereas many well-known typeface designers are nearing (or already in) retirement age. Typeface design is a time-consuming craft, so it can take decades to develop yourself to a better standard. An upward hill that hopefully won’t peak before you die. It gives me something to look forward to.
How did it feel when you were awarded the 2021 Women of Typographic Excellence Title?
It felt incredible to see my name listed next to so many talented designers and I was happy to discover more fellow women of colour in typeface design! The Malee Scholarship is an initiative run and sponsored by Sharp Type to support upcoming women of colour in the field. I encourage anyone who is eligible to apply for this opportunity.
When did you first realise you wanted to go independent?
I think a part of me always knew. Growing up, I was mostly surrounded by adults who worked independently or ran their own small businesses so office jobs were unknown territory to me until I tried working in one myself. But even then, my main goal doing so was to observe and learn about the inner workings of a business from the employee perspective.
There is talk of not many women and people of colour making it to higher-up roles, and it’s not just talk. Discriminatory exploitation in the workplace is extremely common, and because of that, many decide to go independent or start their own businesses. Understanding the concept of “glass ceiling” or “bamboo ceiling” helped me make sense of certain patterns I’ve observed and experienced at the workplace.
Discriminatory exploitation in the workplace is extremely common, and because of that, many decide to go independent or start their own businesses.
Did you plan the whole transition or did you decide one day? What was your thought process behind the decision?
I have to admit, my transition didn’t exactly feel planned. It felt more like a necessity to cater to my mental and physical health needs in ways that I haven’t seen jobs do before. I felt cornered and tired of fighting an impossible fight, so I decided to try something different. I made an instagram account that never shows my face, curated it with my work, networked at as many online events as I could fit in my schedule and communicated that I was keen for work after the MATD. I don’t have a recipe for this, in all honesty I got really lucky to have found something so quickly. The economical hit of the covid-19 pandemic affected the type industry a lot. It’s my current commission, which gave me the chance to transition to working independently.
I made an instagram account that never shows my face, curated it with my work, networked at as many online events as I could fit in my schedule and communicated that I was keen for work after the MATD.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
Fear. I was completely terrified of financial instability plus I love feeling safe and comfortable. I started off with that stability, but eventually I will have to face the quiet periods of freelancing, which I think will truly put my nerves and perseverance to test. Right now, my biggest challenge is accountability and staying motivated. A workplace comes with colleagues who hold you accountable, and a mandatory schedule keeps you motivated. Not having this support structure means you have to actively find your own resources and find what keeps you motivated and/or productive. I’m still in the process of finding what works best for me.
How were you able to keep your own mental health and wellbeing at the front of your decision making? I know a lot of us struggle to say ‘no’ to things.
I think knowing yourself well and understanding what you are and are not okay with help make it all easier. Saying no and taking care of your mental health go hand-in-hand. When you find yourself in a desperate position, walking away from things becomes much harder, so it’s important to have or start building your own safety net. As for boundaries, I think it’s important to think about your limits beforehand. Once your mind is clear on what you do and do not find acceptable, and why, it becomes easier to respond promptly and with confidence.
Saying no and taking care of your mental health go hand-in-hand.
What is the most exciting part of being independent? Maybe a little motivation for someone reading who is thinking of taking the leap.
To me, being independent means carving out a space for your identity and personal values. I think even if you just do your own thing on the side of having a job, it already means that you are pursuing something independently. For anyone wanting to take the big leap, I think it’s ok to do it just to give it a try. Make sure you first figure out for how long you can survive financially, before having to go back to a job if things get unlucky. Even then, you can still try again next time, and with more wisdom. And who knows, if things do go well you might stick to working independently for a long time!
To me, being independent means carving out a space for your identity and personal values.
Okay maybe an over asked question but we must know what is your favourite typeface? And why?
This reminds me of when I’m asked my favourite colour. I really don’t have one. But I know some typefaces for really specific use cases. For example Lee-Yuen Rapati’s types that are made to work in tiny sizes to fit on watch dials. It’s this super-specific niche matched with usefulness that makes me love certain designs.
Who are 2 or 3 creatives we should watch?
I would like to suggest some spots to find some new names in typeface design: Discover new she/they talent on the Malee Scholarship feature page and Mentee showcases hosted by Alphabettes. A step beyond are upcoming ambitious independent designers and indie foundries on the Future Fonts platform.
What would you like to have done by this time next year?
For now I am focused on getting out some updates for Streco and to complete my current font commission. After that I might work on something new or pick up Flyst, which is a Latin and Tamil script typeface that I worked on during the MATD. It all depends on how things unfold in the coming months.
What is your most hated font of all time (we need to know!!)
Hm. I don’t exactly have such strong negative feelings towards fonts. I just see them as tools that people make, which others are free to use or ignore! :-)