A new Icon website; the journey from Akzidenz-Grotesk to Söhne

A new Icon website; the journey from Akzidenz-Grotesk to Söhne


Our long overdue website rebuild is now complete. When we began the process of rethinking how we communicate online and how our customers would like to view our products, we started by considering the typeface first! It’s actually not such a strange place to begin as type always sets the tone in any communication, whether we realise it or not, and is usually at the forefront of our design process whenever we are developing products.

Akzidenz-Grotesk by Berthold

Akzidenz-Grotesk has always been our go-to typeface for our brand communication. Originally developed by the Berlin-based foundry H. Berthold AG in 1896, it’s a beautiful example of Swiss modernism, but still retains enough character to avoid being bland. Its design prioritises legibility and functionality with clean, simple letterforms, along with consistent stroke widths which make it highly readable in various sizes and contexts. Its timeless design and versatility make it perfect for our approach to communication and design.

Akzidenz-Grotesk type on orange

There are good reasons why Akzidenz-Grotesk is so revered. After its release it became the prominent typeface choice within the Swiss Style. Designers embraced its simplicity, readability, and versatility which aligned with the movement's emphasis on functional design. Its lack of embellishments and its focus on legibility resonated with the Swiss Style's principles of minimalism and objectivity. The Swiss Style also championed the use of grid systems for organising and structuring content and Akzidenz-Grotesk's consistent letterforms and balanced proportions were well-suited for alignment within the grid, allowing for precise and harmonious layouts.

Akzidenz-Grotesk type in monochrome

As the Swiss Style gained recognition and spread beyond Switzerland, the use of Akzidenz-Grotesk expanded as well, becoming a hallmark of the movement's typography. The combination of Akzidenz-Grotesk's design attributes and its adoption by Swiss designers helped establish a new standard in typography. The Swiss Style's adherence to functionalism, minimalism, and objectivity, coupled with the legibility and versatility of Akzidenz-Grotesk, influenced design practices globally.

In 1970 Unimark issued the New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual. This was a detailed style guide for signage in the New York Subway System and provided guidelines for word spacing, letter spacing, colour, leading and had been beautifully republished by Standards Manual. The typeface specified in the guide was Akzidenz-Grotesk although it was known in the USA as Standard. The styling was subsequently applied to signs across the subway continuing the influence of Akzidenz-Grotesk on design everywhere.

Akzidenz-Grotesk specimen case

Akzidenz-Grotesk specimen set

Akzidenz-Grotesk alphabet sheet

Akzidenz-Grotesk specimen card

However, Akzidenz-Grotesk is from an analogue past when type was produced using physical materials and with that in mind, we decided to look for something contemporary; a digitally created font which shared the same spirit and design attributes as Akzidenz-Grotesk, but which could be used to evolve our online communication.

Söhne by Klim Type Foundry

As it turns out it wasn’t a difficult task. We have long been fans of the award-winning Klim Type Foundry; based in New Zealand they have a growing reputation for producing typefaces with exceptional attention to detail, readability, and aesthetic appeal. Klim's typefaces often blend historical references with contemporary design sensibilities and Sohne is no exception.

Sohne & Akzidenz-Grotesk type

Sohne alphabet

Söhne was designed by Kris Sowersby, Klim’s founder, and is a modern-day homage to the shapes and forms of Akzidenz-Grotesk. Sohne retains many of the design attributes of its predecessor, but is far from a digital version of Akzidenz-Grotesk. 

"I don’t believe it’s possible to make an “authentic digital revival” of any analogue typeface. It’s a contradiction in terms. There is no equivalence between physical material (metal type) and a virtual, cartesian vector (digital font)." Kris Sowersby.

Resisting the temptation to make a digital copy, Sohne stands on its own as a modern typeface, honouring its heritage and in all probability a future classic… For us Söhne just seemed to be the perfect typeface for evolution.

Sohne type

Kris Sowersby's essay on his development of Söhne and the influence of the New York subway signage on the final result can be read here.