Using Acumin

Acumin’s broad range of weight and width variations were designed to provide fine typographic control with paragraphs of body text, signage for wayfinding, and everything in between.

Neo-grotesques are perhaps the most neutral of all typeface styles. Their straightforward egalitarian qualities have struck a chord for designers who wish to explore information-driven typography with a modernist sense. The simple structure and vertical stress of the style lends itself particularly well to a wide array of weight and width variation that greatly extend its usefulness.

My task to create a neo-grotesque for Adobe turned out to be a challenge, not only because it was outside of the design realm I normally prefer, but also because the style itself has been widely explored and largely resolved in terms of its principles of form and function. Within the narrow design latitude inherent to the project, I sought to shape Acumin in a manner that was true to my own design sensibilities, without dwelling excessively on what had come before. With practical neutrality in mind, my attention was focused primarily on the subtleties of design that make a type more readable.

The various weights and widths of Acumin help to create typographic hierarchy with a consistent style.

In addition to addressing the needs of display usage — at which neo-grotesques traditionally excel — I gave special attention to text usage by making three alternate text widths (Normal, Semi Condensed, and Wide) and tailoring them to be comfortable for reading at normal text sizes. While their widths are not dramatically different, they vary in subtle yet important ways, providing alternate voices that give designers both functional and stylistic options when setting text layouts.

The subtle variations between the Semi Condensed, Normal, and Wide styles of Acumin allow for alternate voices and copyfit in body text.

Another noteworthy feature of Acumin is that the ascenders extend beyond the height of the capitals, which breaks with the convention of classical neo-grotesques where the capitals and ascenders align along the same horizontal plane, as well as the i and j dots and quotes. I believe this was originally done with display usage in mind, allowing for the clean stacking of lines when leading is set very tightly, and to fully embrace a minimalist aesthetic that calls for more architecturally consistent alignments.

By breaking with this convention and allowing the capitals and the ascenders to be positioned where they felt most comfortable, word shapes became more balanced and less static. This produces a less fatiguing reading experience, and at display sizes the fonts take on a hint of Classical elegance.

Diverging from the strict alignment in most neo-grotesques, many of Acumin’s ascending characters, like ‘k’, ‘b’, and ‘l’, rise above the cap height for less rigid word shapes.

Acumin includes numerals and punctuation to align with both upper-and-lowercase settings (left) as well as all-caps settings (right).

Specimens and Samples

As a highly rational and austere type family, Acumin lends itself to typographic arrangements that reflect these modernist qualities, rewarding the understanding eye with sense of visual correctness when used effectively. Just as modular building materials can be arranged and brought to life by the architect and builder, the expressive qualities of Acumin are revealed through the typographer’s thoughtful arrangement. The following material includes a selection of mostly fictitious examples that show different aspects of the family in use.

Acumin’s normal-width fonts

The proportions and weighting of these fonts are what I consider to be ideal for most normal usage. The regular weight in particular is the cornerstone of the family, from which all other family members are calibrated. For larger text sizes, or when a more delicate appearance is desired at normal text sizes, the light — or even extra light weight — might be the proper choice. For small text sizes, or when a darker text appearance is preferred, the medium weight can be used.

Acumin provides a fine-grained selection of weights that can be used for body type in various contexts: Extra Light, Light, Regular, and Medium.

The primary purpose of directional signage is to convey information in the most direct way possible. The sign above shows Acumin in a utilitarian capacity. There can be a simple beauty in contemporary directional signage that blends with the city environment and is egalitarian in its intent.

Acumin’s semi-condensed fonts

Semi-condensed fonts are uncommon within the neo-grotesque canon. Being only slightly narrower than the normal width fonts, Acumin’s semi-condensed fonts retain much of the open appearance of the normal width while providing a surprisingly different aesthetic when viewed as text. They also offer space-saving qualities and better performance when set in narrow columns.

The Semi Condensed styles of Acumin are helpful for squeezing more text into narrow columns, such as in news articles or on small mobile screens.

Acumin’s wide fonts

The wide fonts in Acumin were made only moderately wide to expand their usefulness in both display and text applications. By making the wide letters closer to true round rather than a stretched oval shape, these fonts can function in much the same way as normal width fonts, although with a significantly different aesthetic effect. The wide fonts have a less formal appearance than the other widths — particularly the lighter weights, which have a more friendly appearance, making them well-suited for setting non-technical information.

The Wide styles of Acumin offer a looser, airier feeling compared to the other widths.

Acumin’s condensed fonts

The condensed fonts in Acumin are intended primarily for display use, although they can be used effectively at smaller sizes for subheads and shorter lengths of text when tracked accordingly. The clarity of the condensed fonts has been maintained by maximizing the internal white space of the letter counters as much as possible: with a consistent high-oval countershape, and by making the joins between the rounds and vertical stems not excessively deep.

For shorter pieces of informational text, the Condensed styles of Acumin provide a good balance between legibility and efficiency.

Acumin’s extra-condensed fonts

The extra-condensed fonts in Acumin are intended exclusively for display use. The structure of these fonts differs significantly from the other widths in the family: most of the normally round counters have flat sides that give them a rectangular and more static appearance. By shaping all of the letters in a geometrically similar manner, the letterfit and color are greatly improved. They can be used in a variety of situations where space is limited, or when a particular stylistic effect is desired.

Acumin’s Extra Condensed styles offer a striking style for use in posters, headlines, etc.