Essay Text is an anachronism and an antidote. It provides an excellent counterargument to the speculative superfamilies that overwhelm specimens these days: it is unapologetic about doing a few things well (rather than many, in an above-average way at best). It also serves as a reminder that informed, controlled contrast in documents does not require nine equidistant weight variants — and, by implication, questions how strongly typography features in the deliberations of many contemporary type designers.
This enforced lack of typographic complication can be transformative for the text. Eschewing the Bold makes using this typeface more than a typographic decision: it becomes an integral element of the editorial process, placing restrictions on authorship. (This is not as heavy-handed as it sounds: text editors today are increasingly channeling typewriters, through plain interfaces with a single typeface and no styling.)
It reminds of pre-digital times, when typefaces for continuous reading offered just two options other than the regular, and typeface choice assumed a full understanding (and some degree of control) of the final output environment. To drive the point home, Essay Text renders absolutely terribly on low-resolution printing, and all screens other than retina-class devices. Give it high resolution, though, and the clunky blobs coalesce into graceful extrusions of tense, organic forms; the subtle deviations from rectilinear angles counteract the overdue allure of Cartesian point alignments, and show a whole class of explorations in typeface design that — I am willing to wager — we will witness much more of in the coming half-decade.
In this way, Essay Text takes complexity and exploration of forms away from the level of the family composition to the level of the line of text, with panache: the ampersands, section marks, and fleurons are little sparkles of typographic fun. A minus point? It could do without the outdated affectations of ligatures, and certainly the twee ‘c’- and ‘s’- combinations.
Gerry Leonidas spends his days talking and writing about type and typography. Mostly at the University of Reading.