Pensum is exactly what it says it is: “a typeface for text, text, and nothing but text.” It’s a typeface for reading, which makes a handsome paragraph, and an inviting page.
Its relatively compact contemporary humanist design has open counters, wide apertures, and sharp but stubby serifs. Its curves remind me at times of Méridien, and its balance of strokes and the texture of black and white echo Minion. The italic is livelier than the roman, with sharp entry and exit strokes and deep ink traps; this gives the italic a lively but controlled effect at large sizes and makes it readable at small sizes. The roman, as you might expect in a text face, holds up very well at smaller sizes, and in the middle weights, it draws the eye across the page so well that it can even be set with fairly long lines or tight leading.
The letters show graceful curves and swelling strokes, even at the lightest of the nine weights; and those nine weights give Pensum more range than you’d expect in a purely text face. I imagine that the very lightest and boldest weights will be used primarily for display (the Thin is almost monoline), but the Light, Regular, Book, and Medium give an editorial designer four choices of weight, all of which will work comfortably in text.
Pensum has its own distinctive, very twenty-first-century style, with a clear grounding in pen-based calligraphy, but like the best text faces it steps back and gets out of the way of the text it’s conveying. The dance of the lettershapes along the line is a measured dance, not a wild one, despite all its graceful swirls and gestures. A pavane.
John Berry is an editor & typographer who has written and edited several books and served as president of ATypI, editor and publisher of U&lc, and program manager on the Fonts team at Microsoft. He is currently Director of the Scripta Typographic Institute.