Courtesy Commercial Type.

Name: Action Text
Designer: Erik van Blokland
Foundry: Commercial Type
Release Date: September 2020

Back Story: Here’s the thing: the attention span of someone reading text on screen is a limited resource. With this in mind, type designer Erik Von Blokland set out to create a typeface with a bit of bite to bring some edge to the frequently too-bland, too-smooth world of type on the web. Like its predecessor display font Action Condensed, Action Text grew from this desire, with the express aim of designing a text typeface that lacks a self-consciously “neutral” stance for use in interfaces and other complex screen typography.

Courtesy Commercial Type.

Whys it called Action Text? The original Action Condensed was designed for interfaces, specifically rollovers, and the name was inspired by this context. The family was intended to be used in active, rather than static, layouts.

What are its distinguishing characteristics? Von Blokland describes it succinctly in a blog post as: “Strong rhythm, very even texture, does its job in small sizes, doesn’t look stupid in large.” The unusual letterforms, with their surprising asymmetries, pinches, bulges, and notches, appear carved or sculpted rather than drawn.

The typeface’s weight and grade axes enhance performance by requiring only one call to the server for a single file containing all styles, instead of a call for each style. This speeds up sites and allows typographers to access and fine-tune the styles via CSS (or, in the case of print, via control panels in design apps like Illustrator and InDesign). Action Text also comes in a “flat” (non-variable) version in four distinct weights with matching italics and a Bright and Dark grade for each weight.

“The typeface’s weight and grade axes enhance performance by requiring only one call to the server for a single file containing all styles.”

Text grades were initially developed to compensate for environmental effects such as varying paper stocks, printers, and humidity on printed type, allowing text to achieve consistent color across media without affecting copyfit. Action Text’s grades address specific type deficiencies in our glossy, glassy, mobile world. In night mode, for example, text reversed out of a dark background can appear too heavy; the Bright grade solves that problem. Grades also work well for subtly adjusting text elements on hover, tap, or focus, or for creating other interactive effects. On hover, for instance, you can bulk up text by using Action Text’s Dark grade. Because the underlying metrics are the same, the text won’t shift, as it typically would if you styled it as bold or strong. In a nice touch, italics and uprights occupy the same amount of horizontal space, thanks to duplexing.

What should I use it for? Ideal for setting long-form continuous text and typographically complex documents like charts, lists, and financial reports, Action Text shines at making the type that flows past us on screens every day serious as well as fun.

What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? At risk of stating the obvious: Action Condensed.