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Mark Simonson

Mark Simonson / News /

Acme Gothic and Parkside unbound

Like many type designers, Mark Simonson has a treasure trove of typeface sketches tucked away in a drawer. Out of the more than sixteen hundred(!) in his collection, Acme Gothic and Parkside are the first to see the light of day.

Prince fans know about the Purple One’s mythical vault: scores of unreleased songs kept in a safe at Paisley Park Studios near Minneapolis,  Minnesota. But type lovers may not know that another vault exists just across the Mississippi River in Saint Paul. A copious collection of typeface concepts and unfinished type sketches has been piling up in Mark Simonson’s proverbial bottom drawer for the past forty years.

Simonson is not, in his own words, getting any younger, so in 2017, he decided to do something with all these drawings and began working through the backlog. A few years ago, he scanned about nine hundred sketches; recently, he scanned between six and seven hundred more. Simonson consolidated identifiable designs that kept recurring and narrowed them down to two hundred and fifty distinct typeface concepts (some of which he had already released). After discarding ideas that held little commercial appeal, Simonson ended up with sixty-five that he felt showed potential. Spending a day or two on each, Simonson completed upper- and lowercases to determine which designs would truly be worth pursuing. He then began developing full-fledged type families from the concepts that made the cut.

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Mark Simonson took inspiration from 1920s nostalgia in developing Acme Gothic, an expansive sans-serif family that pays tribute to its retro roots while looking boldly toward the future.

Acme Gothic is based on a thick-and-thin gothic lettering style that Simonson had previously visited but had left on the back burner since the nineties. Ten years ago, he did a lot of work on an early iteration of this family, laying the foundation for the current version. In fact, when going over his collection of unreleased ideas, this design was among the first that he wanted to finish. The contrasted sans serif is in a vernacular style that Simonson knows by heart. He retooled his original lettering sketches to create an ambitious family in five weights from Light to Black and five widths from Compressed to Extrawide. In addition to including small caps that rest on the baseline, Simonson added a raised set that pays homage to the typeface’s vintage roots. Acme Gothic is fit for display and branding use; as an editorial workhorse, it can accommodate anything from forceful headlines to convincing medium-sized copy.

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Because Parkside’s letterforms are drawn rather than written, they feature many parallel straight lines and recurring shapes. Instead of being organic, the script has a structured, rational rhythm.

Simonson unearthed Parkside from drafts produced in the mid- to late-1990s—around the same time he drew Coquette. He admits that he’s partial to this kind of rationalized script, one that’s constructed rather than written–almost drawn like a sans serif. Parkside tips its hat to lettering styles that were popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Not being constrained by that era’s hot-metal technology, Simonson took full advantage of the OpenType font format to turn Parkside into a contemporary, feature-rich type family. Contextual alternates guarantee seamless connections between letters. Parkside’s personality subtly shifts as its weight increases from a delicate monoline Hairline reminiscent of neon signs to a beefy Black that would not feel out of place at a baseball game. Use it in packaging, posters, periodicals, and any other application that calls for structured elegance.

All Mark Simonson fonts are available for print, web, applications, and ePub licensing. Webfonts may be tested free for thirty days; desktop trials are available upon request. To keep current with Mark Simonson and other foundry partners, subscribe to Type Network News, our occasional email newsletter featuring font releases, foundry happenings, type and design events, and more.