Sharp Type partnered with Twilio to create a bespoke typeface for the communications platform pioneer. The goal was to create a type system that could encapsulate Twilio’s wide-ranging needs–”from the coding terminal to the airport terminal”–while refreshing its established core brand identity. After two years, the result is Twilio Sans, a superfamily of three weights across almost 50 styles that is uniformly approachable and adaptable, while remaining distinctly true to its origins. It’s a warm welcome into the world of Twilio.
A Brand New Font
The core creative team at Twilio approached us in 2020 to design a typeface from scratch. We began brainstorming during the height of the Pandemic, and while we drew from a variety of sources, we eventually modeled Twilio Sans upon the classics of the Humanist sans serif. Until that point, while we had fondly observed this style of type for many years, this was an opportunity for us to fully explore the genre.
During the early days of the Pandemic, there was a collective feeling of nostalgia for the glory days of Web 1.0, those halcyon years of the late 90’s and early 2000’s that saw a revival of the Humanist sans. We considered Optima, and the wonderful aesthetic moment it has come to represent, but we then looked to the sturdiness of Edward Johnston’s eponymous typeface from 1916, which harkens back to the elegance of Roman inscriptional lettering. We also took inspiration from the charming idiosyncrasies of Roger Excoffon’s Antique Olive of the early 1960s. Finally, we looked at two of Sharp Type’s own releases, Beatrice and Trois Mille.
Twilio Sans is broadly defined by tall x-heights, tight spacing, pinched intersections, and vertically-sheared terminals. It has a classical system of skeletal proportions and letter widths, and in the place of the serifs, we decided on vertical shears at the curvilinear terminals. With this model as a starting point, we eventually integrated slight contrast and grotesk proportions to find the ideal middle ground for the final design.
Twilio Sans Display
We began the design of Twilio Sans somewhat counterintuitively with the Display. Using the aforementioned Humanist Sans classics as our foundation, we began the task of creating a typeface that would be a natural but significant evolution of Twilio's established identity. Display needed to be distinctive on its own while remaining relatable to the eventual Text and Mono styles.
Lucas started with the capital S form of the darkest master, which exaggerates the downward slope of its top terminal and vice versa with the bottom terminal. From this starting point, the rest of the Display was drawn to serve two purposes simultaneously as both text and graphic, wherein the font would not only be legible as a combination of letterforms, but understood as being Twilio by the specific curves, pinches, and shears that make this typeface unique.
The Text Versions
With Text, we reduced the extreme pinches, opened up the tight spaces, and reduced the x-heights. We optimized Text for long-form reading on screens, and extra care was taken to ensure that it would be readable at even the smallest scales. In the end, we arrived at a family of text fonts that is spiritually consistent with the display but optimized for a different function.
A Mono for Coding
Finally, we began drawing the mono. The monospace and text share the same DNA: the contrast, shapes, and styles of the letters are practically identical. The main design considerations were purely functional to better support the future adoption of Twilio Mono amongst coders and developers. To this end, we referenced well-established weight ranges used in coding typefaces, and the color and texture of Fira Code and Plex Monospace were two guiding sources.
There is a robust and extensive set of specific coding ligatures referencing Fira Code; these ligatures have been warmly accepted by developers, which we acknowledge in our final design.
Optimization for Screens
Hinting is a part of the font production process that is often taken for granted. For the purpose of text display on lower resolution screens, hinting designates how pixels are placed on a grid to more clearly render a font, depending on the point size. Digital fonts are drawn with “perfect” Bezier curves, typically at very high resolution, so when set at small sizes, these curves require a bit of help to “move” to the correct location. “It’s not easy, but it’s not complicated,” says Noe Blanco, our go-to hinting expert.
While programs like VTT make hinting a more automated process, the scale of this project made hinting Twilio Sans a unique challenge. Additionally, the level of detail in the different styles, particularly the Display, meant that there were instances where Noe had to rethink her approach and strategically place “deltas”—size-specific bits of hinting code to move particular points—to ensure that significant details were not lost.