Sharp Type

Hillary Clinton
and Sharp Sans

Hillary Clinton and Sharp Unity

When we learned that the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign was interested in using our typeface Sharp Sans Display No.1 as the foundation of their identity system, we hoped that this opportunity would make necessary and provide final motivation for something we had wanted to do for a long time. We wanted to finally finish Sharp Sans. The original typeface (now called Sharp Sans Display No.1) had achieved a noteworthy level of prominence. But seeing it out in the world for a few years whilst going through a period of growth had led us to regard the design as improvable. We had drawn a tightly spaced, Lubalinesque geometric sans that looked really good big. Now we wanted to draw a version with utility and versatility, that could work in any situation.

Hillary Clinton Swag 1278 px

Michael Bierut, Jesse Reed, and the MBR team at pentagram had developed an extremely extensive and impressive identity system for the Hillary 2016 campaign utilizing Sharp Sans Extrabold as the primary typographic voice of the brand.

As a typeface meant for display, Sharp Sans’ limitations cannot be separated from its strengths. It’s highly geometric and tightly packed forms give it striking visual appeal but also limit its utility as an all-purpose font. It needs to be sufficiently big. You can always manually track it out, but the point was that it was designed to be hyper-tight.

Hillary Clinton Stronger Together Signage
Sharp Stencil Hillary Clinton Alphabet
Hillary Clinton Sharp Slab Bus Image 2
Sharp Stencil Alphabet
Sharp Unity Red Alphabet
Sharp Slab All the people I represent Corrected
Sharp Stencil They Are Polarizing Our Economy Corrected


One very important thing to understand about the Avant Garde typeface is that it was not conceived as a digital typeface destined for mass distribution. Its original design was singularly uppercase, and strictly for the context of Avant Garde magazine. Its innovation was its system of interlocking ligatures, its tight-as-humanly-legible spacing, and its relentlessly geometric design (the latter of the two being the pinnacle nugget of inspiration in the conception of Sharp Sans Display).

Avant-garde example

Digital editions of ITC Avant Garde Gothic are readily available, but ironically it is two of its original creators who would advise most enthusiastically against its use. Tony DiSpigna once said, “The first time Avant Garde was used was one of the few times it was used correctly. It has become the most abused typeface in the world.” Ed Benguiat has stated that, “The only place Avant Garde looks good is in the words AVANT GARDE.” In our opinion, the beautiful instances that made the Avant Garde magazine lettering so compelling were never properly and artfully translated into a quality digital typeface.

Sharp Sans Evolution

Unfortunately, optical sizing is not something that every user of type tends to understand, and a straightforward sans-serif typeface is assumed by most to be something that works for whatever size or situation you need it to. This is exactly what we were thinking about when we began to digest the implications of using Sharp Sans Extrabold as the main typeface for a major presidential campaign. Michael Bierut has the requisite understanding of typography to use Sharp Sans in such a manner as to achieve a visual umami, but the average professional or volunteer organizer in the Hillary campaign designing email templates or leaflets for canvassers to distribute isn’t always going to remember to track it out, or follow a style guide that states it needs to be replaced with a text font at anything below 18pt. It occurred to us that a serious presidential campaign needs a typeface that can work in any situation.

Hillary Clinton Diagram Sharp Sans Sai Sai Corrected

The first and most obvious step was raising the x-height and opening up the metrics (tracking it out). Thorough adjustment to the lowercase forms ensued. We opened up apertures, experimented with new constructions, and made subtle adjustments to weight and emphasis. Some things we loved about the display style ended up finding new ways to rhyme and groove with the new lowercase.

Hillary Clinton Sharp Sans RYT Diagram

The lowercase “a” was given a new double story construction in the “everything” version due to legibility issues with the classic futura “a” at small sizes. This new “a” is the default form in the recently available retail version of Sharp Sans, but when it came to the official Hillary Clinton edition, titled Sharp Unity, both Bierut and Jennifer Kinon, who later took over as design director of the campaign, insisted on the importance of the original futura style “a”. It took us a little while to come around but we actually came to really like it for their purposes. Its futura underpinnings are very in vogue right now, and it conjures a friendly but slick retro feel that works very well for her brand.

Hillary Clinton Sharp Sans Diagram lowercase a

We must state explicitly here that Kinon and her team really took the identity to the next level with consistently flawless execution of campaign materials. The Democratic National Convention was a particularly momentous occasion and an amazing example of their tireless efforts.

Democratic DNC Convention Obama

We must state explicitly here that Kinon and her team really took the identity to the next level with consistently flawless execution of campaign materials. The Democratic National Convention was a particularly momentous occasion and an amazing example of their tireless efforts.

Bike New York Sharp Sans Display No 1 collage

A big theme in our work recently has been the seeking of optimal letter width relationships in uppercases. we talk a lot about this in the write-up we did on our typeface Virgo, a slab serif with an overall geometric skeleton. The word-shape of the new Sharp Sans uppercase has a much more even interval of rhythm than its display predecessor.

Hillary Clinton Sharp Sans Diagram Monospacing ABCD

The methodology behind this was to find the sweet spot in between the two extremes of monospacing and a hypothetical extreme of proportional/varied letter widths. The features unique to monolinear capital letters that makes this system of letter width scrutiny so important, we am convinced, are the lack of ascenders and descenders, and of course the monolinearity. The above diagram is meant to show each letters relationship in width to the uppercase “H“. The degree to which each letterform inhabits or exceeds this space is unique to the construction of that particular letter. we did not want to make them all optically appear the same width. we find that our eye enjoys an exaggerated overshoot to the bowls, and a reduction of width in forms that take up less optical weight than those of the flat stems. This reduction is evident in the forms like the E, F, I, L, and Z. Other letters like the “A” and “V” compensate by taking up more ground with less form. In letters made up of higher amounts of separate strokes like the “M” and “W”, density of form gets too dark and they must exceed the confines of the H-width substantially. The “I” and “J” are the other far outliers to the median weight range on the opposite extreme, being only a single stroke and therefore take up far less space.

Hillary Clinton Sharp Sans Diagram Yesterday True Obliques

The italic lowercase was completely redrawn as well. While the lowercase of Sharp Sans Display’s italics make for sexy type specimens, we think they are a bit edgy and unique to connect with the same range of moods as the roman display, and as a result have rarely been used. For the new Sharp Sans we opted for a more straightforward and applicable italic design.

Hillary Clinton Sharp Sans Diagram Numerals

Many other useful updates can be found under the hood as well. The quotations, apostrophe, ampersand, and the numerals were all drawn from scratch and give the typeface a friendlier and more approachable voice.

We are very proud to see our work on the world stage, and are looking forward to the election in November.

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