Sharp Type

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Barbarella Godfather
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Rashomon Spartacus
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Superman VanVelzen
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Footloose Ugo Mozie
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Cleopatra Ercandize
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McLintock Yesterday
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Pinocchio Quo Vadis

About Sharp Sans

Originally conceived for the 2016 Presidential bid by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sharp Sans is designed to look great in any context. Beneath the sleek and minimalist forms of our flagship geometric sans serif, lie a magnitude of fastidious design and consideration. Sharp Sans is understated in its perfectionism, and warm in its neutrality. Designed for the ultimate utility, Sharp Sans is our use-it-for-everything font.

Sharp Sans Features

  • Alternate Lowercase 'a'
  • Superscript / Subscript
  • Case Sensitive
  • Automatic Fractions

Alternate Lowercase 'a'

Superscript / Subscript

Case Sensitive

Automatic Fractions

Sharp Sans Construction

In 2015, Michael Bierut and his Pentagram team chose Sharp Sans Display No.1 as the main typeface for the Hillary 2016 presidential campaign identity. However, as the project progressed, it became apparent that such a monumental project required a sturdier, more utilitarian typeface. The new Sharp Sans is completely redrawn and shaped by the rigorous typographic demands of modern visual communication.

Setting the new Sharp Sans apart from its predecessors are a larger x-height and more open counters, lending to the type's improved utility in an extended text setting, while still functioning as a headline face. This versatility was not the original primary objective of the two Sharp Sans Display typeface families. We call the new Sharp Sans our use-it-for-everything font. While we stand by that statement, the originals do make for a compelling display counterpart.

The platonic form of Sharp Sans is the optically perfect, monolinear circle. Everyone has a slightly different visual preference for what they perceive the ‘perfect’ circle to be, and we noticed that ours has evolved over time. In general, most people prefer circles to be slightly bowed outward, horizontally, with an ever so slight addition of weight into the vertical tangents.

The first step was to raise the x-height and open up the metrics. We opened up apertures, experimented with new constructions, and made subtle adjustments to weight and emphasis.

Some things we loved about the old display style ended up finding ways to rhyme and groove with the new lowercase. The Roman lowercase a was given a double story construction in the new ‘everything’ version due to legibility issues with the classic ‘Futura’ when set at small sizes.

Importantly, the signature slab-like true-italics of Sharp Sans Display No.1 were replaced with a corrected oblique lowercase that is more traditional for the genre and more useful for designers.

The skeletal construction of the Sharp Sans Display uppercases make for a subtle but exciting tension in display settings. The Bike NY campaign is a particularly good example of this. Its varied system of uppercase letter widths also relate well to its small lowercase. For something that needs to work for everything however, (smaller all-capital settings included) this typeface would not be appropriate.

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

New Uppercase

The features unique to monolinear capital letters that makes this system of letter width scrutiny so important are the lack of ascenders and descenders, the nature of monolinear typography, and the elegant simplicity of the Latin alphabet. The diagram below is meant to show each letter’s relationship in width to the uppercase H, whose width is determined by the platonic form of all geometric typography: the optically perfect circle.

The degree to which each letterform inhabits or exceeds this space is unique to the construction of that particular letter. However, they are not intended to optically appear as all the same width. We reduced the width of forms whose sides take up less optical weight than those with 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 their dense, acute joins by taking up more ground with less form. In letters made up of higher amounts of 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 this median-width range on the opposite extreme, being only a single stroke and therefore taking up far less space.

Lowercase and 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 to give the typeface a friendlier and more approachable voice.

The Sharp Sans series is divided into three parts. While most superfamilies are organized by a single differentiating principal such as optical size (text, display, etc.) or style (serif, sans, slab, etc.) the Sharp Sans series contains elements of both. There is a stylistic differentiation between the two display cuts of the family, Sharp Sans Display No.1 & No.2, and a nuanced optical size relationship between the display cuts and the newest edition, simply called Sharp Sans.
The new Sharp Sans is a sans serif workhorse that can adapt to any situation gracefully. Although the new naming convention of the Sharp Sans series would suggest a hierarchy of optical size (Sharp Sans and Sharp Sans Display No.1 & 2), their relationship is more complex than the traditional text and display relationship. Sharp Sans is not a text face; it is a one-size-fits-all, use-it-for-everything face. While the original Display versions complement the new Sharp Sans beautifully when used in tandem, the choice to use one or the other at an appropriately large point size is a stylistic decision as well as a practical one. Sharp Sans Display is edgy and provocative, while the new Sharp Sans finds grace and utility in subtle perfectionism. 

Sharp Sans designed by Lucas Sharp in 2016.

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