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Sponsored / Graphic Design

Sharp Type on expanding its flagship sans into a powerful but practical slab serif

Back in 2014 the MBR team at Pentagram New York decided to use Sharp Type’s Sharp Sans Display No.1, for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Lucas Sharp, the type foundry’s co-founder realised that if implemented in a campaign of its size, the typeface would need altering in order to be used by everyone, from designers to volunteers.

The following year, Lucas’ predictions about the typeface’s limitations became true as Hillary announced her presidential bid and the website began having font issues. Revisiting his initial idea of a re-work, Sharp Type evaluated its display font, its strengths and limitations. The redesign, which sees the typeface adopt a new identity known as Sharp Sans, was then donated to the campaign.

“Seeing it out in the world for a few years while going through a period of growth had led us to regard the design as improvable,” Sharp Type explains. “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.” Originally designed to be “hyper tight” when used, the first iteration of the typeface would often need to be manually tracked out, an impractical, unwieldy design task to conduct under time constraints. It also needed to be used by those unable to optically size a typeface on a regular basis. Despite the designers’ evident confidence in the typeface, Sharp Type felt that its “limitations cannot be separated from its strengths,” and explain how “its highly geometric and tightly packed forms give it striking visual appeal but also limit its utility as an all-purpose font”.

The development of the display font into Sharp Sans began first by raising the x-height, opening up metrics, and lowercase form adaptions followed: “We opened up apertures, experimented with new constructions, and made subtle adjustments of weight and emphasis. Something we loved about the display style ended up finding new ways to rhyme and groove with the new lowercase,” the type foundry explains.

Another year later in 2016, Jennifer Kinnon of Original Champions of Design was introduced as design director of the campaign and enquired about the graphic identity introducing further iterations of the font, a slab serif and stencil version in particular. Another round of reworking ensued and another version, Sharp Slab, was born. Lucas and his team at Sharp Type developed a slab iteration by exaggerating “pinches at the terminals which increased its legibility at smaller sizes and also served to mitigate the increased density of texture that resulted from the addition of the thick slab-serifs,” the foundry explains. Designing Sharp Slab to have a consistent texture with Sharp Sans also added a new flair to its initial versions. “This feature originated as a technical adaption, but became a fundamental aspect of its joie de vivre,” says Sharp Type. “As the welling up of ink is only an issue in the darker weights, the lightest weights of Sharp Slab retain their nonlinearity almost entirely, giving the lighter end of the spectrum a distinctly modern feel.”

The result is a new iteration which joins the Sharp Sans typeface family. Available to be used separately or as a complementary pair, Sharp Sans and Sharp Slab are connected by texture and are both “optimised for a diverse range of optical sizes, ideally about 16pt,” highlights the foundry. “Although the genre is most commonly used correctly as a display font, Sharp Slab also works surprisingly well in caption and even limited text settings, an uncommon characteristic for a geometric slab.”

Sharp Type’s approach to modifying its original design goes against the grain of many other type designers. A one-size-fits-all mentality is not regularly applied to type design. However in a campaign of this size, a fool proof toolset necessary to communicate a tone, or a call to action. The foundry’s concept of designing a typeface for regular ease was not only ideal, but imperative to its success. In turn, Sharp Slab is robust and can perform “excellently in a wide range of optical sizes and applications,here.

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Sharp Type: Sharp Slab

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Sharp Type: Sharp Slab

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Sharp Type: Sharp Slab

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Sharp Type: Sharp Slab

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Sharp Type: Sharp Slab

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Sharp Type: Sharp Slab