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Inspired in equal parts by 19th-century woodtype and Adrian Frutiger’s Swiss styling, Sharp Type Co’s latest neo-grotesk font superfamily offers a sweeping array of styles and weights for vast design flexibility.
Sharp Grotesk’s origins date back to 2010, when typeface designer and digital foundry head Lucas Sharp was still a draftsman at Darden Studio. There, Sharp studied Adrian Frutiger’s process and work while honing his own style. “I don’t think that there is a single designer that the san serif genre of my work is influenced by more than Frutiger’s,” Sharp says.
Officially released in 2016 with the help of Wei Huang, Greg Gazdowicz, Chantra Malee and Octavio Pardo, Sharp Grotesk also drew influence from the works collected by Rob Roy Kelly in “American Wood Type: 1828-1900.”
“It was me exploring the aesthetics of wood type and trying to make something more utilitarian out of it, using the design-rationale and technical approach Frutiger laid out in Univers,” Sharp says.
Echoing Frutiger’s highly technical design process, Sharp approached the typeface mathematically. What began as lettering for a hand-drawn poster expanded to a font superfamily, comprised of 21 numbered widths—five through 25—and seven weights, for optimal flexibility. Its numeric font naming system facilitates the endless possibilities for utilizing Sharp Grotesk’s 249 different styles. Users might start with the standard 20 width for basic utility, or experiment more dramatically with the vast 25s, ultra-narrow 05s, razorlike Thins and intense Blacks.
“It’s a hallmark of my work to be stupidly complete,” Sharp says. “I wanted the designer to be able to choose between very minute differences in width for the purposes of creating the perfect layout.”
It also includes ink traps—an unusual feature for a woodtype-inspired face—which help optimize the different optical sizes for better definition on-screen, especially in its extremes.
Sharp Grotesk hasn’t yet been released as a variable font, but Sharp says it’s in the works. That said, “I’m happy we released it at is because it will take so long for [variable font formats] to see wide adoption,” he adds.
Although the typeface undeniably pays homage to Frutiger’s process, Sharp emphasizes that his work is not a direct evolution of the source material. Instead, it’s an amalgam of his studies in a particular genre.
“Many foundries espouse a lot of the historical connection and inspirations and wax poetic about the lineage,” he says. “We put less emphasis on that, because, although we fully recognize that we stand on the shoulders of giants, we feel that too much history and convention can restrict the creative process. I make it a point not to look at direct source material when working on something like a grotesk or a geometric sans in order to keep the process organic.”
Sharp Grotesk’s first high-profile appearance is with La Reppublica, an Italian newspaper featuring a new redesign and art direction by renowned editorial designer Francesco Franchi. Franchi selected Sharp’s font family for use as the key display fonts in La Reppublica’s new magazine Robinson.
In the future, Sharp hopes designers will leverage pharp Grotesk Print or digital that require fitting large amounts of text into a pre-confined space—poster series, menu designs, catalogs, newspapers. “The middle widths of Sharp Grotesk could replace Helvetica if you are tired of the same old boring stuff, and the extremes of width and weight offer a wide range of voices,” Sharp says. “I do hope that designers use the crazy range of widths to do some sweet posters.”
Learn more about Sharp Grotesk and more typefaces from Sharp Type Co at sharptype.co.