The Dynamic Duo Behind Sharp Type


The Dynamic Duo Behind
Sharp Type

We visited the Sharp Type Foundry in Chinatown, NY and talked with Chantra Malee, Co-founder and CEO, and Lucas Sharp, Co-founder and Type Director about their journey from Granada, Spain to the States, their inspiration and the future of typefaces.

Sharp Type's office in NYC
sharp type partners
Partners at Sharp Type

Can you tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and how you came to develop Sharp Type?

Chantra: Well, we both went to Parsons School of Design. That’s where Lucas and I met. I was in the Design and Management Program, where I graduated with a Bachelor of Business and also focused on graphic design and branding. Following graduation, I worked at a boutique branding agency with a focus on the food & hospitality industry. Lucas had been trying to get me to join him in business for a long time, because we have very complementary skill sets. I did eventually in the summer of 2015.

Lucas: I started in Type under Joshua Darden, who’s like a mentor for me. He was my teacher at Parsons, worked for him for two years, and then he kicked me out of the nest. I published my first typeface and was able to just do freelancing and keep developing my library, and connected with the people at the Village. Chester and Tracy published my first real typeface. I had a typeface on my senior thesis project. I put in on my MyFonts.

Ogg specimen
Ogg typeface

What was your first type font?

Lucas: My first one on MyFonts is called Hera Big. It’s this crazy, fat face, it’s cool.

Chantra: We did find it in Granada (Spain), where we were living for three years, being used for a Flamenco Studio.

Lucas: Yes, it’s gratifying. It’s fun when you see it in a place you weren’t expecting to know about, and that’s when it’s used really good that’s super exciting. Then I was just developing my library, publishing on Village and was trying to get Chantra to join because I knew that our skill sets would be super-complementary.

Chantra: Which I thought was probably true, but also a terrible idea to work together. My parents worked together and they still do, and I wasn’t sure if that is what I wanted too. But it ended up coming naturally.

Lucas: We’re definitely navigating through because we’re both very type A and very creative, so we both have a very specific idea of how some things should be. There’s a lot of upside too. We built this thing together. We were able to live in Spain for three years while we were building it, which was very resource-efficient. We were living in Granada, rent was very inexpensive. We were very tapped into the pace of life there and were very productive, very healthy. That was an amazing time. We share victories together like building this thing together has been really rewarding.

sharp type office
Beatrice Display Poster
sharp type office

What made you guys want to move back to New York after Spain?

Chantra: We had never moved to Spain with the intention of staying there forever. We originally were only going to stay there for a year, and then we realized that that was way too soon so we stayed another year. We were like New York City people. We wanted to have a new experience which is why we choose a smaller city, and we learned all the benefits of being in a more tight-knit community again. It made us slow down. We didn’t realize we needed to slow down until we left New York City. Then we got a little bit crazy, so we moved to Madrid which I think was a perfect transitional city before coming back here. We had more and more responsibilities, and we knew we had to come back to the real world. Which was a bit of a shock actually when we first got here.

What projects stand out the most to you while you started Sharp Type? 

Chantra: We got to work on the Dropbox project, which was originally developed by a former partner at Collins, Matt Luckhurst. He led the San Francisco team who created the incredible Design deck for Dropbox that we got to see. It was just Sharp Grotesk everywhere, way more than we even see now in the final product. It was just this perfect amalgam of every sort of creative outlet. There was illustration, there was photography, there were visual effects, and then there was our type mixed with a million colors. We were brought on later in the game by Dropbox. They were just amazing to work with, in the sense that they truly supported a creative community, and it really showed in their work. We not only got to see our work used to its full potential, but they also commissioned us to do international scripts.

Lucas: It was definitely a very awesome reputation of the very kind of stale direction that a lot of tech branding has been going.

Chantra: I think that what was so refreshing about it too, is that I actually just sent something over to It’s Nice That about this. Tech and the Apple brands of the world have really influenced design in this decade. It’s very logical. It’s white backgrounds, it’s perfect layouts. Even the re-brands are taking the idiosyncrasies and the charm of an old established brand and making it cold and sterile. It’s logical. You can re-skin it and reapply it in many instances, but it loses a lot of character along the way.-I think we were really excited to see Dropbox that was really breaking the mold. It’s still tech, it’s still similar. It’s the same industry, but they were really pushing the envelope much further.

Lucas: The concept of it was how far can we push the design space to the absolute extreme? I’m really proud of the black weights where there was all the negative spaces. It’s really about exploring the edges.

ogg the 26 letters
Ogg Typeface
Neo magazine
Ogg in Neo Magazine

How do you come up the fonts and where do you draw inspiration from?

How do you come up the fonts and where do you draw inspiration from?

Lucas: Some of it is based on historical source materials. I think other foundries put a lot more emphasis in that. They have insane libraries and everything is meticulously researched, and they can go through every single letter and show exactly where they got the idea for this and that. I think every good typeface is like an amalgam of invention and hommage. We tend to put more emphasis on the invention side of it. There’s these conventions that you’re subconsciously look for as a reader, designer, consumer type, that dictates associations and feelings. You need to work within these predefined genres. Within that, I think it’s really important to not take anything for granted, to try out crazy stuff, try to invent new genres if you can. Our process is very organic, and we get inspiration from really random places. My favorite font that I’ve drawn recently was based on the book jacket lettering of this obscure book designer in the 1920s.

What are you currently working on?

Chantra: We are a font reseller as well. Currently, we only have two typefaces released that we are representing. We will be adding on new designers in the coming year which we’re really excited about. Speaking of emerging talent, that also leads me to our next project that I’m really excited about, which is the Malee scholarship. The Malee Scholarship is a new initiative funded by Sharp Type that I founded — it supports women of color who want to enter the type industry. We provide financial support and mentorship annually to a single recipient.

Beatrice diagram
Beatrice Superfamily diagram

Do you guys have a favorite font in your library?

Chantra: I love Ogg and I know everyone else does too, it just has so much character. It’s so usable while having so much wonk to it at the same time. I think it’s fantastic. Just getting to see all of the ways that people use it as well is extremely fulfilling and exciting. Sharp Grotesk, Beatrice Display, I think, are my top favorites.

Lucas: I’d say I’m most excited about the stuff I’m working on right now. Something I’ve been really obsessed with recently is Connor Davenport’s Garnet. It’s awesome, like Stephenson Blake American grotesque revivals. The typeface is about the dialogue that was happening trans-atlantically, like the different British and American families on the East Coast referencing each other. I’m most excited for the new talent that we’re going to be representing. We have a lot of releases from new designers slated for next year and I can’t wait.

Sharp type legos
Sharp Type team
Rain typeface
Rain typeface

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