Process: Ghost

About Ghost

Ghost is a new normal: a resurrection of the Humanist sans that works backwards from the genre’s origin in Roman inscriptional lettering towards a new ordinary. Here, normalcy is not a reduction, nor a simple description, but rather a set of complex, deeply nuanced design decisions. In form, in spirit, and in name, Ghost is a playful yet reverent proposition for a new standard, and a winking acknowledgement that type design is a living, breathing art form.

Mixed weights

Buruburu Death Echo Hell Ghosts Myling Poltergeist Spectre Woman in White Vengeful Spirits Ectoplasm

Ghost Construction

Humanist sans-serifs are arguably best understood by the ways in which they uniquely play to and against the genre’s technical parameters. All “humanism” in type has its rightful basis in the hand of the scribe through the discipline of writing with the stroke translation of a broad nib pen or brush. So where does a Humanist sans fit into this picture in terms of actual utility? This question was the basis of designer Lucas Sharp’s exploration of the genre. “I have often pondered the ‘why’ when reading text set in these faces, and found compelling contemporary examples of the genre to be few and far between. Inevitably, I wish that I was just reading a decent serif text face.”

The core issue according to Sharp is that, within the typographic community, the Humanist sans has become something of a “floating signifier” – a descriptor wherein everybody sees different things. Consequently, this has resulted in a genre exhausted of meaning. Most Humanist sans lack both a calligraphic basis and the cleanliness of rational construction, choosing to feign “humanism” by simply avoiding right angles and circular bowls instead of establishing a clear connection to the human hand. Using a framework pioneered by Edward Johnston with his eponymous sans, Ghost takes a different approach.

Johnston’s great contribution with this face is the fabricated representation of calligraphic form within a paradigm of geometry. This naturally fits, given the distinctly geometric framework that underpins the proportions of monumental Roman capitals.
Rubbings from Trajan’s Column, Johnston Sans (N,O), & Gill Sans (E,S)

Instead of adopting the looseness and organic qualities of the actual strokes common to the contemporary Humanist sans, Ghost, too, conceives of these calligraphic motifs as mechanically constructed expressions. Like Johnston Sans, Ghost is connected to the human hand not by imitation but by representation.


A key moment of Ghost’s construction is the characteristic form of the curvilinear strokes terminating on a vertical sheer. This ingeniously simple adaptation of the monumental Roman capital form into the universe of the sans serif was Sharp’s initial inspiration for exploring this genre in the first place. “When I first internalized that connection, something clicked.” Subtle nods to the monumental Roman capitals are found throughout the uppercase, synthesizing their essence into this newer aesthetic paradigm.


With Ghost, Sharp took this methodology and instead applied it to Grotesk construction and a bouma of tight-but-not-touching texture. The subtle stroke modulation (aka contrast) found in many examples of early 20th century grotesks like Morris Fuller Benton’s Franklin Gothic reinforces Ghost’s connection to the Roman monumental style; the more oval bowl shapes and uniform letter width proportions play against it.

(A.) Drawings of Roger Excoffon’s Antique Olive. (B.) Hermann Zapf’s draft of Optima. (C.) Sega Dreamcast logo, exemplar of technology branding from the pre-millenium era. (D.) Roger Excoffon examining drafts of Chambord typeface. (E.) Study & notes for Johnston Sans.

An intriguing combination of Humanist sans criterions like Johnston’s, but also mid-century gems like Friz Quadrata, Antique Olive, and especially Hermann Zapf’s Optima, underscore Sharp’s personal yet unprecious approach here. To those of a certain generation whose idea of “normalcy” was shaped between the late 80’s through the 00’s, these faces represent a potent set of cultural touchstones. In exploring these aesthetics and their associations, Ghost became a meditation on nostalgia–a spectral recollection that comes with the implicit acknowledgement that one can never really go back. The name “Ghost” is an admission of this experience: that normalcy has always been informed by the past.

An Idealized Normal

The idea of normalcy lives clearly in the cultural imagination – a “normal person”, a “normal day” – and this idea is rooted in a sense of familiarity, repetition, and homeostasis. Normalcy becomes aspirational, and its typographic manifesto is written in Ghost.


Normalcy’s cultural relevance might best be understood by the definitively 21st century phenomenon known as normcore. The term has become synonymous with a fashion sensibility that is oddly conspicuous in its plainness; this corresponds with its original intended meaning, which is paradoxically broader and more specific. Writer and strategist Emily Segal, who is credited with introducing the term into the cultural lexicon, has said, “[Normcore is] an approach to the world that is about adaptability and being able to go into a lot of different communities at once.” It has become a vehicle for understanding how information travels through the internet and arguably boils down to a matter of standardized aesthetics, aka “normalcy”.

“Don’t give in to nostalgia” is Cinema Paradiso’s advice to the artist. The message here turns self-criticism and past reflection into a conduit for creativity. It indicates a balancing act. Ghost is a tension of tenses - past, present, and future. There’s the inescapable reference to Humanist sans icons of the past, an observational engagement with the present typographic landscape, and our steady gaze towards the future. If we normalize this tension, we create space for a new standard.

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