IBM’s bespoke corporate typeface aims to convey ideas of “man and machine”

14 November 2017

IBM has launched its own bespoke, corporate typeface, IBM Plex, which aims to echo Paul Rand’s iconic eight-bar logo in being inspired by the convergence of “man and machine”. Led by executive creative director of brand experience and design, Mike Abbink, an in-house team developed the typeface to replace Helvetica in all the company’s visual communication.

The decision to create the “new Helvetica”, Mike says, grew from wanting to better reflect the company’s personality – though it has the added benefit of saving the company $1million a year in licensing fees to Monotype for Neue Helvetica.

“When I came to IBM it was a big discussion,” Mike says in a film released by the company. “Why does IBM not have a bespoke typeface, why are we still clinging on to Helvetica? The way we speak to people – is that still the right way to express ourselves?

“We should really design a typeface that reflects some of our belief system, and make it relevant to people now. Helvetica is a child of a particular set of modernist thinking, that’s gone today. So what’s next? How do you go about creating a typeface that’s innately IBM.”

IBM Plex, Mike says, better reflects the brand’s history, which he believes is vital to keep alive. “All the history and foundation behind [the company’s design ethos] gets watered down if you’re not rooted in it.”

The design team looked back through the company’s history, where a common theme of “man and machine” was always part of its design thinking. This is evident in Paul Rand’s IBM logo, Mike says, where the contrast of engineered and humanist design can be seen in the three letters – for example in the rounded outer edges and square inner of the ‘B’.

In the typeface, this concept manifested in a balance of “natural, man-made typographical choices with things that felt machined, engineered and rational” he says.

The typeface is free, open-source and currently in beta for development. It will be available in 110 languages, serif and sans serif versions and eight weights.

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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