IBM decided to replace Helvetica with a new corporate typeface called IBM Plex.
IBM Plex is IBM’s first ever “bespoke” font which is designed to be used in almost every platform that letters show presence in the company’s visual communication – its websites, Powerpoint presentations, marketing initiatives, apps and so on.
Mike Abbink, the typeface’s designer and IBM’s executive creative director of brand experience and design shared:
When I came to IBM, it was a big discussion: Why does IBM not have a bespoke typeface? Why are we still clinging on to Helvetica?
Led by Abbink, the design team searched the history of the company based upon the first design-related business strategies, taken in the postwar years.
Getting inspired by the idea behind the famous eight-bar logo, created by American art director and graphic designer Paul Rand, the team reflected the relationship between man and machine on IBM Plex.
Plex is about finding the quirkiness between manmade things and engineered moments and bringing that into letterforms,
The way we speak to people and the conversations we need to have and we’d like to have, is that still the right way to express ourselves?
We should really design a typeface that really reflects our belief system and make it relevant to people now. Helvetica is a child of a particular sect of modernist thinking that’s gone today.
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As it is explained, Plex has been created to bring an international and modern look to IBM’s persona. It’s aimed to be legible in long and dense text – for instance, technical documents, digital manuals etc.- as well as on small screens.
The new modern typeface will be available in 110 languages such as Hebrew, Greek, Cyrillic, Chinese, Hindi, and Thai. It’s regular font comes in serif, sans serif, and monospace versions.
Todd Simmons, IBM’s VP of brand experience and design and a former creative director at Wolff Olins, mentioned in an interview:
We’re on the front lines of new technologies that are going to transform the way we do things. That comes with a responsibility to make those things accessible and understood. If you translate that way back to the typeface, IBM Plex is friendlier than Helvetica.
It’s got much more whimsy. It’s easier to read. Helvetica was designed to be neutral. IBM is not a neutral company; it’s an opinionated company.
According to Abbink, sharing a well-designed font with the world is an expression of IBM’s commitment to good design and if any brand is going to stand behind ‘design’ as a cultural posture, then it’s their responsibility to make sure the open-source typefaces they’re sharing are good.
This is why the design team have worked on the new typeface for 2 years, searching the history of the company and working closely with successful names to reveal the new typeface which has a better, international look; and the company has made IBM Plex free to download as a .Zip file by anyone as well.
This year, IBM got attention with a huge coverage of a building at the SxSW technology festival. The typeface has not been named yet and IBM followers were amazed with the new version of the company’s character.
Plex at this year’s SxSW technology festival.
While IBM Plex is still an ongoing project, the company is confident that the new typeface will be the new Helvetica soon.