Interesting look at how IBM designed its new bespoke typeface


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Okay, I have to confess that I’m a sucker for free fonts, so I’ll give it a try.


Or is IBM Plex the new Comic Sans?

Joking aside, I guess there is no such thing as “over thinking” a type face. It is probably the purest and most anal of the design disciplines.

“This curve here, at the top of the “o”, speaks to me of the particular sense of connection one feels for an stranger one once shared the shelter of an awning with, whilst caught in an unseasonable shower in Darmstadt. I feel that this is an important emotional synergy to articulate, within the typographical landscape of OCP’s internal memoranda.”


There’s something deeply ironic about these designers bravely forging ahead to create “the new Helvetica”… by basing their new bespoke typeface on the logotype designed by Paul Rand in 1956.



I, watching the video, was deeply moved. I will never be able to look at this typeface without thinking of an infinite variety of euphemisms for redundancy and outsourcing. Truly an iconography for our times. But last a hundred years? I doubt either the Indians or the Chinese will find much use for it.


I’m sure that IngSoc will persevere with IBM Plex for all their Newspeak needs; while Eastasia and Eurasia will plough their own typographical furrows.


I’m not a reflexive IBM-hater (or lover) but have to say that font is kinda ugly. The kerning is too monospatial looking, and the bowls on the “o”'s have straight sides instead of being continuous curves. The vertical strokes are disproportionally heavy and have no entasis.

It looks like it was designed to legible at small size, which is not a bad thing, but not elegant either.


This was my sense, too - they were tasked with making a font that looks legible on a phone or inside a VR visor. There’s an art to that, of course, but ultimately, this exercise is really about utilitarianism.


If I was a font-lovin kinda guy, and I’m not, I am not sure I would look to IBM for my newest, awesomest font.


Letters, eh? How do they even work?


I’m a font-lovin’ guy – it’s more or less my job – and I’ve been playing with this font a bit today.

I really respect the attention to detail they’ve put into this font set. It’s really well put together, beautifully refined, and they’ve done a lovely job of not just designing a full set of sans-serif fonts as seen in the video, but a serif font and a monospace font as well, all of which work together as a family.

All that said, the main achievement here is that they achieved their goal: a huge font family that looks and feels like the IBM logo. For that purpose, it’s great. It’ll look really good in their ads and internal communications and products next to the logo. As a utilitarian font outside of IBM? No. It’s too tied to their identity to flourish or replace workhorse typefaces like Helvetica, Frutiger, etc.


Exactly what I was thinking, except in one-syllable words.


Quite frankly, I don’t like it. It looks like a mashup of different styles. I think it looks a mess.


Reading up on the background to Helvetica on Wikipedia, I was tickled by the notion of “Type Foundries”; the juxtaposition of something as small and fiddly as type, with the heavy industry sound of a foundry.


Foundries, because it was at one time actual hot lead used to form letters/words/sentences
used in printing, perhaps?


Back in the days when a “font” meant hundreds of pounds of solid lead type in huge wooden cases, making typefaces was most definitely a ‘heavy industry’! Still small and fiddly, but it was a job for tough men rather than dudes in fedoras with a copy of Fontographer :slight_smile:


Some documentary film recommendations!

Watch the movie “Helvetica” by Gary Hustwit. It’s part of his design trilogy including “Objectified” about product design, and “Urbanized” about civil engineering.

Also watch the documentary “Typeface” by Justine Nagin about the Hamilton Wood Type factory for perspectives on preservation of historical type design.

I also recommend “Art & Copy” by Doug Pray about the people involved in creative advertising and early concepts in social media (pre-internet 2.0).

And finally, “Century of the Self” by Adam Curtis to understand the process of social engineering.


Having done some lead type setting, I can agree that boxes of letters can weight a fair bit, and are a right pain to tidy up if you drop them :wink:


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