IBM’s quest to design the Helvetica of the 21st century; the company’s first typeface, ‘IBM Plex,’ is free for anyone to use

“IBM is no stranger to icons. Over the years, it’s created quite a few: the mainframe computer, the ThinkPad laptop, the Selectric typewriter, the Eye-Bee-M logo,” Diana Budds reports for Co.Design. “The company hopes its new bespoke typeface IBM Plex, which launched in beta this week (though the official version won’t be released until early 2018), could become just as iconic–a kind of Helvetica for this century.”

““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?” Mike Abbink, the typeface’s designer and IBM’s executive creative director of brand experience and design, says in a video explainer,” Budds reports. “‘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.'”

“The Plex family includes a sans serif, serif, and monospace versions,” Budds reports. “The designers also created a rigorous style guide that’s akin to a digital standards manual and includes a type scale, which plays into responsive displays; eight different weights (a nod to how the IBM logo is composed of eight horizontally stacked bars); and usage guidelines, which dive into everything from information hierarchies to color and ragging. All together, it’s easy to see Plex as a gentler, friendlier, more casual Helvetica for a broad range of uses both digital and print-based.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: IBM says, “IBM Plex is open source, and should be used by IBMers for all typographical situations, replacing Helvetica Neue, whenever possible.”

IBM has made IBM Plex available for anyone to download and use for free. More info and download link here.


  1. “We should really design a typeface that really reflects our belief system and make it relevant to people now.”

    There are times when I think Jony Ive gets a bit too up himself, but these guys have gone much further.

    It’s a decent font and has many aspects that I like, but claiming that a font represents the belief system of a large corporation is borderline La-La land talk.

    1. The difference is that you don’t have to pay for these fonts and they’re open-source, so anybody can use them on any desktop operating system without having to pay for them or having to get a new computer because your current one is too slow after installing the new software (fonts in this case).

    2. I am sometimes embarrassed to call myself a designer when I come across these guys Neville Brady was the epitome when at art school, clearly I was never self fixated enough to ever reach the heights of these guys. Pretentious doesn’t do it justice. I am sure this will be a good font family, certainly a welcome addition and I will take advantage of it no doubt, but if this guy seriously thinks this will speak to the modern masses to a greater degree than Helvetica even given away free, then he has clearly been on the magic mushrooms. Worse still if he is thinking his Plex conversations will be more current than his Helvetica ones then all I can say is, get medical help ASAP, you are hearing voices my friend… but no sane person is in the room that’s for sure.

    3. Obvious you are not versed in this industry.

      The quote you pasted from the story is called a mission statement and all serious design projects emanate from the statement.

      Yeah, it sounds a bit artsy fartsy and easy to mock, but it is a real GOAL.

      Whether it was achieved in this particular case is hard to say without more information …

      1. I am all too familiar with mission statements. When I stopped working for a major broadcaster and started freelancing about thirty years ago, one of the easiest ways to make money was to work on corporate videos and in those days it seemed like every company was keen to commission a polished video explaining it’s mission statement.

        Once you’ve worked on a few of them, you start realising that whichever company it is, the mission statement os virtually identical to everybody else’s and could have been generated from a template.

        They all say “We want to put our customers first by going the extra mile. We will stop at nothing in delivering the very best experience in the {… insert name of sector … } business. We will innovate on an unprecedented scale and to build on the solid foundations that we have built over the last { … insert age … } years. We want everybody to regard { … insert name … } as the first choice for all of their future needs.”

        Many a boring hour has had the tedium relieved by playing buzzword bingo during these events. The winner is the first person to check off a complete set of maybe a dozen pre-chosen buzzwords ( Pro tip – If you are ever playing this game, make sure that one of the things you choose for you card is a PowerPoint slide of a handshake. There has never ever been a business PowerPoint presentation without that clip-art image appearing somewhere ).

        One of the most lavish corporate videos I ever worked on was for a well known computer company ( not Apple or Microsoft ). They had decided to launch a revolutionary new way to manage change and the creatives had decided to call the process “Delta Wave”. That name gave them an excuse to shoot loads of exciting footage of ocean going racing yachts to use as a background and executives were interviewed in glamorous locations around the world. The basic principle was that in future when changes were being proposed, the objectives would be defined, the way of achieving those objectives would be planned and budgeted. The change would be instigated and monitored. The results would be measured and compared to the objective and finally all concerned would be asked to suggest what could have been done better.

        I didn’t have any problems with any of those ideas, but it all went very quiet when I said “That sounds like a great way to manage progress, but just what were you doing before if this is a new way for your company?”

        Since those days I’ve become very cynical about inane corporate bullshit and am delighted that I no longer need to work on that type of production any more.

  2. Another area that computers and desktop publishing has just revolutionized. People used to actually buy expensive fonts for print advertising. There used to be actual sales people that sold font collections. Fonts are not free to create they actually take hundreds of hours and a lot of thought and creativity to create but so many people give them away or charge just a few bucks its actually quite remarkable.

      1. “Zapf Dingbats” is a classic picture font without letters, numbers and glyph characters. Sure you know that, so I suspect sarcasm … 🎶➰🎵🔲🔺🔻🚫⚜♨️

    1. For about twenty years prior to 2002, for it’s advertising material and handbooks, Apple used to use a slightly condensed ( 80% ) version of ITC Garamond, which somewhat predictably was named Apple Garamond. It was a font with serifs.

      They subsequently switched to Apple Myriad, which is a sans serif font.

      1. I did not know Apple used off the shelf ITC Garamond (Roman weight) and directed its designers to adjust horizontal scaling at 80% as well as attention to kerning pairs.

        Certainly, Apple at the time used it for all corporate identity design beyond advertising and handbooks …

        1. I’m not sure that it was condensed to 80% automatically. I have a vague feeling that Apple’s condensed version of Garamond was hand optimised, but I’m not certain about that. It certainly sounds like the sort of thing they would have done.

        2. Certainly, either one of us does not know for sure.

          But I suspect the font came off the ITC shelf right out of the box and was customized by Apple or their vendor. Typical in a large company to put a unique stamp on corporate typography.

          You can achieve 80% scaling a number of ways adjusting a COMBINATION of horizontal scaling, tracking, kerning, word spacing and other controls.

          The coup de grâce for type professionals is adjusting the “kerning pairs” spacing with character A, sitting next to character W, is the classic example. They need to be forced together and permanently invade each other’s turf in order to remove the standard gaps of a stock font.

          Any typography pro worth his salt knows, as I used to teach my peeps: a font out of the box is like a fine suit off the rack that never met a tailor … 👔

  3. Helvetica is a perfect font. It doesn’t need replacing. People just get bored. Also, we already have a free alternative called Arial. Bless this guy’s deluded heart.

    1. Absolutely correct. For decades and to this day legibility studies indicated serif fonts are much easier to read than san serif fonts.

      Back when Apple began as a company, they knew (above) and embraced a serif font for corporate identity.

      Recall it looked like a typeface from the Garamond font family in Roman weight. I suspect it may have been a custom hybrid, typical for a large company not buying common stock out of a box.

      Same as Apple abandoned optimum legibility with the arrival of typeface San Fransisco is simply a parallel continuation example of abandoning legibility with iOS7 icons.

      Both departures unfortunate and Apple should do better. Not what’s modern and fashionable … oh, wait …

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