IBM Just Unveiled Its Own Bespoke Typeface

For the first time, technology giant IBM has created its own custom-designed typeface, IBM Plex. HowStuffWorks takes a look.
Technology giant IBM has created IBM Plex, its own custom-made typeface.
Screen grab from IBM website by HowStuffWorks.

Back in 1961, technology giant IBM launched an innovative electric typewriter called the Selectric, which was incredibly cool for its time, and not just because it had a sleek, boxy curvilinear design that was available in a variety of colors. Inside, the Selectric replaced the traditional mechanical type bars and movable cartridges with a golf ball-shaped element that spun to imprint various letters and characters on paper. And the ball was replaceable, which enabled typists to easily change typefaces by pulling it out and popping in a different one.

That was the start of an age in which ordinary people could experiment with expressing themselves through typefaces, something we now take for granted thanks to personal computers. Today, Microsoft Word 2016 offers the choice of nearly 190, according to one user who laboriously transcribed this list from the drop-down box.


Oddly, though, IBM itself stuck for years to using a commonplace typeface called Helvetica Neue, instead of creating a custom-designed typeface of the sort that companies — from GE to Apple to Google — often use these days as part of their branding. (Here's a recent article from marketing and advertising industry publication Campaign US on the bespoke typeface phenomenon.)

But now, IBM is joining the corporate bespoke typeface club as well. After a two-year development process involving a team of designers, IBM recently unveiled its new corporate typeface, IBM Plex, which it says "should be used by IBMers for all typographical situations" from here on out. Moreover, IBM is making the typeface available as open-source, so that font fanciers everywhere can download it.

Already, IBM Plex has garnered a positive review from news website Quartz, which called it "a graceful hybrid of blocky, engineered shapes with natural gestures from handwriting." But besides being distinctively stylish, Co.Design reports that IBM Plex is designed to be legible and easily readable in long, dense digital documents, even on a small mobile phone screen.

From IBM, here's a video on the creation of IBM Plex and the thinking behind it.