Plex; IBM's new font identity model

Saw this news item.

It is not particularly new that a company has commissioned a new font for its own exclusive use in order to enhance its own corporate identity.

But while this may not be a first, making a new font, to be used by the company, but also making it freely available as open source... is something I've seen for the first time here.
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Comments

  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 10
    Sadly this is not the first instance, it's an idiocy that's trending. Here are the other ones I've noted, in chronological order AFAIK: Cooper Hewitt; Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains; Palazzo Chigi; Leeds 2023. I fear there are more...
  • Google had opensourced Roboto and uses it in all is products since Material Design. Earlier, it also had opensourced Droid Sans & Serif and Open Sans and used it widely in their products. 
  • This is not very different for other software companies that opensource typographic software components that they themselves rely on in their core products. Twitter published Bootstrap and Facebook published React, and now they benefit from immense contributions from large user bases. In the end, their own typographic communication benefits from this.

    Ever since the 1980s, type designers and font vendors insisted that fonts are software (it’s in every EULA). It seems that IBM treats IBM Plex the same way as the majority of font vendors: as software.

    IBM opensources a lot of the software they create, for reasons similar to the ones named above. A long time ago, IBM opensourced ICU, a software library for international text processing that now powers many Unicode-based apps and OSes. ICU included ICU Layout, the first opensource typesetting engine that allowed Unicode- and OpenType-based typography, and to this day lives inside the Adobe InDesign World Ready Composer — though it has been largely superseded by HarfBuzz. 

    So it not is a great surprise to me that IBM opensourced Plex. Fonts aren’t IBM business, so they don’t want to maintain this software component as a proprietary piece. They can communicate with users via the Github platform, collect feedback and corrections, and ensure that it doesn’t quickly become technically obsolete. 
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 10
    Branding does not rely on software, it relies on what the software does. What font software does is be visual. Gifting third-parties a way to visually mimic/parody/mock you is bad branding.

    BTW it's interesting here to consider the moral position of the foundry commissioned to make such a typeface. Do you just play along and make the money, or do you tell the client they're paying you to help them shoot themselves in the foot? Maybe the best approach would be to suggest a two-pronged typeface: an exclusive part (to be used for the core branding) plus a libre sibling.
  • SiDanielsSiDaniels Posts: 228
    edited November 10
    The design appears to be an inside job - https://www.fastcodesign.com/90150350/ibms-quest-to-design-the-helvetica-of-the-21st-century - and although it might seem odd to open source a branding font that's likely part of the PR strategy.

    I think it's more interesting that IBM has a practicing type designer as their "executive creative director of brand experience and design" - most people with titles like that don't design fonts. ;-)

    Also I don't think the parallels with Roboto apply as those were UI fonts for an open source operating system before being a brand font. 
  • It looks like Bold Monday did the actual work:
    http://typedrawers.com/discussion/comment/31485/#Comment_31485

    But yes, it's great to also see a type designer in such a high position on the inside.
  • SiDanielsSiDaniels Posts: 228
    Well if the Fast Co article incorrectly credits the design to Abbink it wouldn't be the first time a publication "messed up" re type design credits ... http://www.typophile.com/node/30908 ;-)
  • SiDanielsSiDaniels Posts: 228
    When will FastCo post the correction? ;-)

  • How come they have never thought about having a typeface of their own before? Nobody cared about $1 million they had to pay to Monotype?
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 10
    @Shahab Siavash Helvetica is a succubus (or incubus, if one prefers).
  • @Shahab Siavash Helvetica is a succubus (or incubus, if one prefers).
    Oh! I see. So IBM just woke up? Good for him/her.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,179
    Looks more like the new Verdana (note I, J). And with high-eared binocular g.
    Isn’t that degree of aggressive legibility now rather dated?
    For instance, Apple’s San Francisco is pretty much DIN capitals with Unica lower case.
  • SiDanielsSiDaniels Posts: 228
    edited November 10
    At first glance (not knowing who the designers were) it reminded me a bit of the Audi font which also evokes Verdana... https://boldmonday.com/custom/audi/
  • IBM Plex Serif Text is spectacularly legible on screen. And has ball terminals. I love it. The Sans is okay, but there are so many Sans designs out now that it's hard to be excited. The materials feature mostly the Sans, but I think it's the Serif that is most interesting. 
  • And another thing. It supports I think like 106 languages and yet doesn't have Persian/Arabic. I think a big firm like IBM certainly needs (if not Persian) Arabic at least. SamsungOne, that Nokia font, Intel and Apple fonts,... all of them had Arabic.
  • And another thing. It supports I think like 106 languages and yet doesn't have Persian/Arabic. I think a big firm like IBM certainly needs (if not Persian) Arabic at least. SamsungOne, that Nokia font, Intel and Apple fonts,... all of them had Arabic.
    I’m happy to report that more languages and scripts will be added over time, but since this is a huge family that will take time of course.

    And for anything else that people find missing the fonts are free to modify at will.
  • More info about the IBM Plex project has been added to our website:
    www.boldmonday.com/custom/ibm/




  • And another thing. It supports I think like 106 languages and yet doesn't have Persian/Arabic. I think a big firm like IBM certainly needs (if not Persian) Arabic at least. SamsungOne, that Nokia font, Intel and Apple fonts,... all of them had Arabic.
    I’m happy to report that more languages and scripts will be added over time, but since this is a huge family that will take time of course.

    And for anything else that people find missing the fonts are free to modify at will.
    Wow, Thanks. It is a wonderful news. Cause I really liked the IBM Plex. Curious to see how an Arabic version would be. 
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 131
    edited November 11
    Gifting third-parties a way to visually mimic/parody/mock you is bad branding.
    Oh, I agree. That's why I found this an unusual announcement. Which is also partly why I didn't think of the Google font in connection with this, as that was for interfaces, not documentation and advertising.

    For an example of font exclusivity, first Yu-Gi-Oh cards from the start and after a design revision, Magic: the Gathering cards as well, use a special font for their text to help prevent counterfeiting.

    As for Plex itself: the sans-serif lowercase l is unusual, although I applaud the effort to achieve a Bell Gothic-like level of unambiguity. The general design of the sans-serif is evocative of Letter Gothic.

    After looking at the whole typeface, I have a few more general comments.

    The sans is even more inspired by News Gothic, although Letter Gothic does seem to have contributed a degree of inspiration to both it and the mono. The mono distinguishes zero with a dot, and combines a conventional upper case with a somewhat squarish lower case. The serif is similar to a number of other slab-serifs of a type that has become currently fashionable.

    As for the coverage, it doesn't even have Cyrillic and Greek, which are much more closely related to the Latin script than Arabic.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 11
    And for anything else that people find missing the fonts are free to modify at will.
    And free to use for any budding rival of IBM...
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 12
    Here are the other ones I've noted, in chronological order AFAIK: Cooper Hewitt; Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains; Palazzo Chigi; Leeds 2023. I fear there are more...
    Indeed, I just remembered this one: https://www.dubaifont.com/
    Although to be fair I'm not sure how much it's used for high-visibility branding, versus simply for more pedestrian communication.
  • Marc OxborrowMarc Oxborrow Posts: 87
    edited November 12
    My use of Cooper Hewitt's typeface on a research hospital's annual report has certainly diluted the museum's brand, so I can see why IBM should be concerned about the use of Plex by other organizations. And it's well-known that most start-ups, especially in the technology space, go out of their way to mimic established companies. Selling my IBM stock now.
  • And free to use for any budding rival of IBM...
    Don't worry, I think co-opting IBM's font identity is the last thing any "budding rival of IBM" that wanted to establish any sort of credibility would want to do.

    I will definitely admit that if IBM were in the business of, say, making children's building blocks, or movies, or consumer products of a number of varieties, imitating the number one maker's typography would indeed be a way to win customers almost subconsciously.

    But IBM isn't in that kind of an industry, especially now that it's shed its personal computer line. Instead, they sell their products to large businesses, and they're big-ticket items that are purchased as the result of a very conscious process.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 12
    Visual plagiarism is real, as is type's central role in branding. What outfits like IBM get in return for relying on libre for branding is virtually nothing. It's a blinkered latter-day gimmick, borne of a desperation to discover a new way to brand. And anybody playing along is doing a disservice to the power of type.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 849
    edited November 12
    As if you have to tell an audience of type designers and enthusiasts that "visual plagiarism is real."
    Sometimes you have to point out to people what the money they're making is costing...
    IBM gets a friction-free way of ensuring that every piece of communication, whether produced internally or by vendors, is on-brand. As John points out, no serious competitor is going to touch IBM's typeface. And if some small start-up using Plex wins the Internet lottery and grows overnight to become a threat, they'll rebrand.
    You don't need libre to ensure that.

    Serious competitors plagiarize all the time. Just ask Apple (itself a master of plagiarism).

    Having to rebrand is idiotic.
    I contend that IBM risks virtually nothing, while increasing efficiency, attracting publicity, and engendering goodwill among vendors, open-source proponents, designers, etc.
    Even if that's true (which I don't buy) this comes at the cost of the power of type.
  • Personally, I think this becomes a less absurd move when you think of brands not so much as static, monolithic entities, but as evolving actors that are eager to stay relevant and interact with their audience.

    What Google has been doing with their own typefaces, and later with material design, is to visually own the entire market segment. Open sourcing "brand assets" is part of that proliferation strategy where your distributed presence drowns out competitors on a larger scale. In this context open source is just a modern, supposedly more candid way of trying to assume a market leader role (niche or major segment alike). Thinking back just a few years on early iOS and skeuomorphism, Apple dominated the smart phone market's design DNA by quite willingly escalating their own visual language down the entire ecosystem - it's a stretch, but consider something like their iOS HCI guidelines an open sourced design asset.

    But even for comparatively smaller players this strategy holds up. Concrete Example: A consumer electronics retailer here in Finland uses Ubuntu Sans - the store gets the subliminal benefit of a typeface that evokes a techy look to your clueless average customer, yet at the same time Canonical (the company behind the Ubuntu operating system) is hardly lamenting the fact that it is their typeface that adorns a store which happens to also sells Windows and Macintosh PCs. While their motivation might have been rooted in the context of open source software more than aggressive marketing, it arguably is a branding win for them to have one of their open sourced brand assets being used in the context of consumer electronics that in itself goes beyond their own brand. And I dare same this exact same case works for IBM Plex, without it eating up the integrity of the main brand it originated from. If a tech blog uses IBM Plex, is detrimental or beneficial to the IBM brand?!

    To come back my initial premise of brand relevancy the point I am trying to make is that the fact that we as a design community are discussing an aspect of IBM's branding is also contributing to their brand. Maybe two weeks ago you might have thought of IBM mostly as producing mainframes and working on government contracts, and maybe now you think of the company as somewhat more open to interaction with users and the design community at large. Even with open source that does not care about integrating back community feedback, the basic premise is that an actor gives to the public, free of charge. Charity has since forever and a day been something companies and brands are happy to associate themselves with. And more to the present day being, or even just appearing to be, design-driven is trendy - and so is open sourcing your typeface.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,179
    To return to my previous comment, concerning the design of Plex as a pointedly “readability” and “accessibility” project—more sturdy than stylish—rather than following the usual path of attempting to be all things to all people while offending none (hence staking one’s claim to mass market domination) by espousing smoothly drawn bland neutrality; this works in IBM’s favour when it gives the fonts away. It should generate a lot of good will, if and when organizations concerned with accessibility start using Plex. 

    I don’t know whether this was part of the strategy, but it’s my analysis.

    IBM is a well known brand, (despite being) more business than consumer oriented, and that orientation is supported by the the Plex types, sorry, “font identity models”.
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