Plex; IBM's new font identity model

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  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,621
    edited April 2019
    Ergo, they stopped paying for type.
    Poetic justice: they were Bold Monday's customer...
  • edited April 2019
    Ergo, they stopped paying for type.
    Poetic justice: they were Bold Monday's customer...
    Correct, for about five years, Bold Monday received license fees from iA and it brought their typeface Nitto to fame, because suddenly, after seeing it in iA Writer, everyone wanted to use it.
    I can’t speak for Reichenstein, but I know him a little and I doubt that saving license fees were the primary motivation behind the switch to a forked version of Plex. Fact is, iA likes to tinker and to improve the user experience – their entire business is built around experience design. I’m confident the idea of being able to have more control over their typeface was one of the main deciding factors.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,532
    edited April 2019
    Vignelli’s “You only need a few typefaces” dictum cannot be separated from the reductive minimalism of his overall design ethos/style. Much as I admire his work, I think the world would be a terribly dull place if everybody followed this minimalist path. 
    Here’s a chapter-opening spread from a book he designed in 1974. The top columns are Times Roman, the text under the picture Times Roman Italic. There are no paragraph indents or paragraph leading, and the rag is odd, like blank verse. He also makes it interesting by putting the title in the “wrong” place.

  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,854
    I’m confident the idea of being able to have more control over their typeface was one of the main deciding factors.
    I'm pretty sure internationalisation is too. Plex is being extended to lots of different writing systems and increased character coverage, so provides a company like iA Writer with a way to provide a typographically consistent design experience while supporting a greater range of languages.

  • Hrant H. Papazian said:
    Ergo, they stopped paying for type.
    Poetic justice: they were Bold Monday's customer...
    I'm assuming there's some backstory behind this remark (the 'poetic justice' part) that I'm not familiar with...
  • Simply that Bold Monday was also in charge of Plex.
  • Ah. OK.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 596
    edited April 2019
    Ah well, this shows that Bold Monday makes good typefaces, so the story could drum up new business for them.

    I was just going through some old issues of U&lc, now that ITC has graciously made them available free online. I noticed an advertisement by Compugraphics that said:

    "It's a fact of life that typeface names and designs change. Helvetica, Claro, Megsaron and now, Triumvirate. Design adaptations and improvements have occurred in the typographic field since its beginnings." (U&lc, volume 8, issue 1, page 45.)

    So CG Triumvirate was a revised and improved form of Helvetica, similar to Helvetica Neue and Helvetica Now, and not simply a knockoff given a different name because trademarks, unlike typeface designs, had legal protection, as I had previously thought! One learns something new every day!

    However, their advertisements also mentioned that you could get most of the ITC typefaces, in their genuine officially-licensed forms, from Compugraphics for their typesetting machines. So it seems that they only resorted to font piracy when the alternative was doing without. And I don't really blame them too much. Why not?

    People choosing to use a phototypesetter instead of, say, a Monotype caster, stood to save a lot of money in print production and capital costs. But if they didn't have the typefaces their customers insisted on in that case, then the photypesetter would not be an option.

    A typesetting machine is a device to mediate part of the process of putting typefaces on paper, and so it's only as good as the selection of typefaces to which it provides access. Knowing this, instead of licensing their designs and trademarks on reasonable terms, some companies sought to force people to buy more expensive or inferior typesetting equipment through typeface exclusivity.

    Of course, this is the sort of socialism that would force Microsoft to permit Apple to support the complete Windows API in OS/X, so that software for Windows machines would run on a Macintosh - and similarly for any other computer maker. And to force Intel to allow IBM, Motorola, and everyone else who makes microprocessors, to make microprocessors able to run x86 software - so that computers and the microprocessors compete in a commodity market, benefiting the interests of consumers.

    Well, their short-term interests, anyways, as some might argue.
  • Ah well, this shows that Bold Monday makes good typefaces, so the story could drum up new business for them.
    Not to mention they surely got paid a ton for Plex.
    But the material windfall for one studio does little for the craft's long-term health.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,857
    ...I noticed an advertisement by Compugraphics that said:

    "It's a fact of life that typeface names and designs change. Helvetica, Claro, Megsaron and now, Triumvirate. Design adaptations and improvements have occurred in the typographic field since its beginnings." (U&lc, volume 8, issue 1, page 45.)

    So CG Triumvirate was a revised and improved form of Helvetica, similar to Helvetica Neue and Helvetica Now, and not simply a knockoff given a different name because trademarks, unlike typeface designs, had legal protection, as I had previously thought! One learns something new every day!

    However, their advertisements also mentioned that you could get most of the ITC typefaces, in their genuine officially-licensed forms, from Compugraphics for their typesetting machines. So it seems that they only resorted to font piracy when the alternative was doing without. And I don't really blame them too much. Why not?
    Just because Compugraphic promoted it as an adapted and improved version doesn’t mean it was true. That’s marketing for you! (I am not denying it either, just saying that I would totally expect them to say something like that whether it was true or not. I haven’t studied Triumvirate vs Helvetica enough to have an opinion.)

    As for ITC, they had a different business. Linotype, Monotype, Compugraphic, they were all device manufacturers who made fonts to go with their devices. But ITC was an independent foundry for devices: they licensed their fonts to other vendors to put on those devices, and didn’t really make the fonts (in their final forms for phototypesetting) themselves.

    So, when the original typeface was from ITC, any device vendor could get it. And when it was from a competing vendor, they would make competing designs of some degree of equivalence or another.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 596
    edited April 2019
    Just because Compugraphic promoted it as an adapted and improved version doesn’t mean it was true.
    Oh, of course. I should have included a smiley.

    I was aware of ITC's line of business.

    To me, this history is relevant to today's issues in securing adequate protections for typeface designs. Ensuring that typeface designers get paid for their work is the appropriate function of such legal protection, and in today's technical situation, the issue that existed then, of typeface designs being used in attempts to create a monopoly in the typesetting machine business, which is not an appropriate use of intellectual property rights, no longer exists. Typeface designs are now used to sell fonts in TTF and OTF.

    The relevance of the past history is that politicians may still be fighting the last war, instead of being aware of the change.

    Come to think of it, thinking about these issues has finally given me an insight with which to address Hrant's point about Plex. Is type powerful? Yes, if a typesetting machine that can't typeset things in Times Roman and Helvetica is as useless as a computer that can't run Windows software.

    But that means that typefaces have that kind of economic power, the ability to drive a monopoly, only if they're well-established faces to which the consumer has been habituated. Times Roman, Helvetica, Optima, Perpetua, Goudy Old Style, and even Papyrus are in that category.

    Plex, as a newcomer, isn't. Plex presumably exists because IBM would find it too embarassing to use the Android font. And as the originator of Letter Gothic, they're the original creator of what these typefaces are imitating.

    Type has power in the aesthetic sense, but a typeface, like a popular song, may catch on with the public or not for mysterious reasons. On the other hand, the kind of power claimed for typefaces such as Sans Forgetica is deservedly ridiculed here.

    So the misuse of the power of Times Roman and Helvetica to attempt to create a monopoly on typesetting equipment did debase the power of type by making font piracy an apparently legitimate alternative; giving Plex away doesn't, partly because Plex doesn't have much power yet, and particularly also because Alphabet/Google is already giving Roboto away.

    In fact, if one assumes that Google giving Roboto away would result in

    lots of people using Roboto (which I'm not particularly sure of) and

    this letting Google insidiously brainwash us (which I reject, as that would require an effect in the Sans Forgetica class)

    then IBM's act of releasing Plex for free is an act respecting the power of type, it's saying that not having an alternative to Roboto that people are likely to actually use (Neue Helvetica World, which is expensive instead of free, doesn't count for that reason) would be to give their computer competitor Google too much power, and this had to be stopped.

    So instead of disrespecting and destroying the power of type, IBM's action seems to be the result of what, from my point of view, is a possibly exaggerated belief in the power of type.
  • Erin McLaughlinErin McLaughlin Posts: 42
    edited April 2019
     
  • George ThomasGeorge Thomas Posts: 532
    edited April 2019
    @Erin -- To delete it, edit it by typing in a random character, then save it as a draft which will cause it to disappear from view. Then you can go to your Drafts and delete it.
  • Erin McLaughlinErin McLaughlin Posts: 42
    edited April 2019
    @George Thomas  Thank you! Couldn't get it to work. Good luck to all of you trying to get Hrant to change his mind!  o:)>:)<3
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,621
    edited April 2019
    Protip: pointing out that people are making money won't do it.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 596
    edited April 2019
    Correct, for about five years, Bold Monday received license fees from iA and it brought their typeface Nitto to fame, because suddenly, after seeing it in iA Writer, everyone wanted to use it.
    I can’t speak for Reichenstein, but I know him a little and I doubt that saving license fees were the primary motivation behind the switch to a forked version of Plex. Fact is, iA likes to tinker and to improve the user experience – their entire business is built around experience design. I’m confident the idea of being able to have more control over their typeface was one of the main deciding factors.

    Given that they made a "duospace" version of Plex for iA Writer, I would have to agree with you. Incidentally, though, Bold Monday's other typeface is Nitti.

    Good luck to all of you trying to get Hrant to change his mind!  o:)>:)<3
    I'm not sure that I'm that ambitious. I admit to having a hard time relating to his objection to Plex. But I think it's great that he is concerned about type design being cheapened - in the sense of being trivialized, as opposed to just undergoing a price cut.

    Historically, a lot of business firms and other entities, including educational institutions, have commissioned typefaces to form part of their own identity. And getting exclusivity was part of the package.

    What IBM did was... a deviation from this pattern.

    Unlike Hrant, initially, I hadn't bothered to try to draw any conclusions from this. They've made a new free font available with wide language coverage. Nice. Probably helpful to some Linux distros. Having looked at it, and not fallen in love with it immediately, I hadn't viewed the news as terribly important.

    So initially I disagreed with Hrant basically because I didn't expect the release of Plex to have any significant impact. But the premise that an exclusive typeface works better for branding than one others can use was in itself sound, so I had no argument with that part of it.

    It's only after additional thought that I reflected that one of the things diminishing the relevance of Plex - we already have Roboto - probably explained Plex's existence. If Roboto being free resulted in 'everybody using it' (a threat I also don't take seriously) it might take mindshare away from... Microsoft. So IBM decided to make a grab for some of that mindshare.

    Which is a whole other fight from the ability to use a unique typeface in one's advertisements.

    So now I am disputing his claim that IBM doesn't care about the power of type. On the basis that their actions show, instead, that they acknowledge that power, but they're using that power for a different purpose than the historically more common case involving custom typefaces. One that makes sense in the current technological environment.

    On the other hand, I absolutely do not disagree with Hrant when he said "Gifting third-parties a way to visually mimic/parody/mock you is bad branding."

    I'm just not expecting IBM to actually use Plex that much for their branding. And given that they've withdrawn from most of their mass consumer-facing activities, they're at less risk of mockery in any case.
  • edited April 2019
    Incidentally, though, Bold Monday's other typeface is Nitti.
    I knew that typo was going to haunt me here. :smile:
  • edited April 2019
    Just a quick reminder, from around 1987 on, Apple used ITC’s Garamond Condensed, and shortly after a version of their own of the same typeface. The print ads and TV ads using that font established a strong association with the brand Apple because, at the time, that font seemed an unusual choice for a computer company.
    Then Apple used Adobe’s Myriad font, which was incidentally also used by Adobe at the time, as well as many other companies.
    For a short while, before Apple introduced its own font family, San Francisco, to the OS and the branding (down to the keyboard key labels), it used Neue Helvetica as a font for their branding and OS.
    None of these font changes within decades has ever hurt the brand, undermined it or did the opposite – elevated it above everybody else. I would say that from the start, Apple used a conversational tone in its communication (ads and website) and if I would have to pin down Apple’s brand language (again in ads and on the Web), it would probably be something like: “clean and perfectionist”, that’s their visual language. San Francisco is arguably close to Helvetica Neue (it uses roughly the same width in the regular version) and it is as indistinguishable as it can get.
    However, it so happens that all other major operating systems use humanist sans serif fonts for their UIs and their branding now.
    I would agree with the argument that the character of a font substantially contributes to the overall perception of the visual identity system of an organisation. To say it carries that role alone is like saying four wheels already make a car.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 596
    Just a quick reminder, from around 1987 on, Apple used ITC’s Garamond Condensed,
    As soon as you mentioned ITC Garamond Condensed, I remembered that. I'm certainly not intending to diminish the importance of typefaces to brand identity. Who can forget "We try harder"... in Perpetua? And IBM's use of Bodoni in its advertising for the IBM Personal Computer was also memorable.

    My argument with Hrant is that giving Plex away is legitimate because IBM is playing a completely different game versus Google's Roboto, and the issue is not visual brand identity in advertising at all.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,532
    edited April 2019
    Chiat Day was Apple’s agency in 1984, and started out using a display cut of Goudy Old Style in Apple ads before switching to Apple Garamond in the same year. The effect was not hugely different, given the super-tight style of display setting prevalent at the time, and the fact that they are both old style faces. Old style display faces were then often used for all kinds of products.

    Apple Garamond was 80% the width of ITC Garamond, and had a larger x-height. (ITC’s Garamond Condensed, at 64% of the Normal width, was considered too narrow.) It was  redrawn and executed by Bitstream as a PostScript font.

    So I would say that Apple Garamond was a quite mainstream decision, to make the new product look established—similar to the way the company licensed Times and Helvetica for its Laserwriter, to give it cred.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,621
    edited April 2019
    None of these font changes within decades has ever hurt the brand, undermined it or did the opposite
    ....
    I would agree with the argument that the character of a font substantially contributes to the overall perception of the visual identity system of an organisation.
    Please make up your mind.  :-)
    To say it carries that role alone is like saying four wheels already make a car.
    I hope nobody ever says that; I would be the first to point out it's preposterous.

    But our domain is type, and its relevance we must uphold.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 596
    edited April 2019
    So I would say that Apple Garamond was a quite mainstream decision, to make the new product look established—similar to the way the company licensed Times and Helvetica for its Laserwriter, to give it cred.
    Don't you mean Hewlett-Packard, not Apple?

    Oh, no, my mistake. Hewlet-Packard, of course, made the LaserJet, which had both Times and Helvetica, but Apple had the ImageWriter, a dot matrix printer, and no doubt they also had a laser printer which would have been called the LaserWriter.

    Oh, indeed they did, and it was historic as being the first personal computer printer with a full PostScript implementation.
  • I was hoping this lame duck trend had gone goose, but it looks like it just migrated south:
    https://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/archives/new_logo_and_identity_for_museo_moderno_by_estudio_garricho_and_omnibus_type.php
    "the font is free to use by anyone so if you ever dreamed of looking like a modern art museum in Argentina now is your chance."
  • I like this trend and I like that typeface and logo.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,621
    edited October 2019
    The [lack of] optical modulation in that project (especially in the logo) is another thread.
  • Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 537
    edited October 2019
    A talk I heard yesterday got me thinking: could it be possible that many companies simply have an yearly PR budget that needs to be spent and the rebranding campaigns grow from and around it? Inevitably with bigger players (in my experience), there are too many outside cooks and office politics to get the project to be spotless design-wise, so every imperfection of the product pointed out in this thread was probably already discussed by the design team.
  • @Hrant H. Papazian  Optical modulation is not always appropriate. Sometimes the lack of it is the point and I think it's deliberate here.
  • Eh. It may be on purpose, but having the curve-to-straight joins look like somebody glued separate pieces together ... ouch. Yes, some people did that with compass and ruler back in the modern days, as later people did with computers in the 80s and afterwards.

    And ... other people fixed it. I am thinking of Futura and Renner’s original drawings versus what Bauer produced. Plenty of well-crafted modernist typefaces demonstrate this, from Futura, Kabel and Bank Gothic and Eurostile.

    Yes, it might have been on purpose. And there is a coherent defense to be mounted for doing so. But there's a reason that every great geometric sans serif typeface has optical compensations: it just works better.
  • "the font is free to use by anyone so if you ever dreamed of looking like a modern art museum in Argentina now is your chance."
    Before, I was having difficulty relating, but now I see more clearly how firms commissioning a typeface specifically for the purpose of establishing a corporate identity, and yet also making it free to use for everyone can be perceived as debasing the value of typefaces.
    There's nothing wrong with a firm benefiting the public by making typefaces generally available to all, though. And there would be nothing wrong for a firm to eschew basing their style on a proprietary typeface, but instead using open-source typefaces.
    But it is at least confusing when an entity is saying at the same time both "this is our look" and "anyone can copy it".
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,621
    edited November 2019
    This deplorable trend seems to be a monthly thing now...  :-(
    https://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/archives/chicago_design_system.php
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