But it has decided that it won't be using the popular font anymore. Instead of using Helvetica, the company starts using a typeface called 'IBM Plex'.
This may seem like a small update, but the change is a major milestone for IBM as one of the oldest technology company in the world. Helvetica has been inside IBM's design legacy and is already having a massive exposure throughout the company and its products.
By replacing Helvetica, the IBM Plex is making its way to all IBM's software, websites, signage, PowerPoint presentations, business forms, and marketing initiatives. And it is available in 110 languages, in serif and sans serif versions, and in eight weights.
IBM has also decided to make IBM Plex available for anyone to download and use for free.
As a technology company with experience, IBM has been obsessed with perfection and good design. Its creative team has been clamoring for a unique corporate typeface for a while, but the project has languished.
"It’s difficult. You have to find the right type designer who really gets you," said Terry Yoo, VP of IBM's brand strategy and experience design. IBM has been spending over a million dollars every year to use Helvetica.
Because fonts are digital assets that companies license on a per-user basis and the digital typeface company Monotype owns the rights to Neue Helvetica, not all of the 380,000 IBM employees had access to the font on their machines.
The attempt to redesign IBM's typeface began in 2015 when Mike Abbink, a graphic designer, joined IBM.
With experience in working with brand strategy firms Wolff Olins and MetaDesign, Abbink has worked for the renowned typographer Erik Spiekermann,
Abbink has also developed an acuity for translating a company’s values into letterforms. He was also credited for designing the uplifting Inspira typeface for General Electrics and the lively NBCU Rock for NBC Universal.
"When I came to IBM, it was a big discussion: Why doesn’t IBM have a bespoke typeface? Why are we still clinging to Helvetica?…Helvetica was a child from a particular set of modernist thinking that’s gone today," explained Abbink in an internal video.
Helvetica was with IBM since the 1960s, and at that time, it was great because the company wanted to change its image as a maker of meat grinders and cheese slicers to one as a producer of advanced business machines.
But as IBM's business has since changed again: from selling PCs and computer hardware to enterprise software for companies and governemt, including Artificial Intelligence. So at its core, IBM has changed over the years, and Helvetica is too old to represent IBM's business.
Abbink and his team spent two years deliberating on a typeface that would capture IBM's qualities. The IBM Plex typeface was inspired by gothic fonts such as Franklin Gothic or Bell Gothic, which look modern but not 'soulless' like Helvetica.
The result is a hybrid of blocky but engineered shapes, combined with natural gestures from handwriting.
"Plex is about finding the quirkiness between manmade things and engineered moments and bringing that into letterforms," said Abbink.
"Outside of a large enterprise, no one can really afford to create a beautiful, well-crafted typeface and not take money for it, For folks like Google and ourselves which are about transforming the world, I think it makes sense.…It would reach a lot of people, we feel it should be given away. I think if you’re going to stand behind ‘design’ as a cultural posture, then it’s your responsibility to make sure open source typefaces you’re sharing are good."
Initially, IBM wanted the typeface to be called "Eliot," as a tribute to the founding architect of its design program, Eliot Noyes. However, Noyes’s family declined to lend their name to the font, This was when Abbink came up with "plex."
"Plex is being a part of something before it, like [the word] ‘duplex,'" explains Abbink. "It’s basically a component of IBM."
To showcase the grand design, IBM created a homage to IBM Plex by wrapping the exterior of an 780,000 square meter building with it.