2018 Typeface Design Competition Judge’s Choice: IBM Plex

Every year, each of our eleven TDC competition judges choose a favorite from all the entries. These standouts are highlighted in the Type Directors Club exhibitions and our annual, The World’s Best Type and Typography, which will be published later this year and sent TDC members as part of their membership.

As a preview, we want to show you IBM Plex, one of four typeface designs that received the Judges’ Choice badge, and let typeface judge Verena Gerlach tell you why she chose it.

About IBM Plex

  • Typeface Design: Mike Abbink, New York; Paul van der Laan, The Hague; and Pieter van Rosmalen, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
  • Creative Direction: Mike Abbink
  • Type Direction: Paul van der Laan and Pieter van Rosmalen
  • Agency: IBM Brand Experience & Design and Bold Monday
  • Members of Typeface Family/System: IBM Plex™ Sans, Mono, Condensed and Serif

IBM Plex, as introduced on the IBM Plex website.

IBM Plex™ is the new corporate typeface for IBM worldwide and an open source project developed by the IBM Brand & Experience team (BX&D). Plex is an international typeface family designed to capture IBM’s brand spirit and history, and to illustrate the unique relationship between mankind and machine—a principal theme for IBM since the turn of the century. The result is a neutral, yet friendly Grotesque style typeface that balances design with the engineered details that make Plex™ distinctly IBM.

Summary of variations from the website.

The family includes a Sans, Sans Condensed, Mono, and Serif and has excellent legibility in print, web and mobile interfaces. Plex’s three designs work well independently, and even better together. Use the Sans as a contemporary compadre, the Serif for editorial storytelling, or the Mono to show code snippets. The unexpectedly expressive nature of the italics gives you even more options for your designs.

Explore the IBM Plex website to find out more about what inspired its development, see the full gallery of fonts, and find out what’s next.

IBM Plex website gallery that encourages visitors to experiment.

For more about the process of developing this typeface, watch our Type Drives Culture video to hear designer Mike Abbink speak as part of the custom brands and type panel.

Typeface Design Judge Verena Gerlach on IBM Plex

We asked Berlin designer Verena Gerlach to explain why she thought this typeface design was exceptional:

“The Plex superfamily is a multifunctional type family I could imagine using in quite diverse fields. From coding, via web and book design over to large displays—everything seems to be fulfillable with the different variants of this typeface.

“Through all weights and variants, the font seems to be very consistent.

IBM Plex Sans, Mono, Serif, and Condensed variations.

“Starting with the Sans and its very clean Grotesque appearance, one quickly notices all the vivid and beautiful details. While having quite angled interior counters (taken from the original IBM logotype, but smoothed down a quite bit), the very round curves of the exterior strokes contrast nicely with these inner shapes.

“The two-story a and g are quoting a humanist idea, without losing the overall modern (and also modernist) characteristics of Plex Grotesque. It causes a balance between rational and human but not humanist.

“In general, this seems not to be a geographical locatable typeface, because it combines optical features of many different regions of traditional type design.

IBM Plex Sans.

“While showing alike glyph proportions of Helvetica (that is going to be replaced by Plex), the little flag of the lowercase g even reminds me a little of Franklin Gothic. Also, the inner rounds (Oo cC Gg) with their very straight vertical counters (in contrast to the outer rounds) remind me a little of some Din shapes. Even the G clearly is quoting Helvetica.

“Due to the very open and quite large white spaces between stems and shoulders, the entire Plex family is very readable in small sizes and at a distance.

IBM Sans Condensed.

“I very much like the eccentric Plex Mono, which shows the balance between technical and emotional/vivid at its best, especially in the (real) Italic. Just check out the fractions!

“The neoclassic but also a little technical Plex Serif is just beautiful! I like its very round drops and dots very much. This serif variant is not too strong in contrast, with a modern, quite high x-height. It’s very suitable for longer reading texts.

IBM Plex Mono.

“I am really looking forward to finding the right occasion to try out the complete Plex family for myself.”

About Verena Gerlach

Verena founded her graphic design, type design, and typography studio in Berlin in 1998. She has worked as a freelance book designer for Hatje Cantz, Kerber, and other art book publishers since 2006, and as a freelance type designer for Monotype since 2016. Verea’s released typefaces include FF City Street Types, FF Chambers Sans, FF Karbid Pro, and FF Sizmo. Read more about Verena here.

Portrait: Verena Gerlach.