IBM earned its stripes as the maker of physical “business machines”–mainframe computers, laptops, microprocessors, typewriters, and more. More recently, it’s invested billions in Watson, an artificial intelligence platform that it emphasizes is a tool to augment humans. When the company rebranded Watson a few years ago, it explored the idea of a cognitive typeface. Could Watson animate its speech–like humans do naturally–through typography to give it character, personality, and voice? The concept never moved past the idea phase, but it opened up a conversation about why IBM has never developed a custom corporate typeface to do the same.

“When I think about brand building, I always do a little test,” Todd Simmons–IBM’s VP of brand experience and design and a former creative director at Wolff Olins–tells Co.Design.  “If you covered up the logo, would you still recognize [the brand] as IBM?” Since Helvetica is also the typeface of countless other brands, it wasn’t doing the heavy lifting it needed. IBM didn’t pass Simmons’s test.

IBM’s executive creative director Mike Abbink drew his inspiration from the company’s modernist roots, but also designed Plex with an eye for where the company is heading in the future. The glyphs riff on the interplay of “engineered” hard edges and “humanist” curves, which is also found in Paul Rand’s iconic eight-bar logo. Abbink and IBM are working closely with the Dutch font foundry Bold Monday to build out the alphabets and symbols.