Back To The Future With A New IBM i Logo
April 12, 2021 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Brands only matter if a product survives in the market. And once a product does find its natural niche and has some longevity, there is an immediate tension between preserving that brand because it is what people are familiar with and updating that brand because of changes in the market or artistic taste or new media or just because the marketing people want to change stuff all the time sometimes because, well, that is what they do.
No one has to tell customers of the System/38, er, System/36, er, AS/400, er, AS/400e, er iSeries, er System i, er IBM i platform that. IBM has changed its logo many times over the years, starting with the founding of the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, the predecessor of International Business Machines, back in 1891.
IBM, as we know it, was formed in 1924, and in 1956, right about the time IBM had settled its consent degree with the US Department of Justice from an antitrust lawsuit filed against in in 1952, Thomas Watson, the man who took control of CTR and turned it into Big Blue, decided that “good design is good business.” Which is why that System/360 mainframe from April 1964 was a very classy looking machine:
Back then, eight years before the launch of the System/360, IBM hired legendary icon maker and graphic designer genius Paul Rand to give it a new logo, which he created in a font City Medium, which was created by graphic artist Georg Trump. In 1962, when the System/360 was under development, Rand was asked to do an update of the IBM logo, and came up with the famous bar overlay of the 1956 logo, only it had 13 stripes, just like the flag of the United States does. (That could be a coincidence, but there are funny resonances that we are not always fully conscious of when we design.) In 1972, when IBM was well established as the “blue chip” corporation, was sued again in another antitrust lawsuit in 1969 (which was withdrawn in 1982), and the absolute darling of Wall Street, Rand tweaked the IBM logo to have the familiar eight stripes most of us grew up seeing. IBM reintroduced the 1956 logo in a black box with white letters, but no one cares. If you look on IBM’s site, it uses the 1972 logo, in black as we show in the zoom shot above, not in blue. This is the most famous business logo in history, and given that brands convey much meaning and implied warranty and genuineness, IBM protects its brand like crazy.
As part of the announcements this week, IBM is taking a variant of the City Medium font (it looks like the serifs were knocked off) used in the 1956 logo and applying it across the platforms in its Power Systems lineup, including AIX, IBM i, and Linux. Like this:
All if the dots on the “i” are the same, all of the bars on the “I” are the same, and there is not a “t” or “T” anywhere to be crossed. It will be interesting to see if IBM creates a Red Hat brand in red using the eight bars and the Sans Serif variant of the City Medium font. That’s what I would do, keeping the actual red hat by the side because that is a powerful brand.