Cultural Identity in a Global Brand: Ibarra Real and Microsoft
Submitting InstitutionQueen's University Belfast
Unit of AssessmentModern Languages and Linguistics
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
The aim of the Ibarra Real Project was to fashion a distinctive Spanish
font for use in contemporary print and digital media in order to create a
twenty-first century typographic identity that was firmly rooted in
Spanish culture. The project focused on the revival and re-establishing of
the iconic eighteenth-century Ibarra Real typeface, and research by
Sánchez Espinosa in the UoA provided the historical and cultural
underpinning that validates the claim of the font to be characteristically
Spanish. The project has had a clear impact on Spanish graphic and book
design and has added a distinctive Hispanic typeface to Microsoft's suite
of fonts. It has contributed to the promotion of cultural diversity in the
context of global media dominated by the English language and
Anglo-American visual culture.
The Ibarra Real project is a collaboration between academics and
typographers supported by the Spanish Ministry of Industry, the Spanish
International Cooperation and Development Agency, the Royal Academy of
Fine Arts of San Fernando, and Microsoft. Sánchez Espinosa has been a
member of the project since its inception in 2005. His role in the team
was to research the historical context in which the Ibarra Real font was
produced. Based on extensive archival and library research, he explored
the political and ideological background to the creation of the
eighteenth-century Royal Publishing House (Imprenta Real), its
administrative organization, working practices, cultural programme,
material production, and technological and socio-political significance
(Sánchez Espinosa 2009, 2011, 2012).
Sánchez Espinosa's research reveals that the publication programme of the
Royal Publishing House can be interpreted as a record of the political,
social and cultural changes that occurred in Spain during the 1760s and
1770s. The creation of Madrid's Imprenta Real satisfied the Spanish
Crown's need to control the political information then being disseminated
by periodical publications while simultaneously providing an outlet for
the elite's own publications. From the mid-1760s, the Spanish government,
following the example of other European royal presses, funded Imprenta
Real's programme of publications of cultural, scientific, and political
significance. Sánchez Espinosa demonstrates that the work and structure of
Imprenta Real fell completely under government control after 1780. The
revamped Imprenta Real showed a significant improvement in the materials,
production methods, and quality of illustrations, accompanied by a growing
number of presses. It set the standard for book production in the period
1780-1808 (the beginning of the Peninsular War), in constant competition
with and emulation of the best private Spanish presses such as Ibarra and
Sancha, as well as what was being produced in the rest of Europe. But
Sánchez Espinosa's study also hints at the negative consequences that the
privileged and growingly monopolistic position of the publicly funded
Imprenta Real caused for medium-sized Madrid publishing houses which saw
their production diminish during the 1790s as they could not compete with
the prestige and the technical superiority of the state-sponsored
The Project was directed by the font designer Dr J.M. Ribagorda (Madrid's
Complutense University), who was the curator of the exhibition, Imprenta
Real. Fuentes de la tipografía española. The scientific team
comprised Dr Sánchez Espinosa, Dr Corbeto (Reial Academia de Bones
Lletres, Barcelona), Dr Torné (Alcalá University, Madrid), Dr Villena
(Calcografía Nacional), Dr Balius (Typerepublic digital Foundry), and Dr
Garone (UNAM, Mexico).
References to the research
(i) key research outputs:
• G. Sánchez Espinosa, `La producción editorial del Despotismo Ilustrado:
la Imprenta Real' in Imprenta Real: fuentes de la tipografía española
(Madrid: AECID, 2009), pp. 72-85 and 180-192. ISBN 978-84-8347-102-9.
• Espinosa also compiled the captions for the majority of the
illustrations in the book.
• G. Sánchez Espinosa, `Los puestos de libros de las gradas de San Felipe
de Madrid en el siglo XVIII', Goya 335 (2011), 142-155
• G. Sánchez Espinosa, `Los libreros Ángel Corradi y Antoine Boudet, y la
importación de libros franceses para la Academia de San Fernando', Bulletin
Hispanique 114.1 (2012), 195-216.
(ii) evidence of quality:
• The three publications listed in (i) above are included in the
• The book has gone into 3 editions: see review in Boletín. Instituto
de Investigaciones Bibliográficas 14.1-2 (2009), 237-240, an
academic journal from the Mexican UNAM.
• The `Ibarra Real' project (2006-10) was funded by €300k from the
Spanish Ministry of Industry, the Spanish International Cooperation and
Development Agency, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, and
• Sánchez Espinosa was awarded a one-year British Academy-CSIC joint
project grant with Dr J. Álvarez Barrientos, CSIC, for the project
`Towards a catalogue of Madrid bookshops, 1759-1814' (Feb. 2008-9). The
value of the grant was £5000.
Details of the impact
The aim of the Ibarra Real project was to revive a traditional prestige
Spanish font within a modern context and so to promote Iberian cultural
distinctiveness in the face of the increasing global dominance of English
language and culture. Because of his record of research in the publishing
industry of the Spanish Enlightenment, Sánchez Espinosa was engaged to
investigate and elucidate the historical context in which the Ibarra Real
font was first created and used. The aim of this contextualisation was to
provide the historical, political and social rationale to support the
reintroduction of the font as an emblem of Spanish distinctiveness and to
validate the claim of the typeface to be truly representative of Spanish
culture. By locating the original font within the political and cultural
environment of the period, Sánchez Espinosa was able to create a robust
link between the new typeface and a period of high ambition and cultural
vision in Spanish history.
The font's cultural significance was conveyed to its intended users,
namely, publishers, typographers and the general public, through public
exhibitions and a companion book describing the history and use of the
typeface; these two elements also generated considerable publicity for the
project and attracted press attention, including trade journals, to
highlight the reintroduction of the font. Sánchez Espinosa played a key
role in the development and realisation of both the exhibition and the
book. He was primarily responsible for selection and cataloguing of the
Imprenta Real items and artefacts that appeared in the exhibition and in
the book, and he contributed a major chapter to the book on the origins of
The particularity of the font was central to the agendas of the project's
funders. The project supported Microsoft's ethical agenda which aims to
sustain linguistic and cultural diversity in national and regional
languages through localisation of its products. The Marketing and
Operations director of Microsoft Spain, Enrique Fernández-Laguilhoat,
remarked at the launch of the project that it underlines Microsoft's
`strong commitment to the respect of the cultural identities' of the
countries in which it operates (http://tinyurl.com/bn2sw9m).
The Spanish Ministry of Industry and the Spanish International Cooperation
and Development Agency were also among the funders for the project; they
were also concerned with supporting and developing a
distinctive Spanish design industry in which Espinosa's contextualisation
was central. The success of the cultural identity agenda has been remarked
upon by several commentators. The prominent designer Enric Satué describes
the inclusion of the font in Microsoft's catalogue as 'without a doubt,
the best indication so far of Spanish participation in the international
graphic design scene' (Arte en la tipografía: 25), and Cocoliso,
writing on the graphic design blog, Unos tipos duros, remarks on
the luxury of being able `to use a font which is truly Spanish'
(17.8.2010). The graphic designer J.-M. Ribagorda observes that the
project's exhibition `connects design with culture and technology through
the enhancement of national heritage [and] the pursuit of formal identity
of the Spanish language' and acknowledges that it is `the Royal Spanish
Press, its historical contribution in the past, and its future
contribution' to the world of graphic design that binds the whole
narrative together (Unos tipos duros, 1 December 2009).
Ibarra Real has been included in the Microsoft font catalogue since March
2010, and its software can be downloaded for free for Windows, Apple Mac
and Linux. Figures for Microsoft downloads are commercially sensitive and
have not been released, but the fact that some 4000 sites worldwide offer
it for download provides an indication of its reach.
In addition to the downloadable version, the font was intended from the
start to be rolled out as a classic font to print media. Spanish and Latin
American book and graphic designers are already using the Ibarra Real
typefaces in a significant variety of genres. For example, it has been
used in institutional publications such as the book for the Prince Felipe
of Spain's 2009 Prize for Management Excellence, Premios Principe
Felipe a la excelencia empresarial (2009), see http://tinyurl.com/cta7sct;
in academic publications such as K. Gregor and A.-L. Pujante, Macbeth
en España. Las versiones neoclásicas (Murcia: Murcia University
Press, 2011); in creative and artistic publications such as the Chilean
Vicente Reyes's La isla (2011) and the recent bibliophile edition
of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Primero sueño (Valladolid: Gato
Gris, 2012). It has been adopted by the main Spanish/Hispanic publishing
house, Editorial Planeta, for some of the annotated Renaissance classics
belonging to its series Espasa Clásicos (for example, the recent
editions of Amadís de Gaula and Orlando Furioso), and for
their special editions, like the 3 volume Cortes y Constitución de
Cádiz. 200 años (2012), an academic collective work commemorating
the first Spanish constitution. The Ibarra Real typeface and font have
also been used in the graphic image and text displays of other recent
exhibitions of historical artefacts, such as Corona y Arqueología en
el Siglo de las Luces (Royal Palace, Madrid, 15 April-11 July 2010).
The project's exhibition, Imprenta Real, fuentes de la tipografía
española, was shown at two major venues in Spain and Mexico with a
total recorded footfall specifically for this exhibition of 45,000,
- The Royal Academy of Arts, Madrid (December 2009-February 2010): 9266
- Museo Regional de Guadalajara, Mexico (November-December 2010): 35222
The exhibition in Guadalajara attracted large numbers of bibliophiles and
booksellers as it was timed to coincide with the International Book Fair
held in the city.
The Ibarra Real project has inspired similar projects, such as the 2010 Expósitos,
La tipografía en Buenos Aires, 1780-1824. This project aimed to
reconstruct the typeface used in the Real Imprenta de Niños Expósitos, the
first printing house in Buenos Aires during the last years of the Spanish
colony. A free downloadable book has been produced that contextualizes the
birth of this printing house, its political significance in relation to an
increasing Argentinean identity, its material production, and the steps
taken in the reconstruction of the font (see http://tinyurl.com/d2fsvkz).
Sources to corroborate the impact
(i) web resources:
- Website of the Ibarra Real project: http://www.ibarrareal.es/.
- Free downloadable font for PC and Mac from 4 official Microsoft sites
and some 36 main international graphic design websites, available from
Feb.-March 2010, including http://www.microsoft.com/es-es/download/details.aspx?id=10005
- 9,740 Google results for "Ibarra Real" and 13,400 for "Fuentes de la
tipografía española" (13.05.2013)
- 4,100 Google results for webpages from which to download Ibarra Real
(searching: download/descargar "Ibarra Real").
- Newspaper reviews in El País (30.05.2006, 27.11.2009,
13.12.2009); in El Mundo, 1.12.2009.
- Extensive review articles of the project and exhibition in:
- the British design journal Eye. International Review of Graphic
Design 77 (Autumn 2010)
- the Italian design journal Progetto grafico 18 (Sept 2010)
- the German design journal Novum (November 2010).
- Project and exhibition reviewed (1.12.2009) in the specialist
typography and graphic design websites Unos tipos duros http://www.unostiposduros.com/?p=3338
and The Quaint. Notizen zur Buch-Kultur http://www.thequaint.de/?p=252
- Enric Satué, Arte en la tipografía y tipografía en el arte
(Madrid: Siruela, 2007).
- Graphic design digital journal My Typo. Digital Type Foundry
(September 2011-February 2012): http://tinyurl.com/bw9prj4
- The exhibition catalogue was awarded a ED Gold Award in the category
of artistic catalogues in the 2010 European Design Awards (Rotterdam).
- The exhibition catalogue won second prize in the Libros mejor
editados 2010 award, awarded by the Spanish Ministry for Culture
to the best designed Spanish books.
(iv) organisations and individuals for consultation: (see
- Museo del Prado (Curator). The 18th-century curator can corroborate
the general impact of this project on Spain and the Hispanic world.
- Medialab Prado (General Co-ordinator). Medialab is a public
institution supporting projects in the new technologies that combine
cultural aims with a global scope. It can corroborate the technological
impact of the Ibarra Real project, and comment on the collaboration
between public institutions and private enterprise.
- Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (Project Co-ordinator).
The Royal Academy can corroborate the general impact of the project in
relation both to its linked exhibition and the media, and can
corroborate the underpinning research.
- Independent graphic designer. This renowned independent graphic
designer, who is very active in book design, can testify to the interest
that has been awoken among book designers in Spain by the Ibarra Real