I dare you find a designer who doesn’t love, or at least respect IKEA for its design dedication. Scandinavian design is almost synonym for functional design, well-thought design, void of any unnecessary elements. From their simple and practical packages to functional but homey stores and to their beautifully designed catalogue (3rd most printed publication in the world, after the Bible and yes, Harry Potter), IKEA has always been true to great design—I still remember how I asked every relative or friend that went abroad to bring me back an IKEA catalogue to draw from as I was studying for my design college exams (there was no IKEA in our country at that time).
Starting this summer, however, IKEA decided to give up the beautiful IKEA Sans (a very well designed Futura offspring) and IKEA Serif for Verdana, the omni-present web typeface, designed for Microsoft. As the Cracked fellows usually say: dear God, why?
Futura, designed by Paul Renner, is one of the best geometric typefaces, a timeless chef-d’oeuvre, which, unlike Helvetica, never seems to loose its human touch, its friendly-but-practical look, no matter where it’s used (Helvetica has been so overused through the last 50 years that it has practically lost any personality, becoming a shape-shifter, a typeface that can express almost anything, depending on the context). All IKEA’s communication, from catalogues to retail graphics were heavily based on their modified Futura, making everything look clean, clear and timeless. Verdana, even if it is a very readable typeface on screen, can’t even be compared to Futura when it comes to display usage. Microsoft-related products, as we all know, are anything but beautifully designed.
Take a look and see for yourself:
Before and after:
I’ll get the new IKEA catalogue soon, but, sadly, there will be one reason less to enjoy browsing it. As they say, it will be just business—nothing personal.
Last night IKEA’s outdoor was changed, down went good old IKEA Sans, up came Verdana. Take a look for yourself:
It is quite clear now. While in small sizes Verdana is decent enough, especially with its italics, on large prints it’s bad. IKEA Sans’ beauty was enough to sustain a phrase written on white background, with a lot of white space around. Verdana simply can’t do half as good. It looks cheap, amateurish. If I didn’t know this was a global decision I would’ve thought the local agency just let some rookie do the outdoors late at night, in a haste.
Another thing that keeps bugging me: there’s talk now all over the place, the entire community debating (most disapproving IKEA’s move). Few, however, mention that IKEA has replaced their own typeface, IKEA Sans, and not Futura. This is important since their typeface was customized, quite easy to tell apart from Futura and Century Gothic, its ‘parents’. And easy to extend with support for some new languages. I doubt IKEA’s sales dropped much during the crisis considering their target (take a look at McDonald’s, they’re booming), so jumping to a cheap, innapropiate typeface just because it’s a bit cheaper on the short run seems to me like very bad management.
But, of course, nobody can tell for sure if it really matters. Sales may drop or may rise, but nobody will link them to a typeface. After all, most people can’t tell the difference between serif and sans. For them it will be a change that never happened: “hasn’t it been like this all the time?”
IDSGN posted a thorough article about the look of the new IKEA catalogue compared to the former — Just as I thought after peeking around the UK website, Verdana looks good in the catalogue thanks to careful typesetting (extensive use of negative trackin, leading and italics). The problem is that the catalogue is a carefully designed product, made over several months, while normal communication will be done locally, most of the times by less-experienced designers or art directors (I’m talking about Romania and other countries with less general expertise in graphic design than UK, Sweden or Netherlands, for example). Type will be most of the time set with the default settings, without the thorough care the catalogue is designed with. Take a look:
Things really got big: yesterday I was interviewed by Lisa Abend for the Time Magazine! Read The Font War: Ikea Fans Fume over Switch to Verdana. Mr. Marius Ursache from Grapefruit also got interviewed, being the author of the online petition. Here’s my paragraph:
“They went cheap, in other words,” counters Bucharest designer Iancu Barbarasa, who blogged about the font change on his website. If he sounds somewhat bitter, there’s a reason. With its attention to the curve of even a $9 lampshade, Ikea has become renowned for its understanding of good design. “Designers have always thought of Ikea as one of their own,” Barbarasa notes. “So now, in a way, the design community feels betrayed.”
I can’t express what joy it brings me to be cited next to London, Tokyo and Melbourne designers. Thank you, Lisa (you can read the whole interview here).