Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

IKEA Sans replaced by Verdana

August 25, 2009, 11:48 AM

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:
beforeandafter_futura-vs-verdana

Before and after:
beforeandafter_ikea

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.

(via Please copy me, Typophile — Thanks Mihai)

———

Update:
Last night IKEA’s outdoor was changed, down went good old IKEA Sans, up came Verdana. Take a look for yourself:

IKEA-verdana-outdoor-m

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?”

———

Later update:
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:

after-1
after-2

———

Mr. Kottke agrees, Verdana is not the best idea, and posts a link to a 1965 IKEA catalogue, which would sell just as well today.

———

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).

———

favicon

286

Comments:

Hahaha, there’s always a petition for everything we can think of :)) I’ll wait to see the printed catalogue, though, I don’t like jumping to final conclusions :)

favicon

[…] Iancu scrie despre trecerea IKEA de la Futura la Verdana pentru a putea folosi acelasi font in toate tarile inclusiv in cele asiatice. […]

Can’t believe there’s even a petition for this. Seems some people can’t find anything worthwhile to do with their time.

[…] finding out yesterday that they replaced their typeface, last night IKEA’s outdoor was changed, down went […]

favicon

Hey, Iancu! I think the reason behind this transition it’s not directly related to the recession. I simply believe that IKEA decided to expand its Internet presence, this is a small sign they will slowly (or quickly, who knows) move online, which is a pretty normal stuff – we know their target is already there. Verdana was the normal choice, not Arial.

That’s an easy conclusion, but I don’t buy it. IKEA has always been and still is all about retail experience. Of course they want to sell online as well, but that is a different market, different rules. Thinking “hey, we should sell more online—let’s make all our stores look more like the online” is quite a childish way of making business, don’t you think?

favicon

This is the result of a typical, pointless 5-hour-monday-morning-board-meeting…

Jeff says :
“Let’s improve our image”

Humphrey indulgently replied:
” well Jeff, it was about bloody time to do something.”

“Mr. Ian, what say you, from your strategic-world-dominating-creative-officer point of view?” ( Jeff asked)

” Well sar, what can I bloody say? – Been sniffing on my arse for 9 years now doin nothing … just arranging pictures and matches… Thanks a million for tha opportunity mr. Humphrey, sir.”

” I strongly recommend something dramatic… how about a strategically-influencing-world-dominating-dramatic change?” ( Ian continued )

“Go on, Ian…” ( mr. Humphrey implied – changing his position on his Charles Eames Stool )

” Well sir … thak you sir … I think…. that… This typeface… which I love by the way … is sooo …. how do you call it … Last Century…. While playing with my blog and willy I stumbled upon a fantastic typeface … called Verdana… very posh…very … aaaah….pixelfriendly…”

” Uh-huh – interresting – hmmm – ” ( Jeff stated – while trying to interpret mr. Humphrey’s change of facial muscle-tension)

” So – we change ALL the typefaces from ALL of the IKEA materials in ALL countries … hat would be massive my dear sirs … And Of course I will continue to have that nice and steady salary you guys were so nice to remunerate me with for the past 9 years.”

” Hmmm!”

” uh-huuuuuuh.”

” But will it be dramatic ?” ( mr. Humphrey asked leaning back on the Eames Stool )

” Yes, Ian, will it be of significance?” ( asked Jeff – smiling perversely towards mr. Humphrey )

” Well lads, what can I say, It will ….aaaah…rock the world.” ( Ian replied )

” Well, God save our queen then, and yours mr. Ian. ” ( Jeff said benevolently )

” Ahem… I’m Irish sir!” ( Ian said from his ANTILOP Stool )

” Well – of course you are ” ( replied mr. Humphery – crazily laughing his lungs out )

” HAHHAHAHHAHAHHA” ( all the 11 Board members laughed in unison for 3.14 Minutes )

Except

Ian

who

was

thinking

only

about

one

thing

…. DEAR GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE !!!

Hahaha, very funny :)) Too bad it’s true :P

favicon

It’s not childish, it’s a simple & practical aproach… the kind of thinking that romanians tend to avoid, creating all sort of conspiracy theoryes or blaming some very smart & talented people for “malpraxis” :)

maybe the author’s opinion might be more credible ;)

http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fcapdesign.idg.se%2F2.990%2F1.242079%2Fdarfor-byter-ikea-typsnitt-till-verdana&sl=sv&tl=en&history_state0=

I’m sorry Vlad, but justifying one’s work as a designer is not that hard for a good professional. The problem is when the solution is not the most fortunate. Pepsi had an elaborate explanation for their new logo, but their logo is still crap most probably born through “design by committee”. Which I think is the case with IKEA as well.

favicon

It’s probably the same people that worked on Tropicana and Pepsi.

“Microsoft-related products, as we all know, are anything but beautifully designed.”

This generalistic sentence is ridiculous. When it comes to fonts, Microsoft is probably the only operating system vendor that has been including new quality fonts with every release of their operating system.

Verdana works very well as a print font but only in tiny sizes (6-7 pt). It is beautifully designed, along with Georgia, its serif companion. Sure, it has been designed fifteen years ago under some very specific circumstances (for the screen, to work with purely black-and-white rendering). Its designer Matthew Carter, one of the top five type designers alive, has done a remarkable job.

Microsoft has been commissioning new typefaces ever since, some of them can certainly be called beautifully designed — Calibri, Consolas (both by Lucas de Groot) or Candara (by Gary Munch) for the Latin, Cyrillic and Greek alphabets, Meiryo (C&G, Eiichi Kono and Matthew Carter) for Japanese or Nyala (by John Hudson) for Ethiopic. I could easily list half a dozen others. Microsoft has added many other fonts to their operating system which perhaps would not count as “beautiful” but they are quality fonts.

Apple, on the other hand, managed to get Carter to design Skia for them, and later Jonathan Hoefler to design Hoefler Text — but that was decades ago. More recently, Apple has been bundling Microsoft fonts or slightly refurbished boring “classics” such as Helvetica, Myriad, Lucida Sans or most recently Prima Sans Mono. They certainly do their job but are far from being called “beautiful”. None of the Linux vendors have come out with a “beautifully designed” font so far.

For the context of the IKEA branding, of course Verdana is out of place — because it is extremely generic and has much too wide spacing for display use. It doesn’t make sense. It is far less appropriate than Futura was.

Yet I find it just as inappropriate to bash the work that many talented type designers around the world have done for Microsoft. Unlike many other software vendors, Microsoft actually always has had the guts (and the money) to hire the best people to do font work.

I’d be curious to hear any arguments that could convince me that it is otherwise.

Frankly. Verdana? It’s not that I dislike Verdana, but it’s possibly one of the worst text fonts to use in large sizes. Its balance only works when read onscreen in paragraph mode. And listen, I do not like Futura. I think it’s been overused, but Ikea had found a good use of it. Certainly, as a Swedish design-centered company, I think is a really bad move. They’re losing a great visual identity. It really looks as if their PDFs didn’t come with their fonts embedded. They should at least change that for a proper typeface.

[…] I’ve heard Rick mention the “country-fication” of IKEA that’s happening, and this has pretty much slammed a lid on that theory. Today, TDP friend Mig Reyes tweeted about IKEA’s announcement that they will no longer be using Futura in their branding, but instead has opted to use web-friendly, hideous Verdana in its place. Part of what makes IKEA who they are is that typeface—its timeless round characters and sharp, modern angles voice the brand in a clean and chic but also friendly manner. I don’t know how this will bode well for them, especially if they’re trading in some of their signature furnishings for more Martha-esque pieces. Thoughts? Read the announcement here. […]

@ Adam — thanks for the time and info
I admit I was sarcastic, true, but Microsoft’s policies (in general) favor function over form. It is true that they’ve spread their system typefaces all over the world, and half of them are really great ones (I love Georgia, it’s wonderful from body to display sizes, both in print and on screen). But Microsoft is also the main to condamn because of its ‘type pollution’. Arial may be a very good screen typeface, even if it’s a Helvetica-knock-off, but seeing it every day over and over again is too much. And do note that Arial is superior to Verdana when it comes to display sizes. Calibri is a beautiful typeface, it drew my attention when it came out, but when it got bundled with Vista and it became the new Arial, used by from corporations to pizza deliveries, it became again too much. Very very few typefaces resist extensive use by all sorts of companies and on all mediums, Helvetica and Futura being the most powerful ones. Arial, Verdana or Calibri simply can’t be compared to them, no matter how beautiful or well-designed for their purpose.

@ Sylvia — I agree, white space, Futura (IKEA Sans) and simple product photography were IKEA’s brand properties.

Thank you all for your thoughts.

favicon

[…] was reading up on this because of an article, I hopped across regarding Ikea’s switch to Verdana from Ikea […]

[…] really get bigger and bigger: after reading my previous post on the matter, yesterday I was interviewed by Lisa Abend for the Time Magazine! Read The Font War: […]

favicon

@Iancu:

it sounds a bit like you’re trying to eat the cookie and keep it at the same time :) Of course I agree about Arial but remember that Arial was picked in 1990 — very few quality typefaces were available at that time, and apparently, Microsoft could not reach a resolution with Linotype regarding licensing Helvetica.

That is ancient history now, and in the last decade Microsoft has been doing a much better job when it comes to typography. They’ve been ahead of all the other software manufacturers in the realm of human language support, which includes text-to-speech (synthetic voices), speech recognition or handwriting recognition — which includes true highlights such as recognition of handwritten math formulae that has been built into Windows 7 (see http://tinyurl.com/cjzxzw ).

Typography is just one aspect, and I feel that Microsoft has been doing a good job here. And when it comes to Calibri — well, I guess it is an unsolvable conflict: Microsoft commissioned a good text typeface to serve as a replacement for Arial, but since Calibri is the default font of Word 2007 now, and Microsoft has a huge install base, it has been only a matter of time until Calibri becomes “overused”.

Fortunately, there are still tons of good typefaces for the more sublime users, and let’s be happy that the default Office font has gotten better now.

Back to Verdana: I don’t think it’s fair to “blame” Microsoft here in any way. It’s all on Ikea’s plate. I think the decision to replace Futura with Verdana was ridiculous, but it would have been pretty much as bad if they chose to replace it with Lucida Sans, Helvetica or something else.

Best,
Adam

I speak as a fellow designers and seeing the images I can only say that using Verdana (a genuine web font) makes their ad’s not look quite right any more. It’s off and damaging to their identity. I can understand that they are looking for a way to make things efficient. But imagine Apple changing their Helvetica font into Arial or other web font. It would be disastrous for their image. IKEA can only redeem themselves into bringing Futura back and imagine it never happened.

God nows what they were thinking at IKEA. Probably a very bright marketeer up-sucker seduced IKEA into changing the font.

Idiots!

@David
Apple uses Myriad, not Helvetica. Things are never as easy as they seem from the outside, blaming one or another when we don’t know for sure what happened is just childish.

@Adam
Hehehe, you nailed it — i’m not hot or cold either, I like to keep it balanced. As I explained before, IKEA’s decision is not as bad as most claim to be. It’s not good either. It’s just something else. And since you brought it up, Arial is wonderful online, I like it even more than Verdana—in small sizes that is. However, with a bit of tweeking you’d be surprised just how good it can look too. I agree, Microsoft suffers because of its own size, but in IKEA’s case, it has no fault. Helvetica would’ve been interesting indeed—almost the other way around, going for the over-classic-good-for-anything typeface.
Thanks for the talk, best regards :)

favicon

Could be worse. They could have gone with Comic Sans.

VIVA VERDANA!

And the new ANIMAL PLANET logo?
= CANIBAL PLANET

It’s just a wonderful message

In my opinion, there should be a petition for all Ikea-Fans to buy my book about Ikea, and the way it affects our lives: “Wir Ikeaner”. Its written in German though….

ohh noo!! i used to love their catalog! too bad they changed their font for a microsoft font!! what’s next? comic sans? :S

@Sebastian
Hehehe, wouldn’t that be convenient :)) Would we at least get a postcard from Hawaii? :P

favicon

Hey people, get a life!
(Btw, I like Verdana.)

@Element
We have a life already, we chose to ***work bended over with great attention—damn word seems to elude me*** daily over lines, letters, colours and other design details — you can’t expect us not to care :)

favicon

You most definitely *don’t* have a life if you’re worried about IKEA’s advertising font. How absolutely ridiculous, even for someone involved in graphic and typeface design.

The fact that you’ve internally iconified IKEA to the unhealthy degree that you take this amount of time out of what should have been a productive day/evening is proof that you don’t have a life.

[…] some of their offshoot Futura fonts they’ve been using these many years. There’s more information from a ranting designer here. (via […]

Look at the one at the bottom it looks like a Walmart catalogue.

@Mike
I’m sorry to break this to you, but every profession has this kind of “geekness”. It shows that you’re passionate about the thing you do every day. It’s not just a job. Even more for us creatives. We don’t shut off when we exit the office. Our job is our life, 24/7, whether we like it or not—well, those who don’t like it eventually quit.

Good luck to you.

favicon

Ikea would not have had this backlash if they had chosen a different free font such as Delicious, which I think would have worked better for the company. When Apple switched from their slightly narrowed Garamond to Myriad, I’m sure they were keeping a focus on beauty of design while updating their image. It worked for Apple. Ikea could learn a thing or two from Apple.

[…] And now a petition has been started allowing the undersigned to declare, “We, the undersigned designers, consider this to be a mutilation of Ikea’s long admired design philosophy. It is sad this is happening, and it undermines Ikea’s design leadership. Please bring Ikea Sans/Serif back, or get a proper typeface instead of Verdana! “ http://www.petitiononline.com/IKEAVERD/petition.html 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. – iancul […]

[…] recent font change on their website and in their catalogs. Font snobs everywhere are going absolutely apeshit over what they consider to be an utter betrayal of IKEA’s design standards. There’s […]

This is just very silly, its a font. Nothing more and nothing less. :)

Blah, if you were a designer, you’d understand—maybe not agree with the general point of view, but at least know that a typeface has it’s importance—a great deal of importance, actually. Thanks for commenting. Cheers ;)

favicon

Verdana is the antithesis of everything, to my impression, Ikea stands for. Minimal use of resources (Verdana is FAT), compact size of products (Verdana is FAT!), elegance and minimalism in product design (Verdana is just FAT!), and uncommon gracefulness on a budget (Verdana is free, but it’s FAT!)

I signed the petition. Maybe they’ll go back. Maybe it’s also a brilliant “New Coke” moment for them. Now, they are forever in my mind-space when Verdana comes up in a font menu. Maybe, just maybe, it was a clever marketing move…

Frankly..

I think you guys are WAY OVER THE TOP exaggerating.

As a consumer and listening to others, I have never, ever heard anybody talk about the fonts. I don’t even see a big difference.

And the reason is simple: we look at the furniture.

Harold, not seeing or feeling something doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. As a consumer you don’t see, feel or read into most advertising, but you’re just exposed to it and it affects you, whether you like it or not. Unconciously, Futura expresses modernism, functionalism and minimalism. Verdana looks familiar because of its ubiquitousness, but it also looks like everything else, because of its lack of personality and style.

Thanks for your comment.

favicon

[…] really get bigger and bigger: after reading my previous post on the matter, yesterday I was interviewed by Lisa Abend for the Time Magazine! Read The Font War: […]

favicon

[…] carry little sway. Bucharest designer Iancu Barbarasa, a leader of the font rebellion, managed to simultaneously scoff at the decision and express a world-weary acceptance of the uncaring masses’ inability to give a […]

[…] carry little sway. Bucharest designer Iancu Barbarasa, a leader of the font rebellion, managed to simultaneously scoff at the decision and express a world-weary acceptance of the uncaring masses’ inability to give a […]

Have your say: English please