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

Kit Hinrichs leaves Pentagram

October 3, 2009, 3:30 PM


After Robert Brunner left Pentagram’s San Francisco office to start his own firm, Ammunition, this time is Kit Hinrichs‘ turn. You can read the press release here, on @Issue (where Kit Hinrichs is the Design Director). Kit’s profile on Pentagram Partners has already been taken down.

Pentagram in 1986

Pentagram in 1986

While Robert Brunner’s departure seemed to make a little more sense, as his studio seems to be focused more on industrial design than on communication and corporate design, Kit’s departure is not so clear. The press release doesn’t give any hints, and, as always in such cases, nobody involved will—we can only speculate what could possibly make you leave one of the most acclaimed (if not the most) companies in the world—and after 24 years, mind you. Has this been triggered by the recession? Is it a personal dispute? Is Mr. Colin Forbes‘ business model not working so well anymore? Or is it just the right time for a change for Mr. Hinrichs? We’ll never know for sure.

One thing I know, it makes me feel sad to learn about Mr. Kit’s departure—I don’t know why, maybe because Pentagram loses one of its own—but I also feel glad for him. I know very well how good it feels to try something new, especially after such a long time. It feels like being born again. Good luck to Mr. Hinrichs.

(second photo taken from Pentagram: The Compendium)



Cited by Times — IKEA+Verdana gets bigger

August 28, 2009, 1:36 PM

Things 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: 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.

Here’s the whole interview:

1. How did you first learn about Ikea’s switch to Verdana?
I first heard of it from a fellow designer on Yahoo messenger, then read about it on twitter which linked to Typophile and Please Copy Me (used Google Translate).

2. What’s you’re opinion of the new font? And why do you think Ikea adopted it?
Verdana is a typeface specifically-designed for screen use. It is efficient in small sizes, but bland in display sizes, especially in print. Seeing the new catalogue, Verdana seems to be working a lot better than I expected, but that is because it has been carefully typeset (through extensive use of negative tracking and leading). In outdoor communication however, which is done locally, things are not so good, since most advertising agencies do not have good type-trained designers or art directors (I’m not talking about UK, Netherlands or the few countries with strong design-conscient population). All in all, IKEA’s brand recognition will be affected by this. How much remains to be seen—after all, most people can’t tell the difference between sans and serif typefaces. Maybe it will be all forgotten in a few months.

Most probably, IKEA chose Verdana because its wide world availability, having support for nearly all languages (they have to thank Microsoft for that). Otherwise they would have had to pay for the design of additional language support. They went cheap, in other words.

3. A lot of design-related people are unhappy with Ikea using Verdana. Do you have a sense of why the change would provoke such outrage?
IKEA has always been a very loved and respected brand, especially among designers, who thought of IKEA as one of their own, one that understands good design. Any change would’ve upset people. Since the change is not for the better, at least not in an obvious, unarguably way, the buzz is even bigger, giving instant birth to petitions and blogs-twitter-forums bashing. In a way, the design community feels as if betrayed.



IKEA + Verdana — follow up

August 26, 2009, 10:50 AM

Post merged with the original one, for consistency reasons :) Read and comment here. Thank you.



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:

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.

(via Please copy me, Typophile — Thanks Mihai)


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?”


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:



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).




Paprika — design from Canada

December 17, 2008, 6:46 PM

Outstanding work from Paprika, based in Montreal, Canada. The prints will make you drool, for sure. Emboss, foils, laser, diecuts, you name it. I also admire their identities, minimalistic, simple, most of them based on type and images — one doesn’t need a complicated logo when a good, clear&functional visual identity is present. Another thing to admire is their ability to create both rational, strong design and emotional, delicate design (check out their beautiful packaging).



(via Dieline)



Building with light

September 28, 2008, 11:59 AM

Great article about the glittering, Vegas-rivaling, Tokyo pachinko halls on Ping Mag, made by Tokyo Odyssey (check their website for more projects).

Seeing these amazing lighting solutions proved me yet again that light is one of the most impressive means of building architectural volumes, but also one of the most underestimated. Strange how we, humans, as civilization depend so much on our visual perception and still are toying around like dumb kids with one of physics strongest energies. It also pains me every time I’m involved in interior design projects, on one degree or another, to see how of little importance the lighting is to the architects or the client (can’t blame the latter, though, especially in Romania).

One of the rare things that impressed me during college was the lighting lecture kept by a great designer (even if he was a former doctor and also a plastic arts graduate), Mr. Savel Cheptea, one of the founders of the Design College in Cluj. He taught us the importance of good lighting, the effects it has on our eyes and especially on our working/reading stamina—by extending, the huge importance lighting has on our mood (ever wonder why you’re grumpier on rainy days?—it’s the lack of strong, warm sun light and the omnipresence of cold, shadowless light, not the rain itself). I bought that week a 200 watt light bulb for our student room, it boosted our drawing efficiency by at least two times, being able to draw till 4 or 5 in the morning without our eyes feeling the fatigue. After two weeks we got used to it so well that we could sleep with the light on, as others were working.

Most of my 3D renderings were light studies, I could fine tune radiosity and light scattering for days, but got bored in modelling in just three hours tops. The biggest pain while working as an interior designer was that the company made just 3DSMax scanline rendering for the clients, with no real light simulation whatsoever. Sure real light took hours of rendering compared to the 20-30 minute basic renders, and of course clients were visually uneducated (and sadly, still are in Romania). But lighting is one of the most important parts in interior design. Build anything you like, using the most amazing materials, put a 50 watt bulb inside and you’ve got nothing. Use just plasterboards and LED lighting and you can suggest any mood you’d like, from burning hot to freezing cold. And even if the client is uneducated, presenting a light study rather than a washed out top view image will help you sell the project a lot easier. Engineers can easily make top views, an architect should sell concepts, moods, impressions (Monet anyone?).

Sadly, romanian architecture is in the dark. The majority of public-interest buildings are either washed out with cheap lighting (not cheap actually, cost-inefficient to be more precise) or totally “stealth”, like haunted houses on a creepy road.

Concluding, here are some examples of superb lighting. You can easily guess the succes they have as a retail marketing and branding tool.




When Truth Hurts—or the long hand of "legal action"

August 30, 2008, 5:01 PM

The “well-dug-in-the-ground-reaching-for-help” Bruce

Illustrator Martijn Rijven wrote several weeks ago about his involvment in redrawing Akzo Nobel’s “Bruce” during the rebranding project started by Saffron and finished by Pentagram. It was a beautifuly-written article about ups and lows in the design process, about the final version proposed by Saffron and the final-final version approved by Akzo under Pentragram’s watch (probably a “design-by-comitee” solution) and its short-comings. A rare-to-read insight in the development of large rebranding projects.

Unfortunately, Akzo (or Pentagram, who knows) felt that the article was not the kind of PR their new logo needed so they brought in the big-mean-law-guns and forced Mr. Rijven to censor the article completely. It’s a real shame. I can understand commercial interests, hell, we are working with them in mind on daily basis, but freedom of speech and design ethics should not be trampled under feet. In the end, we’re graphic designers, it’s not like we’re saving lives every day, we just make people’s lives a bit easier and more pleasant—or, if you prefer the empty side of the glass, we just help sell things people don’t really need.

But I guess nothing else matters when big money is involved.
It’s the cold, chilling truth.



NY City Transit rules

January 17, 2008, 1:58 AM

New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual (1970) (photo set on Flickr – Swiss design proves to be unbeatable once again – wonder why the weird spacing though) contains some clear rules:

No littering – No spitting – No smoking.

I sure wish we had such plates every 100m in Romania.
Especially against spitting.


(via Subtraction)



GK Graphics – japanese design since…

October 21, 2007, 10:05 PM

GK Graphics have been doing design for almost 40 years now. Packaging, identities, wayfinding, you name it, they’ve done it.


(via PingMag)



Those bloody brit designers – part 2

, 4:19 AM

Another british design studio, The Partners (yes, naming doesn’t seem to be a british trait, even Pentagram got its name because Alan Fletcher was reading some ocult books). Nevertheless, their work