Why Verdana, Why IKEA, WHY?

New Uglier Font
On an introductory page of IKEA’s new 2010 catalog it says,
We’re constantly striving to cut costs without compromising quality.

Well, they got the first part right.

The typo-religious fervor over IKEA’s recent design change from their customized variant of Futura to Microsoft’s ubiquitous Verdana is gaining momentum. As a big fan of both IKEA and Futura I was dismayed at the news. Who’d have thought we’d lose IKEA to the typographically mediocre. After all, this is IKEA, they’re part of the good fight, striving to bring good design into our lives for over 60 years.

A friend, who does translation work for a company in Asia, had a practical perspective on the switch. Like the TIME article below, he cited the flexibility of fonts like Verdana with regards to foreign language translation. The option to easily convert Verdana for the multitude of other countries IKEA services is a cost-saver no doubt about it.

Like many other critics of the switch I would counter that Verdana was specifically designed for use online. Why didn’t IKEA just switch to Verdana online and keep the typographically superior Futura for their print applications? I shudder at the thought of hovering Verdana-emblazoned billboards and bus stop ads. If the varying details of other languages and alphabets is an issue for IKEA, could they not commission of custom typeface to include such details? I’m also forced to wonder what the long-term cost of replacing their signage and other printed materials will be, assuming they make across-the-board updates.

It’s tough, I get it. We have a faltering economy across the globe and no one is immune, not even IKEA. Any cost savings is worthy of consideration. Still, IKEA is a design focussed company. Good design has always been one of, if not chief among, their primary goals. It’s hard to see them compromise something so central to their identity and brand.

Additional Info + Reading

IKEA Petition – Click here

TIME Article – Click here

Daring Fireball posted some good stuff as well. – Click here


22 comments to Why Verdana, Why IKEA, WHY?

  • As a web designer, I am frequently taking print projects and re-purposing them for web. Usually the first concern is using a web safe font.

    I am wondering if this entire change wasn't a reverse of this procedure, where the web site dictated the font for the print piece. (The next sans serif choice would have been Arial.)

  • I don't understand why they didn't use something like SIFR for their online content. Their body could be verdana, but their headlines and product names could remain in Futura.

  • If the reason for the switch is to gain some kind of unified look both online and offline, then HTML5's @font-face sollution will make this move look really silly in a couple of years…

    This almost feel like some wierd viral marketing twist (others suspect the same thing); I just can't see how enough influental people at IKEA could possibly think this was a good idea…

  • @font-face doesn't give you an automatic license to use Futura. The foundries have been very strict in their terms about what you can and (mostly) can't do with their fonts on the web. Basically, you can't do anything (SiFR is technically in violation because you are embedding the full font into the swf file).

    So Verdana it is.

  • n0wak: Good point, although I kinda assumed that IKEA being IKEA would be able to get the licence to use their own customized version of Futura (as long as we're talking about their own customized version, and not the standard Futura). However, they would be required to obtain that licence first, that is correct.

  • Well Ikea technically haven't used Futura for a long time now. They already custom designed their own variation of Futura, called Ikea Sans (as well as a custom version of New Century Schoolbook called Ikea Serif), so I wouldn't have thought licensing to be an issue. They could just ask the original designers to come up with the necessary glyphs for other languages…

  • is it still legible?

    yes?

    then what's the problem? why do you care what Ikea chooses to do with their stuff? Are you going to boycott them, now? Stage a sit-in a their stores? Seems the next logical step. After all, it's clear that this is a major issue.

  • "is it still legible?
    yes?
    then what's the problem?"

    For the very same reason Ikea won't have axes for sale to use in our kitchens. Although they are perfectly capable as tools for cutting bread.they are not the best tools available.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the @font-face comments. ikea could just serve up ikea sans on the web and IE users will get what they deserve – verdana. they dont have to pay any licensing fees to linotype. you're basically allowed to copy fonts anyway.

    that being said I dont really care if they switched fonts in their catalog. the text is very secondary to the images. NOBODY but font nerds, .00000001% of the planet, will even notice.

    but with time magazine running stories, this does smell like shades of "new coke."

  • If ditching Futura was a must, there were still far better choices. Bitstream Vera Sans (or its variant DejaVu Sans) comes to mind.

  • Anonymous

    Considering that IKEA is registered as a charity and the CEO one of the wealthiest persons in the world, maybe it's time to realize that IKEA is just another evil company….

  • Anonymous

    > the text is very secondary to the images
    Actually, no. The text conveys meaning and a context for the images. whilst the images are pretty, they don't contain everything that a buyer needs to make a purchasing decision.

    Text and font face are very much part of the art direction and style of Ikea, and is very important to their branding. He'll, if the text is not that important, why doesn't everyone just use Comic Sans and be done with it? It'd save a bundle in licensing costs!

  • Anonymous

    > Still, IKEA is a design
    > focussed company

    IKEA is as design-focused as Microsoft is engineering-focused, which is to say not much. Both are bottom-line focused companies who make kits that are worth 10% of a real product but cost 90% of a real product.

    Last time a friend of mine wanted to go to IKEA, instead I took her to a furniture builder who sold stuff unfinished, and we got the dresser and bookshelf she wanted at the price she wanted and instead of having to put them together, we picked out the right color paint and painted them to match her apartment. When we were done, it was less work (no diagrams, no little metal pieces, just painting) and the furniture was SOLID. Later she moved and the furniture actually survived it and she's still using that furniture. IKEA stuff would have been in landfill by now, fallen apart.

    Design is just a skin-deep coating at IKEA. Design is not just what something looks like, it's how it works, how it lives with you. Their stuff falls apart, that is the problem, again same as Microsoft.

    So they deserve Verdana. It suits.

  • If it was about standardizing on verdana in print and online, why do they still specify arial on their homepage?

  • The question “Is it still legible?” is actually an implicit license to use nothing but Arial everywhere forever. Legibility is not the issue.

  • Anonymous

    People wonder why this is a big deal.
    Well, the IKEA catalog is distributed in 175 million copies. Its more published than the Bible.

    Changing the type face influences the reader experience of millions of people world wide.

    I'd say people are allowed to steam off a little for a publication like that.

  • Anonymous

    I think if Verdana were presented to designers as a new Erik Spiekermann font, they'd love it and not even recognize it as Verdana, especially out of the context of the raster screen.

    The idea that there are some sort of objective design standards that say that Futura is good and Verdana is bad is silly. Font design has had no such rules since Zuzana Licko started breaking them.

  • Anonymous

    I think if Verdana were presented to designers as a new Erik Spiekermann font, they'd love it and not even recognize it as Verdana, especially out of the context of the raster screen.

    The idea that there are some sort of objective design standards that say that Futura is good and Verdana is bad is silly. Font design has had no such rules since Zuzana Licko started breaking them.

  • Anonymous

    Niklas said:
    "For the very same reason Ikea won't have axes for sale to use in our kitchens. Although they are perfectly capable as tools for cutting bread.they are not the best tools available."

    Ikea doesn't sell the best tools available, they sell good quality tools with nice design. Ikea's stuff equates more with well thought out products rather than best in class.

  • Jean Klare

    Reducing costs is a returning argument in the choice for Verdana. But it should be obvious to anyone who has a basic grasp on how typography works that this is a blatant misunderstanding.

    A simple test shows that Verdana is not only inadequate for print, has questionable readbility off-line, but it also runs very uneconomically. It takes at least 10-20% extra space compared to its predecessor Futura.

    Considering Ikea produces tens of millions of pages of print and unthinkable advertising inches worldwide, it is clear this will cost a lot of extra money if copywriters are not instructed to lose more than 20% of their copy from now on.

    I my view the choice for Verdana is economically stupid, and typographically unsound, but also questionable from an environmental standpoint.

  • Verdana is ugly like shit in print. If they wanted some "modern" sans serif they should have used Frutiger or Myriad.

  • Some respect for Verdana, please. I like it for heds and subheds and for things like (my own) business cards, especially in its big-and-little cap form. It also plays well with various serif fonts, if you're mixing.

    Don't hate on it because Microsoft makes it. Aren't these posts being displayed in Verdana, or something quite like it? I think Verdana has a pleasing personality, and is not cramped or stuffy. Lighten up, folks.

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