Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ikea Changes Fonts

I don't see many feature stories in The New York Times (or in any other mass-market news source, for that matter) about typography, but one showed up yesterday. In the Times Arts section, Edward Rothstein wrote an article from which the following is extracted –

... when Ikea casually abandoned its version of the famed 20th-century font Futura that had served it for 50 years and replaced it for 2010 with the computer-screen font Verdana, professional outrage was immense.

We tend to think of text as semantically invisible, the letters being mere tools used clearly to display words, which convey the true meanings. But no one who actually wants you to pay attention to those meanings risks thinking that way: advertisers, logo designers, magazine and book publishers and catalog creators spend millions on fonts because they know the medium has a message. 

The design blog presented examples of the Ikea catalog’s look, before and after. At a quick glance they are more similar than distinct; after all, Ikea didn’t replace its own font, known as Ikea Sans, with anything like Comic Sans. But the differences rankled readers. “Yuck,” “sad,” “idiots,” “repulsive,” the comments read. “Do they want to look cheaper?!”

When the change was noticed, toward the end of August, Twitterers twitted mercilessly: “Words can’t describe my disgust,” read one from Melbourne, Australia. The comments grew even more heated on Typophile ( An online petition pleading with Ikea to “get rid of Verdana” has a steadily growing list that on Friday contained more than 5,000 signatures, having nearly doubled in a week. 

“We’re surprised,” the Ikea spokeswoman Camilla Meiby said. “But I think it’s mainly experts who have expressed their views, people who are interested in fonts. I don’t think the broad public is that interested.”