Font Fans Beg IKEA to Go Back to the Futura
Monday, August 31, 2009
IKEA fans are all a-Twitter over the company's recent font change from Futura to Verdana. Designed to be easy to read at small sizes (like catalogs and computer screens), Verdana will be used in IKEA's print and digital communications. What seems on the surface like a simple, subtle shift -- one that arguably fits the company's brand of streamlined, smart, affordable design -- has triggered an onslaught of negative reaction so filled with bile that one might think the company switched to Comic Sans or Jokerman.
The company moved away from their beloved signature Futura font because of Verdana's free availability worldwide and ease of reading across languages. IKEA spokespeople maintain that this ubiquity was a key factor in the decision to switch. "It's more efficient and cost-effective," IKEA spokeswoman Monika Gocic told Time. "Plus, it's a simple, modern-looking typeface." An easy enough explanation, but designers, font buffs and others aren't buying it. And some consumers say they'll go a step farther -- they may not buy anything from IKEA because of it.
On August 23rd, Romanian design consultant Marius Ursache started an online petition called "IKEA, please get rid of Verdana!" The Chicago Tribune reports that, as of August 30th, the campaign had more than 2,700 signatures. Additionally, Twitter has been rife with "Stop the Verdana madness!" tweets. "Words can't describe my disgust," says one angry Twitterer. "The Verdana in the new IKEA catalogue is officially starting to irritate me," says another. ":(" says yet another.
IKEA was not expecting such a strong response.
"We're surprised," spokeswoman Camilla Meiby told the Associated Press. "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."
Way to underestimate your brand fans, Camilla.
As a consumer, I could see how switching to Verdana makes sense from both a global and economic perspective. But does it make sense from a brand perspective? Does Verdana sound like IKEA, or is it like a good friend who suddenly starts speaking in an affected accent? I went to the IKEA in Atlanta to find out.
I won't lie, it wasn't like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But seeing the new Verdana signage next to the old Futura signage was a bit jarring. IKEA's Futura is singularly IKEA. Its quirkiness befits wardrobes named PAX LYNGDAL and table and chair sets named JOKKMOKK. Verdana doesn't feel like IKEA, and the red-and-white "New Lower Price" campaign throughout the store feels more Minneapolis than Sweden.
While I am not as up-in-arms about the font switch as some, I do think that Verdana's generic look and feel take away from the Euro-ness of the store. The very aspects of the font that make it easier to read across languages, online, and in print are also what make it seem so ordinary and out-of-place in a brand experience that is anything but. IKEA's customized Futura may have been more difficult to read in certain instances, but Verdana doesn't make it any easier to read POÄNG.
I will miss the Futura, but my greater concern is that this move is only the first in a broader shift toward the generic. Such a move would be brand suicide. That said, this change won't be keeping me away. As for the dissenters who feel cheated and betrayed, we'll see how principled they are when they need a new awesome set of shelves.