IKEA goes with Verdana

Raumschiff's picture

It's true.

IKEA abandons ~50 years of Futura and Century Schoolbook for … Verdana.
In an interview with swedish design magazine CAP&DESIGN the reason for the change is to be able to use the same font i all countries, including asian countries. Also they want to be able to give the same visual impression both in print and the web.

For me it's a sad day.
What are your thoughts on this matter?

dan_reynolds's picture

Well, I am just not moved by this at all! Futura out of the CD? Oh no! Really, it is going to be OK, isn't it? IKEA had been using Futura since the 1940s. As far as I'm concerned, that is actually a good reason to switch to a different typeface. Maybe the big, globally-successful IKEA wanted to differentiate themselves from other ginormous entities that use Futura. Honestly, what does the company have in common with e.g., Volkswagon, other than the same typeface? Maybe a different typeface than Verdana would have been a better choice, but they can fix that later if they want. They've made a huge first step by breaking with their past. Somehow, I doubt that they'll stick with Verdana for 60 years.

Also, Matthew Carter is just a better designer than Paul Renner was ;-)
I know which team that I'd rather root for.

pookerella's picture

Verdana, like Arial, should NEVER be used in print. PERIOD.

poms's picture

>Verdana, like Arial, should NEVER be used in print. PERIOD.

In the BoConcept's german version catalogue of last year, the graphic design unit made a good job working with (only) Verdana – i even saw it as large type in windows. Really ok/good job!

BTW Haha, i don't know the IKEA catalogue yet – i will be surprised or …
And it certainly it was time for a change, really.

marquis.de.stade's picture

DISCLAIMER: The following is my personal point of view on the situation and does not reflect the views of my employer or the views of any branch of IKEA, past, present or future. None of the following is to be considered factual.

Now that the cat's outta the bag so to speak. I've been working with IKEA for a while and learned about the switch to Verdana about a year ago. The reasons I heard internally were pretty much verbatim to those heard in the CAP&Design article. Now, I'm not a designer, although I would like to think that I keep a keen eye on things beautiful.

I am however, a software developer.

I've worked on most of the dynamic content available on the IKEA website and am very well entrenched in the technical issues of localization. While the issue of type is readily apparent at first visual glance, there is more to it than meets the eye. First, you've got to realize that IKEA publishes content all over the world. In multiple alphabets. Producing said content with a consistent visual style is a daunting task, not only for the content producers but for us writing the tools they use as well. Now, disregarding the daunting nature of this task, even disregarding any of the visual aspects of the production such as tracking and kerning etc, there's one technical issue that always lingering about as a dark cloud on an otherwise pretty fair sky — file size.

Fonts are expensive in terms of file size. Sure, your average font with the letters and numerals and some subset of special characters isn't all that bad. But slap on the chinese alphabet or the japanese alphabet and you're looking at pushing several hundred kb if not several mb down the tube. One can use a subset of the alphabet, it's after all highly unlikely that all glyphs are used at the same time, but you rack up the file size pretty quickly anyway. And if you do send specific glyphs down the tube, there's no intelligent caching to take care of already downloaded fonts so you'll be resending the same data over and over.

It may not be that expensive for IKEA to license the rights to Futura (or IKEA Sans as their version was called), but bandwidth sure is. And it's a running cost. In the ubiquitous nature of the internet it is easily forgotten that serious bandwidth costs serious money. I don't have up-to-date figures, but I know the daily unique visitor count on IKEAs website globally is well into the millions. Daily. Yes, they have pretty advanced co-location caching solutions, but it's all very expensive stuff to keep running efficiently.

You may ask:
- Ok, it's expensive to keep this running, but what about the user experience? Doesn't that count for something?

Sure it does. In fact, it's even more important than the costs of running it all. In fact, that's why their pushing that serious amount of energy and money into running it. But when asking that question, you have to ask if the user experience on the web is purely visual? Well, it's not. Looking in a printed catalogue I understand you all, I even agree with most of you. But on the web we've had to come up with quite technically challenging solutions. Reconnecting with what I said previously, fonts costs in terms of file size. They are NOT cheap. And @font-face won't help much, you still have to push the font as any other digital resource. It's also notoriously difficult to cache fonts properly. This is a file type issue I'd presume. You simply can't stream selected glyphs and still have a usable font file, you need to dynamically create one. Anything dynamically created is impossible to cache because of it's dynamic nature. At one time, it's one set of glyphs, at another it's a different set. Coming back to the issue of user experience, file size and bandwidth determines load times. It's really that simple. We can't display what we need to display before we have all the resources to do so. We display as soon as possible and load as lazily as possible (when it's needed), but in order to keep the user interested we need to do serious optimizations to keep the loading times as small as possible. Even in low-bandwidth situations.

So what to do?

Well, we implemented a way of pushing IKEA Sans onto the client in countries where the alphabet was cheap. This includes most western countries. For other alphabets, such as cyrillic, greek, chinese or japanese, we defaulted back to verdana and only produced headings and other selected parts in IKEA Sans, pushing only those glyphs that were necessary to keep the filesize down. It worked well, we managed to keep the loading times as small as possible while still being able to at least come to some sort of decent compromise in visual quality on the web. But the difficulty of caching and the fact that the visual style was anything but consistent is what I think finally pushed IKEA to the switch. You or I may not agree with the decision, but looking at the sheer volume of visitors IKEA get — both in the stores and online — you realize that even a 1% drop due to load times or other look'n'feel issues is a huge loss of potential sales.

Now, wether or not changing up the type face will cause those drops in visitors, I don't know. After all, I'm just a software developer.

PS. While Bert Vanderveen is correct in that Swedish companies did trade with the Nazi regime, it does not mean that Sweden, swedes or even the companies that traded with the regime sympathized with the Nazis. In fact, Sweden always maintained a status of neutrality which means that Sweden neither supported nor abolished the regime. In hindsight, this may sometimes seem as a kind of support while in fact it's a condition of neutrality. The government couldn't disallow trade with the Nazis since it would effectively cancel the status of neutrality and place us as participants in the conflict. As you may or may not know, Sweden did not enter the conflict between Finland and Russia during that time for the very same reasons. Note that I'm not taking a stand here, just trying to convey a more fair image than portraying Swedes as nazis.

For more information on Sweden during the second world war:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweden_during_World_War_II

paragraph's picture

Well done. Thanks for this infusion of reason and reality into this overly emotional thread. In your case, anonymity is no problem, sir.

Nick Shinn's picture

Thanks for the insider perspective.

The government couldn’t disallow trade with the Nazis

In practical terms, yes, but ideally a neutral could close its borders and become self sufficient.

dezcom's picture

" neutral could close its borders and become self sufficient."

Being fair to Sweden, at the time a country with a minimal army, could ill afford to pisß off the heavily armed and notoriously invasion minded Nazis.

ChrisL

dan_reynolds's picture

I doubt that it is possible for a nation the size of Sweden—with its geography, too—to be self sufficient.

Si_Daniels's picture

>Thanks for this infusion of reason and reality into this overly emotional thread.

Yes, thanks. So on to a reasoned, unemotional debate about the Nazis! ;-)

blank's picture

I’m going to run away from the Nazi discussion and just say thank you for dropping by with this very interesting explanation of the reasoning behind the switch. I had no idea that idea faced such staggering costs for serving web fonts!

Si_Daniels's picture

Yep, lets keep typophile a Nazi-free zone!

mili's picture

Thank you Mstade for the insider's view!

As for Nazis and Sweden, and such issues, Sweden is nicely cushioned between Norway and Finland, so it's been relatively easy to stay neutral. I understand that it was better to co-operate that to be occupied. Norway was occupied by Germany and are with NATO now, something that's been discussed in Finland, too. Finns had to side with the Germans against Russians, but kicked them out later. Bit of a no-choice situation, to start with.
Sweden took care of a lot of Finnish children during the war, which was a very good deed indeed.

bYawn's picture

Er, Hello Losers,

Just joined and I am so excited to see another group of introverted gay losers living in mom's basement up in arms about a global or social issue that really matters!

Good work people!

Nick Shinn's picture

Actually, the only thing more pathetic (from the bYawn perspective) would be someone taking the time to register and comment on it.

Si_Daniels's picture

An interesting counterpoint to the "Verdana only works on the screen" brigade...

http://advertisingindustrynewswire.com/2009/08/30/1156_190137.php

Also updated AP piece...

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5geYlBYTlLIO5k6bVAzQxh7...

...which mentions typophile!

Alvin Martinez's picture

Nick,

bYawn is probably the type of sad person who feels that it is "cool" to go onto a forum that they know nothing about, and troll. People like that like to hear themselves talk. Nothing more, nothing less. Ignore him/her/it.

~ A

Nick Shinn's picture

Sorry, shouldn't respond to trolls. Muy bad.

Alvin Martinez's picture

Via the Associated Press: Swedish art director Christoph Comstedt commented on the Verdana issue:

"I don't think the average consumer will react, maybe people in the advertising business," Comstedt said.

Perhaps he should rent "Objectified." Because if we took that approach to every thing that had a potential design worth, we would live in a less visually appealing world. With design becoming a much more consumer/societal recognized value than in the past, that comment sounds like a very naive point of view intended to minimize smart design choices.

Suz_Syn's picture

Is it not odd of AP to say (in the fourth paragraph), "Verdana was invented by Microsoft . . ." ?

Apart from not even mentioning Matthew Carter, how could the AP copy editors let that go by?

Do they think there's a job title of "type inventor"?

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5geYlBYTlLIO5k6bVAzQxh7...

Si_Daniels's picture

Well just got back from IKEA (Renton, WA) and I have to say I was disappointed. The promised Verd-topia failed to materialize. 98% of the store was still using the old font.

Re. the AP piece, there are several errors in there, and the typophile reference seems to have been borrowed from the Time article. I bet 20 euros if IKEA ever reverts the font, the AP will lead with the headline “Back to the Futura!” Well at least the journalist’s name sounds like an IKEA product. :-)

blank's picture

Is it not odd of AP to say (in the fourth paragraph), “Verdana was invented by Microsoft . . .”

You expect a newspaper syndication service to check facts?

BlueStreak's picture

I've been stuck on Almar's last comment. There is obviously a different weight on this for each entity, and according to mstade's comment IKEA specifically addressed this, but how or where does the line of "visually appealing" take precedent over functional efficiency as considered for the priority of design?

Raumschiff's picture

Wow. This thread is famous. It made Time Magazine. And thus my day :-)

Marius Ursache's picture

Update (see full article on Brandacadabra)

Ikea has reacted to the unexpected coverage of this in Time magazine and throughout social media:

We're surprised. 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. Verdana is a simple, cost-effective font which works well in all media and languages.—Camilla Meiby, Ikea spokesman (quoted by Associated Press)

It’s sad that some people react negative. Still, we are very glad that people care so much. But what’s important is the message, not good looking fonts.—Ivana Hrdlickova, Ikea (quoted by Swedish Wire)

I really appreciate Ikea's intervention and their response. It shows an open mind and I really want to thank them for joining a conversation started by people who appreciate both their role in promoting design to masses, and design itself.

However, there are certain aspects that I would argue about:

  • Indeed, the broad public is not interested. Although this change in identity rather makes Ikea look unremarkable (in visual communication), similar to tens of thousands of businessed in the world who only use Arial, Times New Roman or Verdana. This will impact on the long run on the perception.
  • Verdana does not work well in print. Ask any graphic designer that has basic typography knowledge. And it does not work well in all languages (it only has Latin, Cyrillic and Greek letterforms)
  • It's not about good looking fonts. It's about design, which is more about functionality and solving a problem, than just pure aesthetics. Would you argue similarly about any of your products—that it has to work, no matter how it looks? I think this undermines the whole philosophy Ikea is built around.

Ikea, you say you are glad that design/typography experts care about you. I think that's something few brands can brag about. This whole fuss is about nothing else than caring about your design strategy—a strategy that I (and other 3000+ fellow designers who signed the above mentioned petition) hope you will revise!

Thank you!

Marius Ursache
Chief Creative Officer
Grapefruit
www.grapefruit.ro

blank's picture

Something else occurred to me: if Ikea went with Verdana because of cost issues related to serving web fonts, why not commission a new series of Verdana fonts optically tweaked for use at large sizes and in the catalogs? The basic structure of Verdana would adapt well to reining the details that look out of proportion at larger sizes. Adding ink traps and enlarging counters in the bold weight would make it print better in the catalogs. Light and black weights would help the type distinguish itself in print and signage.

rui abreu's picture

In the eighties, Coca Cola did a much better job showing everyone how much Coca Cola drinkers loved their logo. When it went Coke it was an offense.

IKEA is certainty showing everyone who doesn't shop there how much their clients love design. Plus the brand is being spoken.

After this Verdana nightmare everyone will be happy to have futura back. And all non-Ikea-costumers will notice how good looking is ikea's Futura and their furnisher too.

I'm not saying this is the current situation but it could be. After all they must know something about design, or else they would have picked Comic Sans or Arial.

Jan's picture

But what’s important is the message, not good looking fonts.

That’s plain stupid.

Si_Daniels's picture

—–―--- ---―--―-- ―--―--― --―- -―- --―- -―--

...the new flatpack version of Verdana. :-)

dezcom's picture

I want them to use it Si. Every reader of their catalogue will have to put together all the parts and make their own typeface with minimal instructions in sign language :-)

ChrisL

SuperUltraFabulous's picture

Marius Ursache:

Meiryo is the Japanese Verdana
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiryo

Si_Daniels's picture

>I want them to use it Si. Every reader of their catalogue will have to put together all the parts and make their own typeface with minimal instructions in sign language :-)

Fortuantely it comes with a special tool... "¬"

As they say “some assembly required” :-)

janey_smithe's picture

You people need to get a life. It's a font. You should spend your time worrying about real problems.

johnbutler's picture

Although Lucida existed (and was bundled with various Microsoft products) well before Verdana was created, I don’t think anyone was using it as a UI font.

Si, I'm almost certain that Lucida Sans was the default UI font in Slo-aris' X11 window manager. Back in their pink and purple days before Larry Ellison showed up and turned them orange. Or Tan In A Can, if you will.

One of the first things I do when I get a Windows box is turn off the candy theme, switch to the Windows 2000 theme and make all the UI widget fonts a small version of Lucida Sans. Very efficient and pleasant.

Si_Daniels's picture

Thanks John, that's interesting - do you think that led to Apple adopting it for OS X, given the product's Unix underpinnings? Out of Interest do you know what Nextstep was using?

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture

> You people need to get a life. It’s a font. You should spend your time worrying about real problems.

Wrong forum, I assume.

DrDoc's picture

I always find it funny that whenever Typophile is mentioned in national news media we have an influx up people joining only to tell us to get a collective life. There are several forums devoted to TV shows, video games, sporting teams, cars, bikes, (all of which I enjoy), and other things that are at least as insignificant as what we talk about. Why don't those forums have people joining to belittle forumgoers' passions?

Also, I should mention that this forum is pull of people who make their livings doing something related to this forum, which distinguishes us from forums about almost all of the above-mentioned areas of interest.

Landdogger's picture

Incredible thread, so many good insights.

I myself fall on the side that is more intrigued by the move. Undoubtedly, choosing Verdana is a "sign of the times," as it seems that it was very much dictated and necessitated by web technology. Where Futura had it's place in history to express geometric and streamlined modernity for the printing press, Verdana speaks to a whole different kind of "digital modernity."

Instead of discounting the move as purely functional, I think it's time to reconsider Verdana as something that might work for Ikea because it's just what they need, regardless of not being designed for print, etc. I wonder: would people think it's as terrible if they didn't know where it came from?

A little more in depth here: Maybe it's time to rethink Verdana

Si_Daniels's picture

Apparently Wikipedia (Jedi Council?) editors want to ban the Verdanagate entry.

Via http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/09/01/the-full-fonty-why-type-nerds-went-m...

Silas Amos's picture

I think this is a good example where, typographic appeal notwithstanding, its the content which sticks in the mond more than the font. We have written a little bit more from this perspective at http://www.jkr.co.uk/design-gazette/

sandrosandro's picture

But what’s important is the message, not good looking fonts.

This is just terrible thinking. Pure stupidity.

I have just read article about Ikea and Verdana in Croatian newspaper. Also Typophile was noted. Regarding our discussion we are going round and round in circles. Many of you said, and it's just technically righ and correct that Verdana was not made for print.
_

Sandro

rkiga's picture

Why is anyone upset about this quote:
"But what’s important is the message, not good looking fonts."

Isn't message the most important thing? Everything else is secondary. Concerning style, consistency is one of the most important things. This is especially true, as has been mentioned, when dealing with a global company that has to try to keep some kind of consistency across web and print in multiple languages.

Sometime in 2008, all Ikea websites moved from various fonts (mostly Arial) to Verdana, probably in preparation for this print move. From that alone, the sites looks better, but I don't remember any TIME articles about that. So lighten up about this!

I'm not in love with Verdana's numerals (especially the 1 and 9), but it's not as if it's so bad that it's distracting to me, and I think that's what it comes down to. Even if Verdana looks marginally worse than Futura in print, it's not so bad that I--much less the general public--will be distracted by it, or even notice it. Regardless of the font, the Ikea catalogs are well designed anyway. Even if this doesn't say Ikea to us yet, that'll change with time.

If Verdana really looks so bad at display sizes that it matters, then Ikea can simply commission a display cut for the different languages. I don't think it'll be necessary, but judging from what mstade said, this would make a lot more sense than the alternatives.

Anyway, for anyone who has not seen a catalog, here is another side-by-side comparison, just make sure you have your seatbelt on and your soapbox nearby:
http://www.idsgn.org/posts/ikea-says-goodbye-to-futura/

Here's a quote by macmcraeart on digg that pretty much sums it up for me:
oh snap! they switched from plain to more plain... rage.

When you go too far with form over function, I think you lose sight of some other important things: like how typophile forum looks great (my first post btw), but I hate that there's no "quote this/+quote" buttons, comment numbers to reference, or highlight-and-click html-tagging buttons. Also, seeing as how so many people here are on a first name basis, wouldn't it make sense to have our real names displayed just under our aliases? All things neglected so that the site can look cleaner?

ryan

OT tangent: why is "seatbelt" not a word in my spellchecker yet? It's not even listed as "seat-belt" yet in the MW dictionary. Keeping apart a pair of words that naturally belong together is such a shame. Damn those segregationist!

Jan's picture

But what’s important is the message, not good looking fonts.

It’s stupid (in general and apart from the Verdanagate discussion) because when you set text in a typeface the look of that typeface becomes part of the overall message.

For IKEA’s products the above statement would translate to:
What’s important is that you can sit on it, not what the chair looks like.

mehallo's picture

Re: the Verdana backlash ...

Someone posted this blog link on my Facebook page:

http://shortformblog.com/biz/verdana-is-not-a-font-we-repeat-ikea-verdan...

Which now states (a few times!) that 'Verdana is not a font.'

(!?)

So far, I've enjoyed this response to the Blog's bold statement (from a former student):

'font-family: "Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Arial, Nimbus Sans, Verdana, sans-serif;' Not a font, apparently, but it is a back-up font for that blog's design.

steve mehallo
http://tinyurl.com/mehallofonts
http://mehallo.com/blog

ShortFormBlog's picture

Re: mehallo

Thanks for noticing the post. However, I guess I should clarify, as it seems that some of the arguments may have been taken literally.

My thinking on the headline (which admittedly was a bit hyperbolic to make a point) is sort of rooted in this line from the article: "It looks like the font blew out when the catalogs were being printed." I guess that's where I started from with that.

My point was that the font is so overused, that it's a given – it's almost as if it's not even there. I wasn't literally trying to say that it wasn't a font. I thought that should have been clear from the props I gave Matthew Carter in the post. Alas.

And regarding the CSS: Someone posted the question to me at Hacker News, and my response was (jokingly) that it's for computers that only have one font.

This whole debacle has been a fairly strange one. As the story went mainstream, it went from designers and techies largely agreeing with my points to non-designers hearing about the story and looking at it as a bottle of nerd rage in about three days. Currently waiting for the backlash against the backlash against the backlash to begin.

--
Ernie Smith, Owner/Proprietor/Intern
http://shortformblog.com/

rkiga's picture

It’s stupid (in general and apart from the Verdanagate discussion) because when you set text in a typeface the look of that typeface becomes part of the overall message.

Yes of course a typeface is PART of the overall message, but what is important is the message. I think some people here think those things are on equal terms, or worse, instead of one thing contributing to the other. Also, I'm reading "message" as meaning more than just words on a page.

For IKEA’s products the above statement would translate to:
What’s important is that you can sit on it, not what the chair looks like.

Isn't that absolutely, positively, 100% perfect then? Clearly Ikea doesn't design purely superficial stuff you might find in a stuffy boutique or art dealer. They're not going to PURPOSEFULLY make ugly chairs, but the IMPORTANT thing is that you can sit on the chair, not what it looks like (honestly, a few of their chairs ARE damn ugly, and I think we're now into the endless form vs function debate). Ikea's products are designed to be semi-modular, practical, and affordable. They're rarely on the cutting edge. They've made a fortune selling bargain furniture that does its job and is "good enough", why would anyone be surprised that they're going with what the spokesperson described as a "more efficient and cost-effective" font?

She did say they "are very glad that [us angry typographer] people care so much", so the only thing wrong with the quote that I see is that maybe she slipped and said "important" instead of "most important".

ryan

Jan's picture

They’d be selling boxes if it was just a matter of sitting on something. Don’t tell me their chairs aren’t designed. They even mention the specific designers in the catalogue.

rkiga's picture

Where did I say their chairs aren't designed? Anyway, I've seen giant spools being recycled/resold as tables, so what's to stop Ikea from selling boxes/crates/whatever as chairs/stools/benches/footrests? What makes something a chair?

Back on topic: Jan, I think you're going way overboard on this slippery slope stuff. The spokesperson clearly didn't mean that aesthetics are not important at all, only that they're subordinate to the message. It's a balancing act of time/money vs quality/effectiveness.

Aesthetics are always important to some degree when you're trying to sell a product--not just in the product, but in the message itself. But, Ikea clearly has priorities where other things matter before or along with aesthetics: price, flat-pack-ability, etc. But, nothing matters more than that you can get the message / sit on it.

They've traded one flavor of bland for another flavor of bland so that they can cut costs and be consistent across different languages. Tell them to make a display cut, not cry foul and sign petitions like it's some crime against humanity after one catalog.

-You're saying it's stupid to think Ikea can have a message without a pretty font since aesthetics is part of the overall message.
-I'm saying that since aesthetics is part of the message, if you have an effective message, your aesthetics were either fine, or everything else in the message was so great that the aesthetics didn't matter much at all.

You can't take what people say literally word for word, which is why I wrote that she should have said the message is “most important” instead of “important” for clarity. I think I made the same mistake in my post. We all flub words.

I think I know why you can't understand what I'm trying to say: this forum is set in 12pt Verdana! If only it were in Futura... :p

paragraph's picture

this forum is set in 12pt Verdana! If only it were in Futura

Oh gods, no! It's actually meant to be Georgia (something wrong with your installation :)

There, emoticon!

mili's picture

"I think I know why you can’t understand what I’m trying to say: this forum is set in 12pt Verdana! If only it were in Futura... :p"

On my browser it looks like Georgia!

Syndicate content Syndicate content