IKEA typography - A question of why?

chasteauneuf's picture

I wanted to write this post as a kind of afterthought a good few months since the typographic shift we all felt in the world of graphics when Ikea changed their font from a custom version of futura to a standard web based one.

Recently a client suggested to me that because they couldn’t use their custom font for all materials, for example online, in word or power point, perhaps they should switch all literature to Calibri to match the digital stuff. You can see what they were thinking...a brand, any brand is based on consistency right? Its the repetition of a feature or attribute over and over, until people begin to recognise it and associate it with your particular company. Obviously my reply was ‘no way!!!’. The problem with screen fonts I explained is that, yes you can have it consistent across all platforms, but it is also consistent with about 25% of all other online stuff out there. In order for it to be recognised, it also requires differentiation, otherwise everything blurs into one and you will never stand out or be recognised.

So I wonder now, wether this was actually happened with this whole Ikea thing. Perhaps the non-designer people got frustrated that their power point presentations to big investors or something kept having font issues with everything slipping all over the place. For a moment as well I considered the possibility that this whole thing could be a massive hoax or PR stunt. Obviously not, but I was straining to find a logical explanation to the switch from a custom made font that echoes structure, stability and a little class to a basic web font. And it is a web font, I mean that is what it is designed for. Perhaps that’s the point then, that Ikea are embracing new technology and throwing mother nature a bone by switching all communications online. Surely though they still have a need for in-store signage? Still, to me none of these explanations offer any logical reason.

From a visual point of view there is little doubt that futura would have the upper hand over Verdana. Verdana is designed specifically to appear on pixels and lacks the detail, intricacy and subtlety of a good typeface. “It has open, wide letterforms with lots of space between characters to aid legibility at small sizes on screen,” explains Simon l’Anson, creative director at Made by Many, a London-based digital-consulting company. “It doesn’t exhibit any elegance or visual rhythm when set at large sizes. It’s like taking the family sedan off-road. It will sort of work, but ultimately gets bogged down.”

I find the argument that the switch is cost based a strange one. “It’s more efficient and cost-effective,” says Ikea spokeswoman Monika Gocic. “Plus, it’s a simple, modern-looking typeface.” I mean surely its more expensive to switch than stay the same? And surely if they have a custom made version of futura, they have pretty much brought the rights.

The response to the whole thing has been massive. Designers worldwide have started petitions with numerous blogs to be found. None of which I have found are in favour of the switch I might add. Ikea spokes people have admitted they have been shocked by the whole thing. So what happens now? Will the 2011 brochure fall back into the arms of the ever faithful, handsome and reliable futura? After all, thats what happened when Coca Cola tried to change one of its trademark features. Before long the secret recipe was back on the shelves and the ‘new coke’ slung into the archives of branding disasters. And that was before the digital age where arguments and opinions tend to spread much faster than you can put together an ikea table.

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Miss Tiffany's picture

For others wanting more of this topic: http://typophile.com/node/61222

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