The Big IKEA Font Debate


A wise person once said…
“Good design can make the everyday a little better.”

Oh, ok it wasn’t really a wise person, it was that big blue global furniture brand trying to sell a few more BïlliBöb bookcases in one of their adverts.

Perhaps their next campaign should tout “The Devil’s in the Detail”. Why, you might ask? Well because they have made a small change that has caused a big uproar amongst designers around the world. IKEA has tossed aside their custom made corporate font, IKEA Sans, in favour of its ubiquitous cousin from Microsoft, Verdana.

So, should we really be surprised when a company decides to use the lowest common denominator in the pursuit of cost cutting. Even if it is a brand who likes to shout about good design? No probably not. As much as it pains me to say it because I really love typography – you can’t really blame IKEA for their decision. While they may love to shout about being individual, they are basically a global company who design generic furniture for the masses. It seems fitting for them to use a generic font, designed by a global company for the masses.

The reason for the change is it allows them to standardise typefaces across their digital and print media. An Ikea spokeswoman, Monika Gocic, has said that Verdana is for them because

“it is more efficient and cost-effective”

This is a fair point, but aren’t they also at risk of homogonising their brand with the millions of other companies using Verdana? When speaking to Business Week, Allan Haley, director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging, the firm that created IKEA Sans (the old typeface) had this to say:

“It’s a tremendous risk. They are pulling the typographic foundation of their branding out from underneath themselves… People do notice fonts and letters. The general public has become very tuned to it. When a company makes a drastic change to a very strong brand it can have a negative effect. People make buying choices based off brand identity. The brand becomes an old friend and they can feel betrayed; it can seem like it may not be the same company anymore.”

When asked if it will affect them, with IKEA being one of the most recognized companies in the world, he replied…

“Ikea will look like any company that uses Verdana. It will look like any newsletter or menu from a deli around the corner. It doesn’t differentiate them.”

Aside from the ubiquity factor of Verdana, the other issue the designer community are having with IKEA’s choice is suitability. While Verdana really is a great typeface, it was designed purely to be legible at small type sizes on a computer screen. It really wasn’t designed to be used in big headlines, and when printed on huge banners it starts to look really clumsy.

Why should we care? Well, I don’t expect the majority of the population do, or ever will do, but to designers and typographers it’s just not right. It’s like Rooney leaving his Nike T90 boots and stepping onto the pitch in ballet shoes. Or going drag racing in a Fiat Panda. Yes, it may do the job but there’s far better options!

And that is why there is currently a petition doing the rounds trying to persuade IKEA to rethink their decision. Nearly 7000 designers are fighting the cause, while thousands of other people are telling designers to get down off their high horses and stop moaning about mundane trivia.

Will it stop people buying their strange Swedish-named stuff from the Big Blue Mecca? No, in fact the publicity is probably having the opposite effect!

Die-hard font junkies may claim otherwise, but in the grand scheme of things – a font change is not nearly as important as climate change, the credit crunch or world peace. But it’s still important to look after the little things in life, and sweating over the small stuff is exactly what designers do. The things that the mass majority don’t even notice until it’s missing. Without designers here to take care of the details, the world would look a very different place.

So don’t blame us for being picky – we’re just trying to make the everyday a little better, one good design at a time 😉

For more info on IKEA’s font uproar, click here…

Th offending typeface has now achieved Pro status, meaning that the range has been expanded to include much more weights which are far more suited to headline text and print media. Basically, that’s good news for IKEA and typographers. Win/Win! Find out more about Verdana Pro…