Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ikea's New Face

In late August Ikea announced they had made a change in the way they communicate with the world. They changed the typeface used in the body text for all catalogues and company communications (the main logo remains the same). This sparked outrage from designers and bloggers, generating a huge amount of coverage (I’m not sure if customers actually noticed). Ikea had used a customized version of the Futura typeface for over 50 years, seen in the image above. Verdana, used in the image on the right, will replace it.

One of the main causes of the revolt is the specific font Ikea selected. Verdana was created by Microsoft to play nice online, but designers have little respect for it, especially for Ikea and whenever used in print. Vitaly Friedman, editor of Smashing Magazine explains: "With Verdana being used all across the Web, Ikea's image not only loses originality, but also credibility and the reputation that the company has built since the 1940s." Futura on the other hand is a well regarded and handsome specimen with a “warmth and cheer” that designers say resonates with the brand.

The deeper and more powerful cause for outrage comes as no surprise within the emotional context of Lovemarks. Brands are not owned by management. They are owned by the people. Designers have been vocal advocates for Ikea’s stylish yet budget-friendly products. And now they feel betrayed. And management ignores this at its peril. Earlier this year Tropicana learned the hard way with a redesign of their orange juice cartoon. A public revolt surprised Tropicana, and the iconic breakfast cartoon design was reinstated.

So what will Ikea do? Like many of you Ikea played an important role in my life as I started up a couple of houses. And I believe they really do make a difference. So far, they are standing by the choice of Verdana as a pragmatic cost-saving measure. Meanwhile, the backlash plays out online. The blog Typophile lamented by writing, "It's a sad day." And there’s an online petition with well over 6,000 signatures calling the change “a mutilation of Ikea's long admired design philosophy.”

A lot of hubbub? The passionate voices of a vocal minority are central to your brand. The whole affair reminds me of the surprise felt by yet another management team after changing an iconic product: New Coke.