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.


Handwriting guy said...

The font has an unconscious impact on us all.
From a "handwriting analysis" point of view
The printing in all capital letters is like shouting at us, a subtle form of arrogance that creates a barrier that is hard to warm to.
Veranda personal pronoun 'I" is also defensive, top and tail stops the flow of communication in and out.
Cld like a Sweedish winter.

George Williams said...

Of all the fonts, in all the world, they chose verdana. The designer and the person that signed this off should be banished from ever selecting, creating or being a part of this process. The decision lacks any emotion or history to the brand and as is evident, downgrades, disgusts and dissolves the brand.

Leslie Goodbar said...

I understand the concerns about the downgrade in aesthetics. However, it could be that this was a conscious decision to appeal to the younger generation.

Urban Outfitters did a similar shift in their website design not long ago and breaking with a more sophisticated established font might give a more youthful and carefree feeling to an audience who looks at design through the eyes of someone who has grown up texting and looking at computer screens and therefore ascribes a different value to the font.

yo_ghurt said...

The Coke and Tropicana 'revolts' were led by consumers. In the first case, Coke changed the customers' favourite taste, in the second case, Tropicana made their packaging anonymous

The outrage over Ikea is coming from designers.

As you point out early on Kevin, I doubt if many customers will notice and if they do (I didn't), are likely to see it as a 'freshen-up' rather than finding it 'downgrading and disgusting', as one of your commenters described it.

Let's get back to saving the planet, folks.

jamesdusk said...


Don't kick Verdana.
You have to be clever to get it right.

Like...oh...that huge brand.. Chanel..

Dez Fragge said...

Dear Kevin,

There was a very profound and hard hitting statement in this article.

"Brands are not owned by the management. They are owned by the people."

It should make the best of business esp. retail : RE-THINK

It made me go WOW x 3 times and I needed to take a walk!!!

I just found the key essence of my recent business proposal.

Thanks alot.

- Dez.