| Branding, Design Basics

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It’s not everyday that a change of font becomes business news. But recently, Ikea made the change from Futura to Verdana and many people took notice. The story ran in the business section of my local paper, and was also covered by Time Magazine, and in blogs and news sources across the Internet.

Ikea, the Swedish housewares and furniture store prides itself on the high-quality design of it’s low-cost items. Probably because it’s so focused on design is why so many designers noticed and criticized their change of font. According to news stories, Ikea has used the Futura typeface for more than 50 years. Talk about consistency in brand identity! But they recently changed to Verdana to be able to have the same font used on all of their international sites and in both print and web.

Why font matters?

What is the difference between Futura and Verdana? Both are sans serif faces, but Futura was designed for print applications and Verdana was designed for the web. Futura has a reputation as a well-designed and popular font. It is clean, minimal and very geometric in feel—very Ikea-like, in fact. Verdana was designed by Matthew Carter for Microsoft specifically for web usage: small, onscreen type.

But Ikea has decided to use that font even in their print catalog, even in large type. Here is a sample page from their catalog which I’ve duplicated and switched back to the Futura typeface (on the headline, body text and red price).

IKEA's current catalog, using the Verdana font.
IKEA's current catalog, using the Verdana font.
IKEA catalog page, recreated by me using Futura.
IKEA catalog page, recreated by me using Futura.

You can see that Verdana (top) has a more squarish shape that allows the headline to be very large and bold, however the numbers in Verdana are not nearly as elegant as Futura’s. Verdana is just a more ugly, workhorse of a font than Futura.

This is not how to focus on consistency

Font choice is not the place to be worrying about consistency between print and web. The fact is that even with their choice of Verdana, the font on their web site will default to another typeface if you do not have Verdana installed on your hard drive.

I frequently write about the importance of consistency in branding, but focusing on font choice in this way is the wrong way to go about it. Ikea has thrown away fifty years of consistency in their printed materials to try and make their print and web presence match; but the nature of web site design is that you cannot have complete control over font choice anyway. Therefore, they are building their model of consistency on a shaky foundation.

If you really hate the new typeface, you can sign this petition.


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