Why You Care That Ikea Adopted Verdana

Ikea, after decades, has changed its corporate typeface. Its Futura look-alike, Ikea Sans, has been replaced by Verdana. If you shop at Ikea, start watching them, because changes like this one are often an indication of lost direction.

Samples of Futura and Verdana in the Ikea colors.

Typefaces should be the voice, along with the writing, that advertising and communications speak with. Ikea’s communications have, as long as I know of, been speaking with the voice of Ikea Sans; a functional, geometric sans serif typeface whose obviously designed nature is balanced by its friendly, uncomplicated forms. It’s a perfect voice (or metaphor) for Ikea: consciously designed, but friendly and accessible.

Verdana, the newly chosen Ikea typeface, is free and designed for web text.* Even if that name doesn’t ring a bell, you probably see it nearly every single day. Why did Ikea choose it? This is their reason:

Freely distributed by Microsoft, the typeface allows Ikea to use the same font in all countries and with many alphabets. 'It's more efficient and cost-effective,' says Ikea spokeswoman Monika Gocic. 'Plus, it's a simple, modern-looking typeface.'
–Time, 9/28/09

Godic gives a reason that just doesn’t make sense, unless you believe that the best corporate identity is the cheapest one. First off, “Simple, modern-looking typeface” can be said about the majority of san serif typefaces, without any point of reference. Secondly, Ikea Sans is an Ikea-owned typeface. They can use it anywhere they want and expand on it at their whim. Unless their licensing agreement was poorly constructed (which I doubt), this decision represents something more than an bad type choice. It’s a misunderstanding of one’s own brand. They’re throwing out a core component of their identity, which helps to define their voice, based on what sounds like a pointless financial argument. That usually hints at a business-driven panic that’s causing executives and middle managers to squeeze the budget lines they don’t understand.**

The trouble is that these decisions are made without concern for what the consumers and loyal customers actually want. And when a company like Ikea starts to tinker with its brand without proper planning, you’re getting a whiff of something much worse: tinkering with the business without thinking. If they think their brand perception, as formed by their identity, doesn’t have value, they should take another look at Tropicana.

If you shop at Ikea or like Ikea, I’d be willing to bet that this isn’t the first decision they’ll make without you in mind. And that’s why you should care that Ikea has adopted Verdana.

*It was designed for and released by Microsoft, for free, as part of the “core fonts” package with Windows. Software companies release fonts for free for one reason: to make their software work and look its best in use. The core fonts were released for Microsoft’s most important web product: Internet Explorer. As such, Verdana was designed for the unique demands of text-sized type on a low-res computer displays. In fact, while it can be printed, it was not designed to perform best in print.

**Let’s ignore the fact that now they have to pay to re-typeset and produce virtually every sign and printed piece of material they have.

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  1. Interesting take, Chris. I agree that it wasn’t a very thoughtful choice. At least it looks like they did their best with it, tightening the spacing for the print stuff, especially at large sizes.

    Are you sure Ikea Sans is wholly owned? Maybe the holders of the rights to Futura (Bauer/Neufville) asked a pretty penny for any modification or additional character sets.

  2. I can’t be the only person (if a typographer) who feels mild nausea looking at Verdana in the sizes and contexts that IKEA is throwing up (or the examples above). The Futura: Peaceful, classy. The Verdana: Just icky. And mildly nauseating to look at.

  3. I’m not sure that this really goes counter to Ikea’s business plan. In their catalogues, stores and website, they always say when it comes to furniture they set the price first, and they design from that. Although it’s rather sad to see that the price they set is zero, it doesn’t seem that foreign.

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