Ikea Changes Its Font: Futura Is Now in the Past

Posted by: Damian Joseph on August 28, 2009

After 50 years of using Futura, Ikea is switching to the ubiquitous typeface Verdana. The Ikea catalogue is the third most printed book in the world, behind the Bible and Harry Potter (seems about right to me). After so much time and investment into Futura, why the change? …

Verdana was created with the Web in mind; Microsoft (MSFT) designer Matthew Carter constructed the type for Internet Explorer and it's now one of the most often-used fonts in the world.

Futura, on the other hand, is a print-centric font originally designed by Paul Renner. Ikea has been using a refined version of the font for half a century, and has even commissioned the typeface to be drawn out in more weights and languages specifically for its brand. In fact, it's called "Ikea Sans."

Ikea’s Ivana Hrdlickova told Swedish design magazine Cap & Design that the change allows the company to use a uniform font in all countries and to use the same font in print and on the Web.

But doesn't this put the company at risk of losing the influence of its brand identity?

This morning, I spoke with Allan Haley, director of Words & Letters at
Monotype Imaging, the firm that refined Futura for Ikea. Here's what he had 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."

I played a little devil's advocate with Haley and asked, "What would you say if I told you they were just letters and not much has changed? It's one of the most well-recognized companies in the world. This won't affect them."

Haley retorted, "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."

Ikea isn't the only company playing with its image. Similarly, Wal-Mart (WMT), Coca-Cola (KO), GE (GE), and JC Penney (JCP) have switched up fonts in their logos. Haley says the design community always has mixed feelings on such moves. Just look at the furor over Ikea's change. The public's reaction is hard to measure.

Check out this BusinessWeek story about Pepsi's (PEP) rebranding efforts and the backlash over the now infamous Tropicana carton.

What do you think? Does Ikea run the risk of tarnishing its brand? Or is this just inside baseball for graphic designers?

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Reader Comments

Kelsey Blackwell

August 28, 2009 3:16 PM

As long as what's in the store doesn't change I don't care if the font becomes wingdings.

Kristin

August 28, 2009 3:42 PM

Design matters. Ikea should know better.
---
Ikea catalog from 1965:
http://kottke.org/09/08/1965-ikea-catalog

LunarRyder

August 28, 2009 4:14 PM

Would anyone NOTICE!

LameChoice

August 28, 2009 5:33 PM

If they switched to any other font it might not be such a big deal. But switching to the most overused boring McDonalds type font is a bit of sin for a company known for its design pedigree. Plus do they really have to use something invented by M$, the beast from Redmond.

Sam

August 28, 2009 5:44 PM

Yes, design matters...design...the products that they make...not the typeface that they use to tell me about said products. As long as they continue doing well what they have done well for decades, I really don't care which font they use on a website and in print. If it makes for a sensible financial decision for the company to save some pennies in a difficult financial time, then I don't see why anyone has a problem with this.

Franny

August 28, 2009 7:18 PM

Full of misinformation, BusinessWeek. IKEA's not been using Futura for 50 years! Futura and New Century Schoolbook were used from 1970-2001, and since they've used IKEA Sans, IKEA Serif and IKEA Script. Get the facts straight, BW! http://bit.ly/uqq0H

Dave

August 28, 2009 10:17 PM

Type matters, and if you look at Verdana it's another M$ rip-off. It's their Helvetica...and they couldn't do that right either.

Thomas Watson once said something to the effect of, "I don't know how much design costs us, but I know how much lack of design would cost."

Ikea should know better.

Jeff

August 29, 2009 3:11 AM

The deal is that IKEA basically has two choices:

1. Save a little dough and make new
markets easier to enter, alienating
a highly-loyal fan-base.

2. Appease the masses and keep Futura.
It is much easier to keep customers
than find new ones.

I would be surprised if they didn't keep Futura.

Damian Joseph

August 29, 2009 12:27 PM

Thanks Franny, but Ikea Sans, Script, etc... are actually refined versions of Futura.

Verdana isn't bad

August 29, 2009 1:55 PM

Ok guys, Verdana, first of all was not supposed to rip off helvetica, that was Arial. Also, though it was designed for M$ it was designed by Mathew Carter...aka it was designed by a genius, it's not a bad typeface at all. As a matter of fact it's a pretty amazing typeface.


...that being said i'm not a fan

MikeyCee

August 31, 2009 8:20 AM

Did WALMART change it's font!? The Verdana lettering will not hurt IKEA. Now if they decide to change the colors, then there will be a problem. People ID with colors more than lettering styles. I know, I've been lettering for 30 years and color coordinating for businesses as well. In my experience color rules. The more unique you are, the more attention it brings to the business, good and bad. And like the IKEA change, isn't bad exposure good? It sure didn't hurt Walmart when it changed. About that Pepsi redo...

joe dibbs

August 31, 2009 6:06 PM

We use calibri at our company, almost the same as Verdana. Sorry Future lovers!!!

Peter Merholz

August 31, 2009 6:42 PM

If Allan Haley truly believes what he's quoted as saying here, he's not that smart. There's much more to a company's visual identity than their typeface.

Jackson Mahr

September 1, 2009 9:07 AM

Could I suggest, boringly, that changing the font for reasons of design might just verge on arrant nonsense - it could simply be more to do with dull old economics.

Verdana is preinstalled on every Ikea PC running Windows, it has no license fee, and can be used on the web, in catalogues, printed from employees laser printers, sent in an email - all nice and easy!

And to the design zealots, it seems unreasonable to imply that an young, bewildered, unshaven bachelor looking to furnish his new studio apartment will boycott the 20 dollar coffee tables because the font on the front of the building "looks a bit different".

(This sort of conversation is why font designers never get invited to the really cool parties)

Bernard Newdigate

September 2, 2009 7:01 AM

The new font could have been worse.
It could have ben Comic Sans.

nitrofurano

September 3, 2009 5:40 AM

online petition for IKEA getting rid of Verdana: http://www.petitiononline.com/IKEAVERD/petition.html

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