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IKEA’s Change to Verdana Prompts Online Outrage

Posted on August 28, 2009 at 11:23 am
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Amid cries of disgust, blasphemy, irritation and downright hatred, in July IKEA began a move to Verdana – a web-safe font designed by Matthew Carter and deployed by Microsoft as part of the operating system, as well as in the Office software appliactions and Internet Explorer on both Macintosh and Windows beginning in 1996.  According to figures on Wikipedia, Verdana is available on 97.46% of all Windows and 94.13% of all Macintosh computers, making it the 5th and 6th most common font respectively. Because a proprietary license is required, it is less common on Linux systems.

The round forms in Futura’s ‘O’ really mimicked the Swedish meatballs before. Now we’re left … yearning for the glory days when IKEA embraced continuity between their typography and meat products1.

Why, IKEA? WHY??

“I think it’s safe to say we were surprised by the response,” says IKEA spokeswoman Monika Gocic. In order to avoid expensive licensing costs, in 2001 IKEA abandoned New Century Schoolbook and Futura (which had been in use since 1970) in favor of IKEA Sans, IKEA Serif and IKEA Script which they had had developed for their exclusive use. However, these fonts are not available across all marketing, advertising and information channels, so IKEA was left with inconsistent branding at best.

Yes, the catalog may have been the same year after year, but to think that’s the only consideration is pretty short sighted – IKEA is an enormous multinational corporation with publication, advertisement, marketing and communication needs spanning many different media and many different markets. In 2010, the IKEA catalog was printed in 54 versions and in 28 languages.

This change has set the Graphic Design and Typography communities on fire, even prompting a petition, so I thought I’d do some digging and find out more about IKEA’s reasoning. Through several different sources, I’ve managed to come across a few answers.

Essentially, it comes down to IKEA needing a license-free, universal font that can be used on all types of art. Print, on-screen, digital.  High resolution and particularly, at low resolution (do I see some new IKEA applications on the horizon?). The IKEA Catalog is the 3rd most printed publication in the world after the Bible and Harry Potter, but it’s only one of IKEA’s marketing tools.  IKEA sports HUGE graphics in store, advertisements in newspapers and magazine, television, billboards, brochures, flyers and more. In addition, any fonts chosen must also be used on their website, their internal intranet, and all internal publications.

IKEA states 3 reasons Verdana is the solution:

Functional – Verdana is legible in all media. Maybe not gorgeous in print or in large sizes, but it’s legible.

Simple – Verdana is available in all languages. Not really – see other language specific fonts below.

Cost-Efficient – Free of charge, Verdana will help IKEA keep costs under control.

IKEA anticipates that Verdana will meet market demands for all printed and online materials as well as ‘digital sales solutions and other devices’ for the next 10-20 years.  But internally, IKEA seems to hedge their bets by stating that,

the visual identity of IKEA does not rely primarily on typography.  Instead, the identity of IKEA lies in the wide range of well-designed home furnishing products of function and low prices with a meaning. The identity of IKEA is expressed through the products and prices strengthened by an appealing imagery. They typography used shall only complement this by informing rather than expressing.

IKEA will begin using Verdana in all communications and graphics packages going forward (except for in certain languages – see below) and will gradually convert existing IKEA Sans, IKEA Serif and IKEA Script graphics to Verdana or the substitute languages listed below over time. Personally, I’m interested to see if over time, people will come to associate Verdana with IKEA. A little subliminal marketing every time you open a Verdana based web-page. Not a bad tactic, really.

Other Approved Substitute Languages

In Israel, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Thailand for the languages Hebrew, Arabic and Thai, Tahoma is the approved substitute font. JhengHei, a Chinese sans-serif is the substitute font for Traditional Chinese in Taiwan and Hong Kong.  YaHei will be substituted for Verdana in mainland China for Simplified Chinese. The Japanese sans-serif, Meiryo is being used in Japan and the Okinawan Islands while Malgun Gothic will be used in North Korea and South Korea.  The Tamil language in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and Mauritius will be displayed using Latha.

1. Brett Schwager in a comment on IKEA Says Goodbye to Futura on August 26 2009 8:34PM. Retrieved 4:07PM August 27, 2009 from


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