"Ikea, stop the Verdana madness!"

What do we want? Our old font. When do we want it? Now.

By Andrew Leonard
Published September 3, 2009 4:08PM (EDT)

Forget about bogus health care reform townhall outrage: For a real grassroots rebellion, check out the firestorm protesting Ikea's decision to switch fonts in their online and printed catalogs.

Time's Lisa Abend has a good overview of the contretemps touched off by Ikea's decision to switch from Futura, a classic font created by the Bauhaus-influenced German typeface designer Paul Renner in the 1920s, to Verdana, a Microsoft product designed to look good on computer screens.

The protesters claim Verdana is ugly, dumbed down, and an insult to Ikea-fan sensibilities. But in a tough economy...

From Time:

So why would Ikea make such a change? The very ubiquity of Verdana seems to be part of the font's appeal. 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."

But in a world where people care deeply about font design, the watchwords of efficiency and cost-effectiveness carry little sway. Bucharest designer Iancu Barbarasa, a leader of the font rebellion, managed to simultaneously scoff at the decision and express a world-weary acceptance of the uncaring masses' inability to give a fig.

I doubt IKEA's sales dropped much during the crisis considering their target (take a look at McDonald's, they're booming), so jumping to a cheap, inappropriate typeface just because it's a bit cheaper on the short run seems to me like very bad management.

But, of course, nobody can tell for sure if it really matters. Sales may drop or may rise, but nobody will link them to a typeface. After all, most people can't tell the difference between serif and sans. For them it will be a change that never happened: "hasn't it been like this all the time?"

Which, come to think of it, will be exactly what most people will be saying ten years from now, if real health care reform actually passes.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Great Recession How The World Works Ikea Microsoft