Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ikea Ignites Typographic Outrage Among Graphic Designers

Graphic designer's can be very pissy, but that's the nature of their calling. For the finest practitioners of the craft, sweating the tiniest of minutia and detail is at the core of their vocation. The latest company to ignite pissy designer outrage is Ikea. I just read in the Guardian: (Verdana: Ikea's flat-pack font) that they've changed the font used in their catalog from a customized version of Futura to Verdana.

I went to the Ikea site to take a look at the online version of the catalog, and must admit that I did recoil a bit. It's obvious that the decision must have been one made on the basis of economic efficiencies. Verdana was designed for Microsoft as a default system font in 1983. It was created specifically as a free and widely distributed font that would look good at reading sizes of the relatively low resolution of computer screens. And it does. It was created by one of the greatest modern typographers alive, Matthew Carter, who also designed such modern classics as Meta and Myriad. Where I cringe a bit is the way it looks used at large sizes. This is a screenshot of a spread from the new catalog's online PDF version:

Although originally trained as a graphic designer, I believe these situations should be framed in a way that is broader than simple aesthetics. The role of aesthetics in design is to create resonant meaning. Most people don't care what font Ikea uses because it affects them in ways that are too subtle to break perceptual threshold and cause notice. That said, these things do matter because they creates different meanings and different experiences.

Although much of it is quite cool, quirky and well "designed" the furniture Ikea makes can at times border on being junk (from a quality perspective). In his novel Generation X, Douglas Coupland referred to it as "semi-disposable Swedish furniture". What design and the brand do is augment this fact and create an experiential value that compensates (and perhaps masks) this reality. The customized version of Futura that Ikea used (called Ikea Sans) has a quirkiness and history that is not only tied to the brand's history but to European design history as well. The switch to Verdana, becuase it is modern and has strong computer and utilitarian connotations undermines this function of design for the brand (and it does look gross when used at large sizes on those spreads).

An Ikea catalog from the mid 60's.

Related links:
Now Public: IKEA Font: Futura to Verdana, What Changed and Why?

The Guardian: Verdana: Ikea's flat-pack font.


Anonymous said...

Из удовольствий наиболее приятны те, которые встречаются наиболее редко. Самые, лучшие духи в маленьких флаконах. Отдайтесь вашему делу всем сердцем и душою, но посмотрите прежде всего хорошее ли это дело. Разумный гонится за тем что приятно, а за тем что избавляет отнеприятностей. Вся Россия, это пьющий Гамлет.

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