Scriptorium Publishing

content strategy consulting

Font snobbery? (I don’t think so.)

September 4, 2009 by

For its 2010 catalog, IKEA used Verdana font instead of the customized Futura it’s used for years. To say people noticed the switch would be an understatement:

“Ikea, stop the Verdana madness!” pleaded Tokyo’s Oliver Reichenstein on Twitter. “Words can’t describe my disgust,” spat Ben Cristensen of Melbourne. “Horrific,” lamented Christian Hughes in Dublin. The online forum Typophile closed its first post on the subject with the words, “It’s a sad day.” On Aug. 26, Romanian design consultant Marius Ursache started an online petition to get Ikea to change its mind. That night, Verdana was already a trending topic on Twitter, drawing more tweets than even Ted Kennedy.

As a fan of IKEA and its products, I can understand the reaction. If you showed me a page out of an IKEA catalog with just text and prices (and no pictures or funky product names, of course!), I could tell you in a heartbeat that the content was from IKEA.

Verdana may be easier to read if you’re looking at the IKEA catalog online, but that font lacks the designer-y flair of Futura. Because IKEA is known for its affordable cutting-edge design, Verdana just doesn’t seem to quite fit the bill.

This situation reminds me of a comment a friend made about a failed hotel in Raleigh, NC. He said, “Did you see the awful Brush Script on the hotel’s sign? Those people clearly didn’t know how to run a business.” I doubt the Brush Script killed the hotel, but that bad design decision gave my friend (and probably many others) a very unfavorable impression about the company.

Earlier this week, Sarah O’Keefe and I were doing some web research and came upon a web site that used Comic Sans. My reaction to that site was less than positive. I loathe Comic Sans, and I find it hard to take any company seriously that uses a font that emulates text in a comic book.

A company’s use of fonts can become iconic–think about the fonts used by Coca-Cola and FedEx in their logos, for example. Font choice does have an effect on how people perceive content, a product, or a company.

I don’t think reactions to fonts are limited to just those who work in publishing and design. No snobbery here at all. (But if noticing fonts makes me a card-carrying font snob, you better believe that card would have no Comic Sans on it.)

For more about the impact of fonts, check out the documentary Helvetica: