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Ikea Takes an Allen Wrench to its Branding

By Brian | August 29, 2009 | Share on Facebook

What could cheap furniture maker extraordinaire, Ikea, do that would create reactions like this?

“Ikea, stop the . . . madness!” – Tokyo

“Horrific!” – Dublin

“It’s a sad day” – Typophile Online Forum

“The . . . community feels betrayed. If a company like Ikea can make this mistake, you have to wonder who is going to lead . . . ” – Bucharest

“Words can’t describe my disgust. It’s a bit like using Lego to build a skyscraper, when steel is clearly a superior choice.” – Melbourne

“It’s like taking the family sedan off-road. It will sort of work, but ultimately gets bogged down” – London

What have they done? Have they made faulty furniture? Supported an unpopular political candidate? Employed child slave labor to write cryptic instructions in Swedish for unsuspecting American bargain hunters? What could Ikea have possibly done that would surpass the death of Ted Kennedy on Twitter’s Trending Topics page?!?

They changed the font in their print catalog from a customized version of Futura to Microsoft’s standard Verdana.

Oh, the humanity!

It seems Verdana is free and widely distributed, allowing Ikea to use it globally, even in countries with different alphabets. But it’s got some people more than a bit upset. Here’s Simon l”Anson, creative director of a London-based digital consulting company, Made by Many:

It has open, wide letterforms with lots of space between characters to aid legibility at small sizes on screen. It doesn’t exhibit any elegance or visual rhythm when set at large sizes.

Or how about Vitaly Friedman, editor in chief of Smashing Magazine, an online magazine dedicated to Web design:

The former typeface definitely better reflected Ikea’s design philosophy, giving it a very special, unique flavor that actually fit the company’s style. With Verdana being used all across the Web, Ikea’s image not only loses originality, but also credibility and the reputation that the company has built since the 1940s.

My gut instinct is to tell these people to step away from the computer, venture outside and interact with the 3-D world for a change. But, as Time magazine correctly points out, these are precisely the kinds of things that cause public relations nightmares that spiral wildly out of control and dramatically affect the relationship a company has with its loyal customer base.

Anyone remember New Coke? The Apple Newton? The IBM PC Jr? My bet is Ikea relents and goes back to their original font with next year’s catalog, lest their customers disassemble them one non-standard screw at a time…

Topics: The World Wide Weird | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Ikea Takes an Allen Wrench to its Branding”

  1. jason says at August 29th, 2009 at 3:59 pm :
    Hm. I don’t think this is exactly analogous to the New Coke/Apple Newton/PC Jr scenario. Those were new products that the public rejected; the Coke/Apple/IBM brands — of which a logo is an integral part, because the visual cue is what the public associates with the company’s values and products — remained unharmed. What Ikea’s done by messing with its logo is to risk changing what people think of its brand, and hence the company itself. Marketing professionals work very hard to establish brands and they protect them fiercely — trust me, protecting brands is part of my job, in addition to hunting down stray commas. Certain words must never be used in combination with certain others, logos must be used in specific ways and absolutely NOT in other ways… that sort of thing.

    Personally, I don’t see this sort of thing as all that important — it’s just a component of my job that I perform without much feeling, if you know what I mean. (Although in this case, I do think the original font just plain looks better. For whatever my opinion is worth.) But I imagine the sorts of people I work for would consider this logo redesign a major gamble…

  2. Brian says at August 29th, 2009 at 4:20 pm :
    I should clarify: the article suggests they’ve changed the font in their catalog. I drew up the logo with Verdana font as kind of a joke. I don’t know if they’re also changing their logo, although I would suspect not, given the enormous cost of replacing all the signage on all of their stores/buildings. But, you never know…

    Agreed on the importance of brand manaegment. I’m not sure I see as clear a line betwen what you do and things like New Coke, etc.. A product that isn’t aligned with a company’s brand image can be as damaging as changing the brand image itself. This is why you never see Barbie cigarettes or Mickey beer.

    Either way, in this case, we’re talking about the same words, the same products, and the same marketing, just in a different typeface. I’m not sure such a subtle change has ever caused this much furor before and, quite frankly, I’m not sure why…

  3. jason says at August 29th, 2009 at 5:06 pm :
    Well, technically speaking, the typeface used for the body copy in catalogs, brochures, and other collateral is covered under “brand,” but if all we’re talking about is the product descriptions below the photos, then that’s a big WTF? I can see people getting a little twisted up over a familiar logo, but simple copy? Jeez, talk about much ado over nothing…

  4. Michael Weinmayr says at August 31st, 2009 at 1:08 pm :
    I care about fonts… I used to read U&lc magazine in elementary school (Wow, it still exists!). However… http://www.notquitewrong.com/rosscottinc/2009/08/31/the-system-270-ikea-and-typefaces/


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