Type Fight

I woke the other morning to a request from my journalist friend Lisa for my opinion about the Ikea/Verdana flap. Just up, I was already running late, so rushed off a few lines and promised in-depth analysis later. Turns out, Lisa was on deadline but was happy with what I wrote; I’m quoted in her article here. Like all of us watching a brouhaha about something we hadn’t realised had any great importance at all (in my case, most sporting kerfuffles, diplomatic fall-outs between sister cities) Lisa is bemused about all the attention her article has received. A journalist who most often writes knowledgeably and thoughtfully about food, she’s surprised an article about a typeface ranks #1 on Time Magazine’s Most Read list. I’m sure lots of people are shaking their heads – who knew anyone cared about such things? Hand on mouse, pull down menu, cursor click on Verdana. There. Done. What’s all the fuss? 

Others far more knowledgeable than I have weighed in eloquently with their opinions on the matter. But I’ve a few thoughts directly related to the analogy I drew for Lisa. I wrote that using Verdana is akin to choosing to build a skyscraper with Lego, when steel would clearly be the superior choice. I do think this is true, and stand by my statement that Verdana is dumbed-down and over-used. But, it occurs to me on reflection that perhaps this is precisely the reason why it’s a perfect choice for Ikea. What is Ikea after all but the dumbed-down, over-used Lego of the furniture world? Those of us who come from a world in which type on the page is the end result of a process involving hand-drawn optical scaling, punch-cutting and sensitive kerning might be best to look at what’s really happening here: advertising for low-cost, mass-produced products dependent on third-world labour. When design is working at the behest of advertising, the mandate is to find the best fit between medium and message. Using this metric, Ikea’s decision is genius: Verdana is the Ikea of typefaces – easy, serviceable, cheap. Our protests are as fruitless and misguided as a guild of woodworkers picketing the store with the demand that they abandon the Allen key for the dovetail join.  

So hooray, I say! A noble face has been freed from shameful servitude to an ungrateful master. Will we be handing down our Expedit bookcases and our Stornäs credenzas to our grandchildren? If the state of any of my Ikea purchases is anything to go by, I think not. Quality lasts. Long live Futura!


You’re right of course, but designers’ outrage is mostly about the fact that, while not well-made, at least a lot of Ikea’s furniture LOOKS good. I doubt their marketing goal was to reflect their furniture’s crappiness!

Posted by Elizabeth on 29 August 2009 @ 11pm

For me, the strangest thing about all this is that, from all of the fonts they could have chosen, they picked up the one that was designed specifically for screen use. Had they picked up Arial or Times New Roman, it would make more sense.

But in the end, the whole fuss is because they have chosen a font that comes with Windows. Had they chosen a MacOS font, everybody would be calm.

Posted by Daniel Poeira on 30 August 2009 @ 2pm

What I find interesting is that your journalist friend Lisa asked YOU (her friend who is a letterpress printer) rather than the IKEAFans community. While I understand that she was on a deadline, and your opinion probably matters a lot to her, she was writing an article about what IKEA Fans thought.

I run and have for 4+ years. Noone, not a single journalist, attempted to contact me or any of the 112,000 members of our site for a quote, an opinion or some perspective. I consider that lazy journalism; collect one thought, and stop there. See for more on thought erosion and the narrow perspective of reporters.

She also used our name ‘IKEA Fans’ in the title of the article, as if it were IKEA Fans who care! It’s not IKEA Fans who care. It’s typography folks and graphic designers who are making all the fuss. As of the moment, over 78% of IKEAFans say ‘Get a Life’ in response to the question, ‘IKEA’s Font – Who Cares?’

Not that I think Verdana was a great choice (I don’t), but if you’re going to write an article that purports to reflect the opinions of IKEA Fans, then ask IKEA Fans.

Posted by Susan Martin on 4 September 2009 @ 8am

Hi there!

I have been in printing for many many years – I would like to offer my help occasionally – I have worked in letterpress environment for many years.
All thhe best

Posted by Rod Lazarus on 22 November 2009 @ 5pm

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