Sunday, September 20, 2009

The IKEA Font Mishap: Why Were They Blind To This And Why Are They Still In Limbo?

A lot has been written about the "Font War" going on between IKEA and its customers. I even had people at work come up to me and ask me if I'd heard about it. At the root of the story is IKEA's choice to change the font in their print catalog from Futura to Verdana. Branding is a huge part of the story of IKEA, so this shouldn't have been a trivial decision to make. The backlash was fierce now that we live in a viral, online world. Words like disgusting, horrific and cheap are scattered online around blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

What is sad about this is that Verdana was never intended to be used in the way that IKEA chose to use it. It was designed for legibility on screen (not smoothed) at only a handful of point sizes (8-12). IKEA is using it mostly in Flash online and in print, leveraging the ubiquitous of the font on Windows machines but ignoring the aesthetic of the misuse font.

The thing that is most curious to me is how can IKEA's Product Lifecycle not have a check/balance for a decision like this. I can see the design firm that did this for them giving them a valid technology reason for this choice, but it probably didn't warrant getting someone high up in the food chain at IKEA involved. In the future, it should.

What is ironic about all of this is that the ad on the home page of for the new catalog is still written in Futura. Just enough to tease loyal customers that may think they were still getting the same brand that they have grown to love and then snatch it away from them when they click on it. User Experience Design includes being able to listen and learn from mistakes and make changes rapidly. Either stick with your decision and provide a rationale for it and remove the banner on your home page, or go back to what customers like better and apologize.

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