Today, the Baltimore Sun reported on its website that Ikea has converted its catalog from Futura to Verdana in order to add to its ability to be translated to the web and ostensibly other electronic formats. For me, Futura the font has always been a bit of an old friend ever since I started using Mac IIs, whereas Verdana has been a quirky neighbor (it just showed up)in that I never really understood it as a stand-in for Helvetica yet not even as elegant in a simple way. Well, no wonder, the article reported it was made by Microsoft for computer screens which perhaps justifies it as a backup font for Dreamweaver preferences, but not one that’s really eloquent for design and print applications.
Thing is, Ikea has been famous for the classic variances in their cataolg and the quirky furniture names, all of which has been rolled up into an approach that has become quite distinctively different, and as such, familiar. The shift is something that has made some waves amongst some designers, with some apparently protesting the move. Just for kicks, I took The Sun’s internet web poll which could never be confused as scientific and the result was that 84% of people don’t care about the font change, where 12% and 3% respectively vote for Futura and Verdana. (Is there really anyone who prefers Verdana over Futura?)
Anyway, this gets me to wondering whether the work of selecting fonts and leading, legibility and presentation makes a difference to people at all? Or does the work of making things readable is falling into a grand notion of ubiquity? To what extent should it matter (or not) whether the intricacies of what designers do matters to people? Marketing—and by extensin direct mail—often has reached a point of saturation where most entities are “playing to the middle” (trying to be the same) and reaching the most people it can, when continuing to be the different, unique entity that Ikea is may have more value.