Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fantasies of Font-o-philes


It would seem as if humankind has gone over to the bad place. I think we're going to need to shut down the Internets for a couple of hours AT LEAST in order for people to find their bearings in this world again. There has been madness, madness I tell you, over the past couple of days! And why?? NO, not because of the Lockerbie terrorist guy being released. NO, not because of health care reform. NO, not because Ted Kennedy died. NO, not because Michelle Obama wore shorts. NO, not because the fifth dentist caved and now they're all recommending Trident. NONE of those. The uproar?

IKEA changed their font.


::: blink ::: ::: blink :::

What now? Their font?!


Yep. Their font. Wait.

Their font? As in the style of the printing? That font?
That font. The style of their printing. It's changed. It's different. It's not the same. It's new. It's hated. It's caused turmoil and uproar. Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria! Had there not been a rather extensive article in Time magazine on this, perhaps the most ridiculous thing ever for folks to get their boxers in a wad over, I might have just thought that someone had completely overblown the situation. But actually, I guess that's really kind of true. Someone HAS completely overblown the situation. That would be anyone who thinks that a font change constitutes a "situation".

For the past 60 years, Swedish chain IKEA has attracted the masses who wish to put all of their household furniture together themselves with little more than a small wrench. Thrifty, yet trendy, all in one convenient location. Since the actual physical location of an IKEA is sort of hard to come by for a lot of folks, the IKEA catalog arriving in one's mailbox each year is like welcoming home a member of your family. Until this year when that family member showed up and you discovered that they'd had a sex change without telling you.

In this case, the IKEA sex change went from being a Futura font to a Verdana font. Granted the Futura font was customized just a bit for IKEA by Microsoft, so it's not a TRUE Futura, but it was IKEA's Futura and folks liked it. I guess. I'm willing to wager that 95% of the folks who are having a cow right now had no idea what the name of the font was or even if they liked it or not. It was just there. But now it's gone.

The new, redheaded step-font, Verdana, is described by a bloke over there at
crikey.com.au as "Its specific purpose is to make small text more readable on computer screens: its letters are wide, open and loosely spaced, with deliberate distinctions between similar-looking characters to help readers tell them apart. In other words, it’s meant for pixels, not print, and it looks terrible writ large on in-store signage ---or billboards."

Huh. Interesting. I'm surprised that people aren't reading that passage like they're reading the health care reform bill. That is to say, interpreting it in a way that is sure to get people all fired up. I'll show you, it's like this: Hmmm....made for pixels, not print...make small text more readable on computer screens....I know! It means that IKEA is getting rid of their printed catalog and will be online only from now on! Take it a step farther and imply that IKEA will likely close all of it's retail locations and be simply Internet based from now on and you're likely to start a world wide panic before noon. As far as it not looking good on in-store signage or in "the large", behold!

Oh, for cryin' out loud, it looks fine! Since IKEA hasn't really commented much on the issue, it's hard to say for sure why they decided upon a font change. But one Ikea spokeswoman, a one Monika Gocic, did say "It's more efficient and cost-effective. Plus, it's a simple, modern-looking typeface." OK, so let me get this straight. There's a global recession, sales are down in all sectors and perhaps IKEA was looking for a way to cut costs without cutting products or laying off employees and so they chose to go with a freely distributed font instead of one that they pay for, thus saving products and jobs all the way around. Those bastards!

Look, if you're THAT upset about a font change, you need to step away from your computer and get out of your parent's basement once in a while. And I mean all of you (because on August 26, this little to-do was "...drawing more tweets than even Ted Kennedy"! And speaking of Twitter, a few sample tweets from mental font geeks: "Ikea, stop the Verdana madness!" "Words can't describe my disgust." "Horrific." "It's a sad day." Why, yes. Yes, it is a sad day when a barely noticeable font change has the Internets all in an uproar.

Sometimes, companies make alterations in the way that they do things. It's a barely noticeable difference, for hell's sake. I can barely think of any design changes for products that were met with such fervent backlash from consumers that they went back to the old way. There was the recent Tropicana carton fiasco, but that makes sense. The new design made it look like it was a generic brand. Behold!

Yeah, that was crap. As far as product changes go, I'm sure that the biggest blunder in the history of consumer goods was the inexplicable switch to New Coke. Talk about a company underestimating it's own product. But that was different as that was the product itself. It's not as if IKEA is rolling out big and bulky furniture items that have to be delivered to your house by movers that have come to this fine nation from another land. They're changing the damn font. They even said they're changing the damn font. Of course, they didn't say it quite like that. They left out the 'damn'. And all of the other words there, but it means the same thing when they say "...the visual identity of IKEA does not rely primarily on typography." See?! The same! (Although theirs does seem to imply a sort of "get over it" at the end there.)

You know, IKEA has a specific name for every single one of the products that it sells. Sometimes they're interesting and whimsical, but for me, that's only the first time I peruse through the catalog. After that, I find it annoying. I don't feel the pressing urge to be so damned trendy that I have to make up some specific name for some specific product that, in all likelihood, already HAS a name! (Are you listening Starbucks?! I don't want a 'venti', I want a damned LARGE!) Instead of saving money on the font, would you font-o-philes want them to can the product naming people? The PNPs? Then you wouldn't have your Godmorgon, you'd just have a wall cabinet. You wouldn't have your MALM, you'd just be stuck with your three drawer chest.

I'd really like to get a quick look at some of these folks who are protesting the loudest. Are they still wearing the same style clothes that they did 20 years ago? Are the chicks still sporting the feathered Farrah hair-do? Are the guys still going with wide collared disco shirts and platform shoes? You folks need to branch out just a bit. I can't come up with a single font/logo from any company FORTY years ago that is EXACTLY the same today. There ISN'T one. INCLUDING IKEA's! Sara who blogs at her
ikke tikke theo blog has posted images from a 1965 IKEA catalog. Aside from the fact that all of the items look pretty much the same that they do now (which, actually, says a lot about folks who like IKEA and folks who are all upset by the demise of their beloved Futura font), the font is clearly different. So get over it. Please.

Of course there's already an online petition to bring back the bygone font of yore (which has already garnered over 700 signatures). I'm sure there's a freaking Facebook page as well (because if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, how will it ever make it to a Facebook status update?). I'll be interested to see if the IKEA folks elaborate a bit more on their fatalistic font fix. Though I'm also eagerly awaiting for the first YouTube video of one of these font geeks having a complete meltdown. That'd be awesome. Let's find out what other minuscule details people love to freak out over and change those and THEN see what happens!

OK, now I'm going to need to step away from the Internets. But let me know if there's a meltdown in progress. I really wouldn't want to miss that.

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