Ikea Changes Its Font: Futura Is Now in the Past

After 50 years of using Futura, Ikea is switching to the ubiquitous typeface Verdana. The Ikea catalogue is the third most printed book in the world, behind the Bible and Harry Potter (seems about right to me). After so much time and investment into Futura, why the change? …

Verdana was created with the Web in mind; Microsoft (MSFT) designer Matthew Carter constructed the type for Internet Explorer and it's now one of the most often-used fonts in the world.

Futura, on the other hand, is a print-centric font originally designed by Paul Renner. Ikea has been using a refined version of the font for half a century, and has even commissioned the typeface to be drawn out in more weights and languages specifically for its brand. In fact, it's called "Ikea Sans."

Ikea’s Ivana Hrdlickova told Swedish design magazine Cap & Design that the change allows the company to use a uniform font in all countries and to use the same font in print and on the Web.

But doesn't this put the company at risk of losing the influence of its brand identity?

This morning, I spoke with Allan Haley, director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging, the firm that refined Futura for Ikea. Here's what he had to say:

"It's a tremendous risk. They are pulling the typographic foundation of their branding out from underneath themselves... People do notice fonts and letters. The general public has become very tuned to it. When a company makes a drastic change to a very strong brand it can have a negative effect. People make buying choices based off brand identity. The brand becomes an old friend and they can feel betrayed; it can seem like it may not be the same company anymore."

I played a little devil's advocate with Haley and asked, "What would you say if I told you they were just letters and not much has changed? It's one of the most well-recognized companies in the world. This won't affect them."

Haley retorted, "Ikea will look like any company that uses Verdana. It will look like any newsletter or menu from a deli around the corner. It doesn't differentiate them."

Ikea isn't the only company playing with its image. Similarly, Wal-Mart (WMT), Coca-Cola (KO), GE (GE), and JC Penney (JCP) have switched up fonts in their logos. Haley says the design community always has mixed feelings on such moves. Just look at the furor over Ikea's change. The public's reaction is hard to measure.

Check out this BusinessWeek story about Pepsi's (PEP) rebranding efforts and the backlash over the now infamous Tropicana carton.

What do you think? Does Ikea run the risk of tarnishing its brand? Or is this just inside baseball for graphic designers?