Saturday, September 5, 2009

Zapf goes pow -- Font Reformulation at IKEA

Today the New York Times examines the case of the adjusted IKEA font. It seems the hip queen of ready-to-assemble wants a ready-made typeface for their catalog, one that supposedly is more in line with their simple design / ease of use ethic. Being the sovereign of serifs is not their bag.

There has been an accompanying hue and cry regarding the change. Some folks disagree stylistically, saying the new look is cheap. Others just don’t like it. None of the opposition seem to be buying the philosophical reasoning, but are sticking to how it makes them feel.

The advantage to the new font, in addition to its ready to assemble in many languages for a world-wide audience aesthetic? It is pixel friendly. Goodbye, oakmoss...erm, ink.

The Times article points out that the IKEA logo itself remains unchanged, it is just the catalog that is affected. How one maintains a consistent identity but allows for variance between the catalogue--a major point of eye contact for the consumer--and what is splashed across the front of the building is a bit of a puzzler for me. But hey, what does it matter if the customer’s experience of the top notes...erm, any different? If they came for a bookcase they could have a fighting chance of successfully assembling for a mallet, so that in the end they’d have a place to put their books, with a fillip of style, then what does it matter?

Personally, I think it matters, because enough IKEA customers are style conscious enough to want the illusion of somebody knowing what they are doing when they offer up the goods. You know when purchasing IKEA that you are sacrificing at least one element in your product: labor. That’s yours, baby. No pretense at merely having the beautiful object arrive at your door, shrouded and babied by gloved delivery folk. Nope, you wrestle the box into (or onto) your wincing vehicle, take it home, swear at how incomplete the instructions are (no matter how functional the font), and sweat your brow to put it together.

You probably are also aware of fit and finish. You know that even if you were an RTA finish, anything consisting of assembly line components starts off at a handicap. Furthermore, being subjected to your own three-day weekend mallet artistry is likely to subject it to a wayward whomp or two. Veneers are tricky, joinery has a hierarchy that isn’t going to reach its apex inside your box. But that’s all okay, because you’re saving a boatload of money on something that will look decent, reflect your general design aesthetic, and offer the same prosaic functionality a higher end version would.

But it sure would be nice if the presentation suggested that the powers that be understood all of the fine points of design, even if every body openly winked and nodded about what you are ultimately resting your plate/book/body on. And how better to do that than in the initial presentation, the catalog?

This is why I think folks are complaining.

I also think there is some area of overlap with perfume reformulation. You kind of have to be a font geek to see it in the font itself, but you can translate it to the IKEA product. If, in a fantastic re-rendition of an Eames chair, you were able to substitute less expensive glues in the veneer, use a different metal for a brace, hollow out some area in a key but non-visible non-performance affecting way, would it still be an “Eames chair”? Forgetting any claims of authenticity, would it still be perceived as, function in, the same way?

In terms of the font, if by interpreting the same philosophy with pixels instead of ink, are you blaspheming the original? Or are you being realistic about bringing it to the next generation?

I oversimplify. I’m only on my second cup of tea, and I wanted to put down the words before I moved on to the next thought of the day. (Which is going to be “life rights,” and has nothing to do with health care. Go read the story on the film projects on John Delorean if you want to chat with me later.)

Oh, and a fragrance to scent this post?

Silences by Jacomo. Something changed in there...and so did their packaging. I prefer the older, I think, but am happy there is still the current one being offered.


Arpege Another tweaked beauty. When choosing a scent for an occasion/the weather/mood, I could pick either the vintage or modern version--my choice would have to do with games I am playing with myself than any projected effect upon anyone else. I like them both. What they "do" is essentially the same. But how they get me, at least, they are different. But then, I know from serifs, and alternate between printing and cursive depending on occasion or purpose.

123456789 abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz

Go play with fonts at these sites: find a font at Identifont (helps you find the name for a particular font, or look up a font by name); look for a font at Fontscape (a visual, rather than logical, typeface directory); or create your own font at FontStruct. Oh, and the image with this post comes from a post discussing celebrity portraits done in fonts at

image found at


The Daily Connoisseur said...

Hi Scentscelf- welcome back! And thank you for another thought provoking post... :)

I am a connoisseur of fonts and have recently been frustrated by not being able to change the font on blogger! irksome, that.

I try to avoid IKEA as I am dreadful at assembling things and had a few catastrophes in my college years where a bookshelf/ entertainment system collapsed and caused a lot of trouble...

Hope you are well! xo

ScentScelf said...

Hi DC! Thanks for the welcome.

Uff da, fonts on Blogger. The lack thereof is not a happy thing for me, either. OTOH...there were Wingdings available, though I have only used them for this one post.

As for the assembly...yuck. Recently I discovered I have a crack team of youthful labor to exploit. Don't know how long it will last, but it sure helped with creating shelvery for the home office. I feel your pain on the collapse incident...hope it didn't involve serious bodily injury!

I am well, and hope you are, too. :)

Caitlin Shortell said...

I am a typeface nerd. Thanks for calling my attention to this and making the analogy to fragrance reformulation. I am mulling and will get back to you.

ScentScelf said...

Typeface nerds, unite! :) I must say, I notice a thread of "nerdery" that weaves between perfume folk, and music geeks, and artists, and literary types, and crafty folk...etc. etc. ...not all share all passions, but if one is paying attention in one arena, one tends to pay attention in others, too. Poets and filmmakers, musicians and cooks, what have you...not necessarily as defined by their day job, but by what sparks them.

As for my somewhat forced analogy, I'm glad it inspired any amount of mulling. I'm rather fond of mulling, myself...both in ideas and beverage...which brings up another thing I've noticed among many who care about perfume... ;) Would love to hear your thoughts.