Design gurus are reacting with disgust that Ikea has moved to change its signature font from whatever it was before (bonus points who can honestly tell me they’ve paid attention to Ikea’s typeface before, ever) to the generic Verdana, which not only is rather aesthetically galling, but is packaged by the always insidious Microsoft Corporation.
The company’s reason for the change is simply that Verdana, by being an omnipresent font, makes it easier for the company to generate ad copy in a variety of countries and languages, but when last I checked (7 seconds ago), font selection for letters in the Latin alphabet has no effect on the corresponding shape of inserted Chinese characters.
Very seldom do we pay honest attention to typography. Once upon a time I was told that serif fonts (Times New Roman, Garamond etc) are more psychologically welcoming than the sans-serif variety (Arial), only because the added brackets around things like a capital T make it easier for the eye to scan across very quickly. I have no idea whether or not this is true, but it does drive me marginally batty that when I type my posts here, I’m forced to endure their lifeless, serif-free shapes until I hit “Publish” and they’re magically reinforced again, like knights donning their armor. Perhaps that was too much.
Where all of this might prove relevant is in an extension of the “don’t judge a book by its cover” philosophy. As we move closer and closer to an age where your E Ink driven reading device (read: Kindle, although it was well predated by Sony’s eReader) is responsible for automatically standardizing the font used by any or all of its electronic works, might it not prove worthwhile to actually isolate what the best “standard” font could be? I know that in the past, I’ve actually turned away from buying a certain book (which, by the way, had amazing cover design) only because it’s inch high Arial characters struck me as alternately cartoonish, amateurish, or as a deliberate conceit that had failed miserably; I knew, try that I might, that I wasn’t willing to slog through 600 pages of this stuff. Toni Morrison and her publishers seem to have the same issue; perhaps because it worked for ‘Beloved,’ all of Morrison’s novels, regardless of historical time period (and including the 17th century-esque ‘A Mercy‘), are printed in what really appears to be an abysmally mimicked version of Courier New, the very same font that everyone under thirty once used when trying to fabricate faux historical document in school, right before you dipped the paper in tea and let your mom apply a match to its edges.
If we’re going to decry the death of print, the death of the novel, the death of literature, the death of whateverelse, shouldn’t that mean that we should, at least, make some effort to preserve the variety of typographies that once were wedded to these works, to maintain something of their visuality? Ikea’s silliness aside, I for one don’t know what I’d do in a future populated only by sparse, Arial characters. Well, maybe I do. Thanks, WordPress.
PS – For the record, the title of this post was shamelessly ripped from the enormously versatile website WhatTheFont, which allows users to upload pictures with text, asks users to manually type in what the text says (the obvious example being something like “got milk?“) and then, based on matching the image shapes to the user’s input, determines what typeface the image uses, something that must have been enormously useful to the people who came up with “got pus?“