Recently, Ikea unveiled its new catalogue, and designers began complaining almost immediately. To laymen, the problem is probably almost invisible: Ikea has changed its official font from Futura–with its tony design pedigree–to Verdana.
So what? Verdana was designed as an on-screen font for Microsoft. And while it’s serviceable in that context, it was never meant for print. Designers would liken that move to driving a Honda Civic around a racetrack–sure, the Civic might be a fine family car, but it doesn’t have the elegant engineering required to race in the main event. Ikea, with its history of design excellence, is supposed to know better. Time and NPR have already reported on the controversy, and there’s now an online petition demanding Ikea reverse course. Grrrrrrr.
Maybe all the hubbub strikes you as weird, but fonts have always inspired passions. Here are five more examples from history:
Germans argued for literally hundreds of years over which font was more German: Antiqua, or Fraktur. Antiqua was descended from old Latin typefaces; Fraktur was invented in the 17th century, and was used in Germany’s first newspapers. Otto von Bismark wouldn’t read anything that wasn’t printed in Fraktur; on the other side, Goethe, Nietzsche and Jakob Grimm (of the brothers Grimm) all decried it, in favor of Antiqua. Hitler eventually settled the dispute: The Nazi’s banned Fraktur due to its (untrue) “Jewish” origins. (Nazi buffoonery, as always, was on full display; the dictate against Fraktur was printed in Fraktur.) The Allies then resuscitated the font, in the money printed by their interim government.
Helvetica is literally everywhere, from American Apparel to American Airlines. It even has a documentary devoted to it. And it still trails controversy, ranging from charges that it’s insufferably bland and overused, to older polemics against the politics behind its creation. Before globalization was a household word, there was the International Style, and its aspirations to a universal design language. Helvetica was one product of that movement, and from the start, designers have railed against the homogenous, mono-culture it symbolizes. In fact, the only thing that pisses off some more than Helvetica is Arial–a knock off, again designed for Microsoft, which isn’t as elegant as the original.
Designers hate Comic Sans–again, a Microsoft product. Every couple of years, an article or a movement springs up to fight it. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently wrote a long-ish article on the history of this hatred. As they wrote, “The jolly typeface has spawned the Ban Comic Sans movement, nearly adecade old but stronger now than ever, thanks to the Web. The mission: ‘to eradicate this font’ and the ‘evil of typographical ignorance.'”
Typography disputes usually boil down to looks or politics. But Gill Sans is something different. It, and its creator, Eric Gill, are widely admired. But Gill was also a monster: Though it was covered up in early biographies, he admitted to sexually abusing his children, engaging in incest with his sister, and bestiality with his dog. Just like Richard Wagner and his infamous Nazi sympathies, Gill’s works create discomfort–is it proper to enjoy the work of bad men?
Typographic history is filled with theft and credit grabbing, and one of the most famous examples is Times New Roman. The mainstream history of the face holds that it was invented by Stanley Morison, after he lambasted the Times of London for its clunky typeface in 1929. They challenged him to do better, and after years of blind alleys and hair-pulling, he finally produced Times New Roman in 1932. But some type historians allege that Morison actually stole the design from William Starling Burges–making Morison one of the most successful credit-thieves in the history of type: