Friday, September 4, 2009

Does online outrage hurt sales? Not if you’re Ikea

Online petitions are the norm these days. They’re so easy to distribute, sign, and present to concerned individuals that going door-to-door with a pen and paper has become as antiquated as rabbit-ear antennae on a TV.

These petitions are sometimes the result of a misstep by an organization. Citizens and consumers take to the internet to express their concern, outrage, or support for bold decisions. In Ottawa, petitions run the gamut of topics, from “More and free scooter parking downtown”, to “Virgin Radio ads must come down!”

Furniture store Ikea and its recently released 2010 catalogue present an interesting case study in online outrage. Graphic designers and typographists took to twitter and popular blogs to express their disgust with Ikea for switching their catalogue font to Verdana (a standard Microsoft font, originally made for easy on-screen reading) from its formerly synonymous artsy font, Futura.

I received the Ikea catalogue days before I came across this story on the graphic design blog. It seemed like the same furniture, and the same design philosophy to me. But it’s a big deal to a select community, and vocal few.

Blog commentors cried, “Verdana doesn't feel ‘Ikea’ at all,” and, “Instead of standing out, they try to blend in. It’s a shame.” Fans of the old font have collected more than 4,000 signatures at petitiononline.com – no small feat, but a drop in the bucket in terms of Ikea’s customers and overall sales.

An Ikea spokesperson recent stated that only experts are interested in the font change, and the average furniture-buyer won’t even notice it. In other words, they’re expecting the outrage to subside, and regular sales to continue. Graphic designers are upset, but it won’t prevent people from coming through those big blue sliding doors.

They’re trusting that their products will see them through this minor controversy. And I have a feeling that soon, even designers will be heading back to the store for a $149 VIKA on which to do their work.