Of fonts, film and (rugby) football

As someone whose walls are decorated with a fair amount of typography and calligraphy (an abiding interest from my wife’s days as an art student) I was interested to see the furore generated by IKEA’s decision to change its catalogue font from Futura to the more screen-friendly Verdana. Is this just an issue for font-geeks or a massive erosion of the brand loyalty engendered over many years of superior flat-pack design and serving countless Swedish meatballs?

Opinion seems to be divided on this – on the one hand there are 5566 people who feel strongly enough to sign an online petition but other commentators consider this to be a storm in a tastefully-designed teacup. To explore the Futura-fans’ (Futurists?) view for a moment, this can be seen as a gross betrayal of what they value most in the brand i.e. its design values. My view is that, taken alone, this is something that the majority of customers won’t notice – in fact despite being a fan of IKEA design generally and classic fonts in particular, the offending catalogue appeared in my house without causing me any undue distress – but if it is accompanied by a dropping off in other aspects of the brand that IKEA customers value – product quality, durability, price and so forth – then IKEA will start to suffer. IKEA probably don’t need to pay too much attention to the 5566 Futurists until they start complaining about something else.

Interestingly, the originators of the offending font, Microsoft, are tapping into the wisdom of the larger crowd of system-geeks who care deeply that the replacement for the much-lamented Vista operating system will hit all the right buttons. According to Stephen Rose, senior community manager at Microsoft, interviewed for 1to1 Weekly, they are monitoring and engaging with all kinds of posts in various user forums. Let’s hope this pays off: I’m unlikely to be an early adopter but I’ll be more inclined to upgrade if the product gets a positive press when it’s launched.

Both stories illustrate the importance of generating and sustaining trust with your customers, something that I’m feeling a lack of in relation to one of my other passions – rugby. I support Harlequins – something I used to be proud of until the Bloodgate scandal, whereby one of the players faked a blood injury to enable a last-minute tactical substitution in a crucial cup tie. The ploy didn’t pay off and was subsequently discovered as was the revelation of similar episodes in previous seasons. Here’s a classic betrayal of values: most rugby fans go to matches to watch a fast, furious and skilful sport undertaken with a spirit of fair play (even though most matches will feature a fair number of dodgy tactics in the heat of the moment) and when a team is shown to have held those values in contempt, even in relatively isolated occurrences, then loyal customers will feel a lot less passionate about the brand. It remains to be seen whether the team’s first home game next Saturday will produce a display of skill and speed to turn this disenchanted customer back on.

Font footnote: the highly entertaining kids film Shorts contains a character (a human one) called Helvetica Black… absolutely nothing to do with the customer loyalty, except that that one joke will make me a bit more likely to go to the next film director Robert Rodriguez comes out with. Ah, the power of the font geek!

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