Oh, Comic Sans

Posted on Nov 30, 2010
Oh, Comic Sans

It’s no secret that designers do not like this font, and it seems to be a bit of an internet joke to show pictures of it being used inappropriately in things like term papers, informational signage, and warnings of harm to life and limb. There have been countless articles written on why it’s so bad, or bemoaning its widespread use, but as the Paul McCartney song says “here I go again…”

I seem to have such an unnatural distaste for Comic Sans that sometimes I wonder if disliking it is almost as egregious as using it. Wouldn’t it be better to dismiss it out of hand, rather than to reward it with this extreme loathing? Well, would that I could, but it raises my hackles every time.

So why do I hate Comic Sans so much? I came to design rather late in the game, and while my design skills still need to be honed as well as my work habits, I have always appreciated the beauty and intellectual strength of good design. Much like art, graphic design, when done well, seems natural, obvious, and easy. The dedication and time consumed working on a design, animation, typeface, etc. from concept to execution is directly proportional to its accessibility. Typography has a special place in my heart. I love words and, moreover, I love the look of words, how sentences flow, constructed with both letter forms, punctuation, and the coloring of the page as a whole. To really study a great typeface is to marvel at the complexity of things like kerning pairs, letterform contrast, and precision of thought.

Even if you don’t like type as much as I do, there’s always something nice about seeing a job well done. Which brings me to the-font-who-must-not-be-named. The designer of that font, Vincent Connare, has a standard argument that goes something like this: “We were working on a piece of software and using Times New Roman in one of the dialog boxes didn’t feel right, so I whipped this baby up”. That’s like saying “This limousine was way too formal for a road trip, so we built a car out of sticks and chewing gum!” Slapdash should never be an alternative to inappropriate. There is a whole vocabulary built around type and this monster completely ignores the entire dictionary.

Releasing this file on a mass scale has to be the greatest sin here. You can find this lovely file on every Windows installation as old as 15 years, and since Microsoft makes Office for the Mac, you’ll be able to find it on those beautifully designed machines as well. It’s a travesty, really.

With design being so popular as of late, the concept itself being a kind of currency that buys respect and excitement (see the advertisements of Target, Dyson, Kolher, Apple, and terms bandied about by the business world such as ‘Design Thinking’) one would think that its use would be on the decline. So who keeps using Comic Sans? People that don’t care. People that don’t care to research alternatives, people that don’t care how unprofessional their email signature looks in pink Comic Sans, people that don’t care they’re sacrificing their message for the sake of ‘being friendly.’ The beauty of technology is that now, one can do pretty much anything. Libraries of the world, pictures of exotic locales, weighty philosophical ideas are now at peoples fingertips. The downfall of technology is that now, one can do pretty much anything.

It doesn’t mean that you should.

I’ll leave you with this interview from Michael Beirut talking about real typography and its history. Enjoy.

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