The defense of Comic Sans.
There may not be a designer in the world who has not heard of Comic Sans. In fact, there may not be any computer-using non-designers
who are not familiar with, and do not have an opinion about, this popular font.
Comic sans is a casual script typeface designed by Vincent Connare (1960) . The font’s non-connecting script was inspired by comic book lettering,
and was intended for use in informal documents and children’s materials. This font is one of the most (in)famous typefaces in the world, and some might say- the most hated. But where did the hatred come from? An answer might be found in typography.
Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable,
and appealing when displayed. The arrangement of type involves selecting typefaces,
point sizes, line lengths, line-spacing (leading), and letter-spacing (tracking), and adjusting
the space between pairs of letters (kerning).
The term typography
is also applied to the style, arrangement,
and appearance of the letters, numbers, and symbols created by the process. Typography
also may be used as a decorative
device, unrelated to communication of information. (Wikipedia,2017)
Three fundamental aspects of typography
are legibility, readability,
and aesthetics. Though in a non-technical
sense “legible” and
are often used synonymously, typographically they are separate but related concepts. Legibility
“refers to perception”
(being able to see as determined by physical limitations
of the eye) and readability
“refers to comprehension”
(understanding the meaning). Good typographers
and graphic designers
aim to achieve excellence in both. (Wikipedia,2017)
Legibility describes how easily individual
characters can be distinguished from one another. The quality of being decipherable and recognizable. For instance if a “b”
and an “h”, or a “3” and an
“8”, are difficult
to distinguish at small sizes, this is a problem of legibility.
Sometimes legibility is simply a matter of type size; more often, however, it is a matter of typeface design. Case selection
always influences legibility.
In general, typefaces
that are true to the basic letterforms
are more legible than typefaces
that have been condensed, expanded,
embellished, or abstracted.
Typographers are concerned
with legibility insofar as it is their job to select the correct font to use. (Wikipedia,2017)
The legibility of the letters in comic sans is questionable. What brings issues to the design is that the line weight in this font does not vary much. In typography, this is called having an unmodulated stroke. Some letters like the lower case ‘n’, ‘m’, ‘e’ and ‘s’ look heavy, disproportionate and off-balanced.
Even though this is a common problem with using unmodulated strokes, it does not justify comic sans, because there are other fonts that found a solution to this problem. For example, Helvetica – such a beloved font, that there is a movie – about typography
– named after it. This font also uses a relatively unmodulated
stroke, but is has some adjustments that improves its legibility. The lines get a bit thinner where they meet, which helps to give the letters an organic look and overall
evens out the visual weight of the character.
refers to how easy it is to read the text as a whole, as opposed to the individual character
recognition described by legibility. Use of margins, word- and line-spacing, and clear document structure
all impact on readability. Some fonts or font styles, for instance sans-serif fonts, are considered to have low readability, and so be unsuited for large quantities
of prose. (wiki)
And if it isn’t obvious, Comic Sans is a sans-serif font. However, even in comparison with other sans-serif fonts, it is unsuccessful.
Blocks of text or letters in comic sans have uneven
the body of text
because of its bad kerning. The most obvious anomalies
are the letters “e” and “t,” the former of which appears like a bloodstain, while Helvetica is more of a uniform grey.
Nevertheless, there is one thing that should be considered
in this analysis. Comic Sans was designed to be used on-screen, and in 1994, when the font was designed, most personal
computers did not have anti-aliasing.
Anti-aliasing is the technology
that makes fonts looks smooth on-screen. Without anti-aliasing, fonts look jagged and pixelated, as if they were featured in a 1990s video
game. This should
not be a big problem, as long as the font is designed accordingly.
In fact, when compared to other
fonts like Garamond,
which was not originally designed for the screen, Comic Sans is more successful in terms of readability.
Therefore, readability and legibility should not be the reason for this much hatred towards this font.
However, there is another reason that comic sans is hated so much, which is a bit more believable. It is the aesthetics and unappropriated use of the font.
Comic Sans was drawn
up to imitate the style of hand-lettered comics.
Each letter was conceived individually. Unlike in many other fonts, the horizontal strokes in the uppercase “E” are different to their equivalents in the uppercase “F”; lowercase “p” and “d” are not just the same forms rotated 180 degrees. Lines are crooked, and angles of vertical strokes vary greatly — the lowercase “g” leans to the right compared to the lowercase “j” which leans to the left — as you would expect from a child’s handwriting.
And this influences how we perceive Comic Sans’s image a lot.
Thinking of typefaces
as fashion for letters is not a new idea. Adrian Frutiger famously said they the work of a type designer is just like the work of a dressmaker. Moreover, I agree – how you write is like how you dress. It is not about practicality, it is about how you present yourself. It reflects how much thought and effort you put into your appearance. It strongly influences your audience’s first impression before you even open your mouth, and it colors what you have to say throughout the presentation. In this metaphor, Times New Roman would be a three-piece suit and Comic Sans is the equivalent of wearing pajamas on stage. If you are not doing it for effect, then it indicates you have put zero effort into appearance.
Nevertheless, when comic sans was included as a standard font in Microsoft Word- it became very popular amongst PC users uneducated in graphic design because of its childish innocent look and drastic difference from the other fonts included in the program.
For most of our history, books and signs had to be handwritten by professionals. Often meticulously and expensively copied by hand. There were no printers, no typesetters.
If you wanted a book, someone had to write the whole book by hand for you.
Nevertheless, Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1468) changed that by popularizing interchangeable type. He modeled his type pieces after the handwriting of scribes at the time, producing what could be called the very first font ever- Textura.
Later on, typesetters in Italy realized that word could be slanted and remain legible and readable, but take up less vertical space, so more could be printed on a single page. That is why it is called italics. Not because italics means slanted or oblique, but because of where it was invented- Italy. Metal type pieces had to be cast from molten metal in foundries, which get their name from the French “fondue “which means something that has been melted. Therefore, it is because of the word fondue that we now call a collection of characters within a typeface a font. When setting type, typesetters kept their type pieces in cases. The most commonly used pieces were kept in the lower case for easy access, whereas capital letters were kept just above in the upper case.
But even though we use the same denotations in contemporary typography- everything else is very different.
Until the Digital Age, typography was a specialized occupation, but now, with computers, everybody is given the power to publish and very few had any design sense. This is a monumental moment in history that could almost be compared with the invention of printing. Common people suddenly gained the power to typeset and print documents. No big deal for a while: some people got to enjoy making their own Christmas cards and birthday party invitations.
But with great possibilities comes great responsibility. Gradually, the internet started
gaining popularity and publishing power got even stronger.
As Vincent Connare himself said-
“I started to see it
when it was in the wild, so to speak. The first one I remember was a neon sign
over a store called Fun Stamps. That’s when I realized, it’s gonna get used any
way anybody wants to use it, and that just snowballed from there.” ()
The font spread like wildfire, in ways Vincent didn’t even imagine-
instead of flyers posted in break rooms or posters for lemonade stands Comic Sans was showing up on websites, as the default font for many people’s emails, business cards, street sings, Canadian coins, logos, tattoos, war memorials, computer
game characters, police documents and even tombstones.
fig 8 fig 9
fig 10 fig 11
Its overexposure even spurred a group of designers to start an anti-Comic Sans movement. Resulting in the creation of websites like bancomicsans.com or
comicsanscriminal.com and even a game, where you can kill Comic Sans.
fig 13 fig 14
it seems that the main criticism of Comic sans is that it
has been misused.
Ironically, Comic Sans actually was designed because of inappropriate
use of another font- Times New Roman. Microsoft released Comic Sans in 1994. Its
American creator Vincent Connare objected to a serious and formal font, Times New Roman, used in a test version of Bob —
‘When I loaded the CD a little dog came up.
He talked in a speech balloon like you would get in a newspaper cartoon strip, but
it was in the system font Times New Roman. I thought, ‘That’s silly. Dogs don’t
talk like that.’ So I said it would look better if it looked like a comic book.’
So he designed Comic Sans to replace it in the speech bubbles of Bob’s cartoon characters. Connare never intended for the font to be used in any other way.
But even inappropriate use isn’t the full reason why comic sans is hated so much. People tend to hate it even if used in the right situations.
Besides being misused, Comic Sans is generally overexposed.
So, my theory is that the hatred is a conditioned response. A conditional response is a response that becomes associated with a previously unrelated stimulus as a result of pairing the stimulus with another stimulus normally yielding the response.(HarperCollins Publishers, 2012) For example, if you hear the ringtone of your alarm clock you will immediately have bad associations with it no matter how nice the tune actually is.
That is why we should think about comics sans as a pragmatic font, a font that worked remarkably well in its area (in a computer program for kids on an aliased computer screen) and exists today as one of the most recognizable relics upon of the most important design revolutions in history. Books used to be painstakingly copied by hand, later you could design a story, or an idea but the final look really just came down to what a few typewriters could do. Today, almost anyone can dabble in typography. And that is an amazing thing.
Yes, it means that comic sans will be used inappropriately. But as Corley Holmes points it out- Comic sans is proof that design works. The public understands that type means more that words.
And like David Kadavy, a designer, author and speaker, once said during a presentation–
‘As interchangeable type led to a spread of literacy, Comic sans and the personal publishing it comes along with, should lead us toward a spread of design literacy.’ (Ignite Chicago, 2010)