Posted by Remo Giuffré on
The most hated font in history
Behind every typeface there’s a story; and in the case of Comic Sans, that story involves: fame, celebrity, hate campaigns, designer manifestos and redemption.
Comic Sans is a non-connecting font with widely spaced curvy letters, inspired by comic books like Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It was designed by Vincent Connare to give written voice to Rover, a digital talking dog that appeared in something called “Microsoft Bob”; a software product intended to deliver a user-friendly interface. “Dogs don’t talk in Times New Roman.” said Vincent at the time.
For technical reasons, Comic Sans never actually made it into Rover’s talk bubbles. It was however supplied initially as a supplemental font in the Windows 95 Microsoft Plus! Pack. Microsoft explained at the time that "this casual but legible face has proved very popular with a wide variety of people”.
So popular in fact that the typeface's widespread use, often in less relaxed situations for which it was not intended, has been the subject of criticism and mockery.
In 2009 two Indianapolis graphic designers, Dave and Holly Combs, were so enraged by the squiggly font, maintaining that its use was often “analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume”, that they launched a campaign called Ban Comic Sans to eradicate its misuse. Their manifesto included these fightin’ words: “By banding together to eradicate this font from the face of the earth we strive to ensure that future generations will be liberated from this epidemic and never suffer this scourge that is the plague of our time.”
Indeed, according to journalist Caitlin Dewey writing in the Washington Post in 2014, “Comic Sans is less a font than an Internet punchline. Anything written in the loopy, childlike type is ripe for derision, no matter what it describes: LeBron James’ defection from the Cleveland Cavaliers. The pope’s retirement. The existence of the Higgs boson.”
On the flipside, however, it's important we take this comical font seriously, because many educators, especially in early education, see the benefits of Comic Sans.
In a 2017 Twitter poll conducted by Times Educational Supplement (TES), a weekly UK publication aimed at education professionals, 7,234 teachers responded to the question “Do you use Comic Sans for teaching resources or any other teaching materials?” Approximately 44% of the respondents reported using Comic Sans across their materials and resources due to its high legibility. Additional advantages were noted for using Comic Sans, such as suitability for those diagnosed with dyslexia, ease of mimicry to improve and model handwriting, and pleasing aesthetics for younger children.
Liz Jackson, founder of disability-led design organisation The Disabled List is an unapologetic humorist about it all. In May 2019 she led #ComicSansTakeover at the AIGA Conference, a response to brands’ tendencies to take themselves way too seriously, especially in terms of disability design. It was a way to take back the meme and redeem the font. Says Liz: “Designers tend to despise Comic Sans. Yet, there’s a subset of disabled people who say they prefer it. For The Disabled List, we leverage the friction around something like Comic Sans as a starting point to new ways of designing rather than a problem to be solved.”
Finally, in 2019 Dave Combs had a change of heart. He felt that the ban movement had attracted a lot of negativity, with people feeling justified in bullying those who used the font, and that the negativity of the ban had actually sparked a counter-movement feeling pity for the font. To him, the joke had gotten out of hand. He has gone so far as to change the name of his movement from Ban Comic Sans to Use Comic Sans.
Even so … haters still gonna hate. Where do you stand?
Wikipedia References: Comic Sans & Vincent Connare
Design for Hackers: Why you hate Comic Sans (3 November 2010)
Caitlin Dewey: This designer just made Comic Sans, the Internet’s most hated font, cool again (7 April 2014)
Danielle McClune: Why We Love to Hate Comic Sans (22 October 2019)
CBC Radio: How a mutual hate for Comic Sans brought 2 people together (25 October 2019)
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Unapologetically a Comic Sans Fan (CSF)…but what would I know: I’m just a numbers person….