It’s the first Friday of July, which can mean only one thing: Happy Comic Sans Day, you filthy animal.
As Gyrosity’s Creative Director, my career centers around creating aesthetically pleasing content. I tweak colors, move objects on a per-pixel basis, and hoard assets like some sort of graphic design dragon. But above all else, my whole job hinges on font snobbery.
Why’d you choose such a casual sans serif? Is that kerning off? Whose idea were these terminals? That’s the constant internal monologue, 24/7.
That said, I have one of those deep dark secrets you can’t tell anyone about, especially in the design community. But here it is.
Don’t get me wrong, Papyrus and Zapfino are plagues upon this earth; I’ve also got an inexplicable resentment for Lucida Handwriting. But Comic Sans, despite its many flaws, isn’t the villain we make it out to be.
In design, there’s a time and place for anything; Comic Sans is meant to live in children’s publications. The typeface comes from humble beginnings: a failed 1994 software tutorial called Microsoft Bob… a sort of Clippy character, meant to teach children about computers. In these early days, designer Vince Connare noticed that Bob’s speech bubbles felt too formal when filled with Times New Roman. He looked at the two comic books in his office and decided to put together something more suitable for children.
“Comic Sans was NOT designed as a typeface but as a solution to a problem with the often overlooked part of a computer program’s interface: the typeface used to communicate the message,” Connare says on his website. “The inspiration came at the shock of seeing Times New Roman used in an inappropriate way.”
And so Comic Sans, for better or worse, was born.
The widespread disdain for Comic Sans stems from its rampant misuse and abuse. It’s been thrown onto a Dutch war memorial, printed on advice for rape victims, used to announce the Higgs Boson, and overtaken law firms’ blog posts. Obviously, none of these are ideal applications, which leads us to my personal belief: the blame for this bad rep falls on bad designers, not a bad set of letters.
Connare created this typeface because he saw a gap between the current design and its audience. Ultimately, that’s the purpose of our industry: molding information to fit seamlessly into the correct context. Whether or not Comic Sans works with your aesthetic is irrelevant; if it’s the right fit for your project, it’s the right fit.
I could go on about all the other secret benefits of our least favorite font. Did you know that it’s one of the few recommended by influential organizations like the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyslexia Association of Ireland? (More on that here and here.) But the main takeaway is this: when you automatically shut down Comic Sans, you ignore the importance of context in graphic design. As much as we love to elevate typography to an art form, its ultimate purpose is function. And if this lopsided monstrosity helps kids understand their assignments, it’s fine by me.
So in closing, here’s an extra cheerful message from Connare. I hope you have a happy Comic Sans Day.
“People don’t know why it was made. If they did, they would realize that it was what design is about: designing for a product with an appropriate design. Not Times New Roman. They also need to pull their heads from their arses.”