One font is so popular, yet hated at the same time that it arguably has become one of the most notorious fonts of all time. Infamous for his childlike style, there is no designer who has never had an opinion about him: Comic Sans. Without people knowing, the typeface has a truly interesting ‘story behind’. How did one of the most loved and used fonts turn into a miserable joke?
As more often around that time, Mister Bill Gates stood at the beginning of a successful development. In 1995, he asked Vincent Connare, a French designer working for Microsoft, to create a suitable font for a Microsoft comic game for kids called Bob. Till then, Times New Roman was used for almost every Microsoft-purpose, yet it remained a font oddly unsuited to the comic context. Connare had always been a big graphic novel fanatic (especially Batman The Dark Knight Returns), which later became his biggest inspiration to create Comic Sans. The handwritten style, often used in these comics, gave the playful touch that suited the ‘unserious’ style of these kids games. In the end Comic Sans was not used in Bob but the end result became more successful than Connare would ever have thought.
Comic Sans is not the prettiest font around but sometimes, you have to look further than just the outside to find true beauty. Take its functionality. Sometimes a font is much more than just decoration. It is said that Comic Sans helps people with dyslexia read more easily. Because of its asymmetrical style, the letters are much easier to distinguish.
Believe it or not, Comic Sans once was the most popular font in the world. It started of quite smooth, when it was used for informal purposes like comics, birthday cards or video games. With its rising popularity, people started to use it for practically everything, from their grandma’s tombstone to huge commercial banners. It was crazy. The reason for this was because it just had the nonchalant, comic edge everyone was looking for. Besides that, Comic Sans was one of the few free fonts on Microsoft. Most people around that time had a boring office job and wanted to mix things up. They were looking for some kind of distraction from the serious world, so they used Comic Sans for their emails and reports. It seemed like Connare succeeded in making a ‘not so serious’ font — but that is where the big, scary ‘Misunderstanding’ came in and everything went downhill very, very quickly…
Obviously, there were some aesthetic issues why Comic Sans became more hated than Justin Bieber. It breaks literally every typographical rule. Before that, every font was either geometrical, like Arial or Helvetica or a curly handwritten font. Comic Sans looked like he turned up at a black-tie party in a clown’s costume between all other fonts. It fell deep into the ‘Uncanny Valley’, which is an actual term in robotics. When something is not convincingly human nor artificial, people tend to despise it (for example, a human-like robot or furbee). This is exactly what happened to Comic Sans, even though it was here to make people happy. It just did not feel right.
Still, that is only a small reason causing the hatred. Comic Sans is perfect for primary school reports and birthday cards, but for some unbelievable reason, people started to use it for very serious occasions like doctor’s prescriptions and funeral cards. It was never intended to be used so often or in such inappropriate situations. With the rise of ‘internet memeing’ it completely went downhill, since it now is the symbol for an international ‘unserious’ font. So the fault seems to lay with us; the typers. Comic Sans does not disappoint people, people disappoint people.
We, as designers, might be the most critical creatures on earth. When something is against our taste, we suddenly turn into judgemental beasts all with their own cup of tea. Friendships are made but also ruined when it comes to your preference for mobile phones, chairs and fonts. Comic Sans seems to be the biggest cliché used when an example is given of something ‘ugly’. That is a shame, because it deserves more credits for all the work it has done. Its creator once quoted: “If you love it, you don’t know much about typography. If you hate it, you don’t know much about design and you should get another hobby.” A finer description of the problem is not possible. We, as designers, should for once look beyond aesthetics, because yes, Comic Sans is not the prettiest font out there. As a designer, it is far too easy to fall into the trap of valuing form over function. Look beyond that. Look for the source and find the natural beauty of this typeface. So please stop using it the wrong way, in divorce papers or obituaries. Write a Comic Sans email or essay when it is not of big importance and give it back its credibility. The right way.