The marmite of typefaces; Comic Sans has become its own cliché but remains one of the most popular fonts in the world. In fact, a survey conducted by the printing company, Solopress, revealed that Comic Sans is the UK’s second go-to font for official-looking documents falling short of the title behind Times New Roman.
But not everybody would agree on its use on an official-looking document.
The jaunty typeface that lurks in the depths of your hard-drive has become the target of its own online hate campaign which called for the font to be banned. But why has it inspired so much revulsion? Have we been too harsh on Comic Sans?
The inception of Comic Sans
Type designer Vincent Connare formulated the cartoony typeface for a kid’s computer program called Microsoft Bob in October 1994. The software featured a dog named Rover who gave tips and advice in speech bubbles. The beta version of the computer programme was using Time New Roman for Rover’s speech balloons, which Connare felt was giving the software an overly formal look which was inappropriate for a programme intended for a young audience.
“I booted [the programme] up and out walked this cartoon dog, talking with a speech bubble in Times New Roman. Dogs don’t talk in Times New Roman! Conceptually, it made no sense,” Connare told the Guardian in a March 28 interview.
To make Microsoft Bob more accessible for its intended audience Connare looked at speech bubble style lettering in graphic novels and comic books, specifically Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, for inspiration.
Despite Connare’s efforts, his boss didn’t like the font and thought it should be more typographic. Although the font didn’t make it to the release of Microsoft Bob, the font was later released in the Windows 95 Plus Pack in August 1995. Later, it was also included as one of the system fonts for the OEM versions of Windows 95, was used for a comic movie program called 3D Movie Maker, and is currently shipped with both Windows and Mac OS.
The rise and fall of Comic Sans
As soon as Comic Sans was made accessible to the average computer user, it spread like wildfire and was being used by a range of establishments including hospitals, offices, churches, restaurants, police stations, doctors, pubs and bars, and more to print serious information on posters, signs and newsletters.
There aren’t many places Comic Sans hasn’t been used – even the Vatican has used it.
The Vatican created a digital photo album to commemorate Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy after he resigned as Pope of the Catholic Church in 2013, and the entire thing was written in Comic Sans.
As the font started to gain traction, it started to divide the world and two typographers even started a “Ban Comic Sans” movement in 2002 that gained worldwide attention.
Connare argued that “people who don’t like Comic Sans don’t know anything about design… They don’t understand that in design, you have a brief.”
Creative Director Lee agrees, saying, “As ‘bad’ as Comic Sans is perceived to be – and we all like to joke about it – it’s bloody successful, isn’t it? It’s a great example of ‘function over form’. Comic Sans serves a purpose and is so functional for a range of purposes”
There’s a time and place for Comic Sans
Every font has a unique personality and a purpose that can convey a mood, attitude and tone. For example, Times New Roman is considered to be a serious, formal font, whereas Comic Sans is a fun, childish, informal font.
Director Scott adds, “Although Comic Sans is frowned upon by designers, it serves a purpose to the masses being both easily read, handwriting-like (to a degree) and fun. Whereas Times would be the go-to font for a letter or a news piece, Comic Sans ticks the not so serious box for homemade newsletters and church flyers”.
As Comic Sans was originally designed to be used in a Microsoft programme aimed at a younger audience, it’s important to remember the context in which Comic Sans was created. It was only when the font was in the hands of Windows 95 users that the way it was used became ‘out of context’.
The issue is not with the font itself, Connare believes. “People use it inappropriately. If they don’t understand how type works, it won’t have any power or meaning to them,” he explained.
Comic Sans is popular for use with young children in primary schools and other childcare thanks to its fun, child-like appearance. The use of the font in this example is entirely appropriate and shows how it can actually be beneficial for children to learn. Whereas tributes, CVs and other formal documents are considered to be serious and thoughtful, so it is felt that they should be written in a font that reflects this.
Or perhaps the last Pope was a barrel of fun who loved Comic Sans and the Vatican just wanted to honour him with the font he loved most.
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