Comic Sans – A Look at the Most Hated and Loved User Interface Font
The Comic Sans typeface has often been described as completely unprofessional, tasteless and artless by designers, but a large number of web users and typographers continue to favor it above more legible and elegant fonts. The general public like it and recent research even suggests that Comic Sans, or other less legible typefaces like it, may actually promote better readability than more conventional, professional fonts.
Comic Sans was developed by Vincent Connare, the former Microsoft designer, in 1994 as an attempt at “friendlier” font style for Microsoft Windows user interface. More precisely, it was developed as an alternative to the now absconding Microsoft Bob’s user interface font, the Times New Roman that was used in the word balloons of comic characters.
The typeface was created inspired by the lettering style of comic books. Two comic books in particular, The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen, inspired Connare to come up with the Comic Sans typeface. Since then, Connare has made it amply clear that Comic Sans was a casual typeface that was never intended for general, more formal use. In fact, comic book lettering is usually more regular or formal and though from the name of the typeface it might be assumed that Comic Sans was modeled on comic book lettering, Connare’s original intent was not so.
In Connare’ own words, he did not design Comic Sans as a typeface but as a solution to Microsoft Bob’s program interface font that was used to communicate messages. MS Bob’s dog Rover displayed messages using Times New Roman. The inspiration for the Comic Sans typeface came from seeing the inappropriate use of Times New Roman. Thus Comic Sans was designed to use for applications that were designed for children and no other formal programs applications.
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In 1999, two American designers, Dave and Holly Combs in their website “Ban Comic Sans” targeted Comic Sans claiming that the typeface was inappropriate and largely misused. They called Comic Sans misuse “analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume”. Of course, it is hard to disagree with some of what they say, mainly that the typeface is either well used or badly abused.
It appears, the problem with Comic Sans is not the typeface itself, but its abuse that has led to wide scale revulsion. The typeface is irritably simple, resembling informal handwriting and approximating to a seven-year old child’s scrawl. The most comic thing about Comic Sans is that it just begs the use of multiple colors. But then, it was never designed for formal use. So where’s the problem?
There isn’t a problem really. Comic Sans does no harm if its use can be regulated. Especially for designers, this is important. One wouldn’t want a Comic Sans typeface of an ambulance, would they?
Do general users care? Well…no, they don’t. In fact, general users love the typeface. Comic Sans has been used in party invitations, greeting cards, toyshops, and even inter-office mails and memos. Overall, Comic Sans seems to be everywhere and anywhere there is need for homely and friendly lettering but legible, eye-grabbing typeface.
To conclude with Connare on Comic Sans “If you love it, you don’t know much about typography and if you hate it you really don’t know much about typography either”.