Musings on

marketing

By April 23, 2009

The Story of Comic Sans – How to Choose a Font

Comic Sans: the typeface that designers love to hate. So what’s the story behind this pervasive font? Why exactly do so many people love it, while others hate it? I came across a student-filmed documentary that asked the same question.

Comic Sans Documentary

Digging a little deeper, I found out that it all started with Rover, the talking yellow dog from the program Microsoft Bob. Look familiar? With the flop of Microsoft Bob, an attempt at an early user-friendly interface for Windows, Rover now currently resides in the search function for Windows XP.

According to the font’s designer, Vincent Connare:

Comic Sans was designed because when I was working at Microsoft I received a beta version of Microsoft Bob. It was a comic software package that had a dog called Rover at the beginning and he had a balloon with messages using Times New Roman.

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.

There was no intention to include the font in other applications other than those designed for children when I designed Comic Sans. The inspiration came at the shock of seeing Times New Roman used in an inappropriate way.

While there was no intention to include the font in other applications…included it was. After being picked up by MS Movie Maker, a similar application using cartoon characters, it eventually landed onto the list of system fonts for Windows 95. From then, there was no stopping it.

Since that day it has shown up in countless forms it was never intended for and has immersed the market with badly designed logos, signage, flyers, college exams, medical forms…you name it. It has gotten so bad that Indianapolis graphic designers Dave and Holly Combs have erected a website that’s prime objective is to ban comic sans altogether by collecting names on an online petition.

www.bancomicsans.com

While I find this endeavor a little extreme, I do think it’s good to at least know the background of the font and to realize that it had a specific purpose when it was created…to be used in a comic/cartoon environment. Nothing more. **Here is a good example of Comic Sans being used in a successful application.

prince_valiant03

The font, set in all caps, is used to its fullest potential in this Prince Valiant comic strip. It feels natural in this comic setting because that’s how the font was created and intended to be used. It is not pretending to be something it’s not.**

**It was pointed out to me (by Stephen Coles) that the above comic strip was in fact NOT set in Comic Sans. Thank you Stephen for the correction! Unfortunately, this was the best example I could come up with after hours of searching the web. I wanted to be fair to those Comic Sans lovers out there to show how this comic-styled font could be used well. It looks like even the comic community has rejected poor Comic Sans. Well, can’t say I didn’t try!**

Below is an example of Comic Sans being used in the wrong application. This pic was snapped with my camera phone while on my walk to work one morning in NW Portland. What a beauty!

att000041

The combination of “ABC” and the use of this fun, child-like font is more reminiscent of a child’s daycare company than an electric company. If the word “electric” was not present, I would have the entirely wrong impression that this company was somehow kid-oriented. This brand is not a good representation of the company.

Often times an office manager is tasked with creating a company’s identity using the tools they have readily available (e.g., Microsoft Word or Publisher). However, just because Comic Sans is a Windows system font that is easily accessible does not mean that it’s the best choice. When done right, a lot of time and effort should go into the exploration of logo typography…it’s not a matter of reaching for just what’s at your fingertips.

Readability is key. The logo type needs to be readable across multiple applications. It should be as legible in smaller applications like newspaper ads or business cards as it is in larger ones like vehicle signage or tradeshow banners. Logo typography also needs to stand the test of web readability for those that appear online. People should not have to squint to make out the name of your company.

Nurture the relationship. If the logo contains both a symbol AND typography, the type must play nice in relationship to its symbolic counterpart. The style of the font should compliment the symbol so that the two elements successfully get the company’s image across to its audience. They need to be partners in their objective, thus the feeling or impression of both should coincide.

Allow breathing room. The shape of typography character forms and the spacing between them is also important to consider. Some fonts, described as display fonts, are created specifically to be used for large applications. These fonts are generally spaced more closely together, creating a tighter fit between letters. This creates word-shapes that are easier to read at larger scales. The opposite is true with fonts specified as text fonts. These are spaced more openly, with more space between letters, to help distinguish each character from the other, helping with readability at small scales.  When choosing logo typography, it is important to choose a font with letter-spacing that compliments the logo…one that creates even visual texture. White space is not to be ignored.

Many factors come into play when choosing logo typography. And luckily, we’re not forced to use only the system fonts that come already installed on our computers. There are, in fact, thousands of amazing fonts that exist online. Websites like MyFonts.com, Veer.com and FontShop.com have an enormous selection of inexpensive fonts, ripe for the picking. You can purchase and download these fonts directly onto your computer in the matter of minutes! You’ll have a brand new font that may serve as a better option than one your system fonts.

So the next time you think about using Comic Sans in the next inter-departmental flyer for your upcoming company picnic or as a logo for your cousin’s new dog-walking business, remember the original intent of the comic-styled font and please…think again. There are many other, possibly even better, choices out there.