Comic Sans Turns 25: Graphic Designer Vincent Connare Explains Why He Created the Most Hated Font in the World

What we write reveals who we are, but so, and often more clear­ly, does how we write. And in an age when hand­writ­ing has giv­en way to typ­ing, how we write has much to do with which font we use. Many of us play it safe, rarely stray­ing from the realm of twelve-point Times New Roman hyper­nor­mal­i­ty, but even there “type is a voice; its very qual­i­ties and char­ac­ter­is­tics com­mu­ni­cate to read­ers a mean­ing beyond mere syn­tax.” That obser­va­tion comes from the Ban Com­ic Sans Man­i­festo, drawn up two decades ago by graph­ic design­ers Hol­ly and David Combs as a strike against the font that, 25 years after its cre­ation, remains a hate object of choice for the visu­al­ly lit­er­ate every­where.

“You don’t like that your cowork­er used me on that note about steal­ing her yogurt from the break room fridge?” asks Com­ic Sans itself, ven­tril­o­quized in McSweeney’s by Mike Lach­er. “You don’t like that I’m all over your sister-in-law’s blog? You don’t like that I’m on the sign for that new Thai place? You think I’m pedes­tri­an and tacky?” Well, tough: “Peo­ple love me. Why? Because I’m fun. I’m the life of the par­ty. I bring lev­i­ty to any sit­u­a­tion. Need to soft­en the blow of a harsh mes­sage about restroom eti­quette? SLAM. There I am. Need to spice up the direc­tions to your grad­u­a­tion par­ty? WHAM. There again. Need to con­vey your fun-lov­ing, approach­able nature on your busi­ness’ web­site? SMACK.”

In the Great Big Sto­ry video above, Com­ic Sans cre­ator Vin­cent Connare tells his side of the sto­ry. While employed at Microsoft in the ear­ly 1990s, he saw a pro­to­type ver­sion of Microsoft Bob, a kind of add-on to the Win­dows inter­face designed for max­i­mum user friend­li­ness. It fea­tured onscreen ani­mal char­ac­ters that spoke in speech bub­bles, but the words in those speech bub­bles appeared in what was every­one’s default font. When it hit him that “dogs don’t talk in Times New Roman,” Connare, a graph­ic-nov­el fan, got to work on a type­face for the speech bub­bles mod­eled on the let­ter­ing by John Costan­za in The Dark Knight Returns and by Dave Gib­bons in Watch­men.

Com­ic Sans did­n’t make it into Microsoft Bob, it did make it into a some­what more suc­cess­ful Microsoft prod­uct: Win­dows 95, which David Kadavy at Design for Hack­ers calls “the first oper­at­ing sys­tem to real­ly hit it big. Just as com­put­ers were start­ing to pop up in near­ly every home in Amer­i­ca, Win­dows 95 was find­ing itself installed on all of those com­put­ers, and with it, the font Com­ic Sans. So now, near­ly every man, woman, child, and bake sale orga­niz­er find them­selves armed with pub­lish­ing pow­er unlike civ­i­liza­tion had ever seen; and few of them real­ly had any design sense.” Then came the inter­net boom, which meant that “instead of fly­ers post­ed in break rooms, Com­ic Sans was show­ing up on web­sites, and even as the default font for many people’s emails. Now, any one per­son could write a mes­sage that could poten­tial­ly be read by mil­lions, in Com­ic Sans.”

What makes Com­ic Sans so reviled? Kadavy points to sev­er­al rea­sons hav­ing to do with typo­graph­i­cal aes­thet­ics, includ­ing awk­ward weight dis­tri­b­u­tion (“weight” being the thick­ness of its lines) and poor let­ter­fit (mean­ing that its let­ters don’t, or can’t, sit well next to each oth­er). But the prob­lem most of us notice is that “Com­ic Sans isn’t used as intend­ed”: A type­face meant only for speech bub­bles in Microsoft Bob has some­how become one of the most pop­u­lar in the world, appear­ing unsuit­ably in every­thing from Cleve­land Cav­a­liers own­er Dan Gilbert’s open let­ter on the depar­ture of LeBron James to CERN’s announce­ment of evi­dence of the Hig­gs boson par­ti­cle to, just last month, a let­ter from Don­ald Trump’s lawyer’s to the House Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee.

Through it all, Connare him­self — who has designed such rel­a­tive­ly respectable type­faces as Tre­buchet, and has famous­ly only used Com­ic Sans once, in a com­plaint let­ter to his cable com­pa­ny — has kept his sense of humor, as evi­denced by his talk enti­tled “Com­ic Sans Is the Best Font in the World.” Even the Combs’ move­ment has changed its name, if not with­out irony, into “Use Com­ic Sans.” Pieces mark­ing the font’s 25th anniver­sary include “Hat­ing Com­ic Sans Is Not a Per­son­al­i­ty” by The New York Times’ Emma Gold­berg and “In Bad Taste or Not, I’ll Keep My Com­ic Sans” by The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Joseph Epstein (pub­lished, entire­ly and coura­geous­ly, in Com­ic Sans). If you love the font, Connare often says, you don’t know much about typog­ra­phy, but if you hate it, “you should get anoth­er hob­by.” Besides, the sto­ry of Com­ic Sans also con­tains an impor­tant life les­son: “You have to do things that aren’t beau­ti­ful some­times.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The His­to­ry of Typog­ra­phy Told in Five Ani­mat­ed Min­utes

Down­load Icon­ic Nation­al Park Fonts: They’re Now Dig­i­tized & Free to Use

Learn Cal­lig­ra­phy from Lloyd Reynolds, the Teacher of Steve Jobs’ Own Famous­ly Inspir­ing Cal­lig­ra­phy Teacher

How to Write Like an Archi­tect: Short Primers on Writ­ing with the Neat, Clean Lines of a Design­er

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.