Comic Sans saves the day

Yes, we’re hard on Comic Sans here at IBD. In fact, a month or two ago, I wrote that using it makes a designer look like a hack. So rather than kick a typeface when it’s down, I thought we’d give it its due. The above video, called “Font Conference,” presents Comic Sans in a new light.

Regarding my own interest in this video, there are two possibilities (perhaps not mutually exclusive):

1. It’s a funny way to anthropomorphize some of the common typefaces we’ve all come to know and recognize.

2. I am a bigger nerd than I thought I was. I am aware as I watch it that I am laughing out loud at jokes about typefaces, but I can’t help myself.

Regardless, there are a number of funny, quotable lines (“Pencil, telephone, hourglass! Diamonds, candle, candle, flag!”), but the top honor, in my opinion, goes to when the font Ransom, holding Courier and Curlz MT hostage, demands placement in a variety of media, including Microsoft Works. Times New Roman responds, “You’re insane. Nobody uses Microsoft Works!”

Get to Know a Typeface! Comic Sans (with a little Helvetica mixed in)

I recently watched the documentary film “Helvetica,” which Shea reviewed back in March. The movie, predictably, features experts on typography who either hail the typeface as the solution to all of mankind’s problems or deride it as the manifestation of humanity’s worst attributes. What’s interesting about the typeface (and the movie) is the story about how and why Helvetica came to be and the function that it serves.

Regardless of how you feel about its aesthetics, you understand that Helvetica was designed with attention to detail and a strict adherence to a philosophical movement, and it fills a specific need in the design community. I found myself thinking that everything that makes Helvetica an interesting and viable typeface stands in stark contrast to everything that makes Comic Sans such a joke.

Yes, I am hard on Comic Sans, but I enjoyed the above YouTube video, where Comic Sans creator Vincent Connare explains the origins of his most famous creation. It’s humanizing to see a man who created one of the most used (and most reviled, in some circles) typfaces ever, admit to not being proud of his work.

The most important thing he says here is, “It’s often badly used,” which I think is the crux of why so many people dislike this typeface. Connare speaks directly to what makes Comic Sans inappropriate when he explains that it was designed to be used for text in speech bubbles for a cartoon dog—not, we can infer, for long passages of text or as large display type.

So to reiterate a recurring theme on this site: Don’t use Comic Sans unless the type you’re setting is in a speech bubble, preferably that of a cartoon dog.

Get to Know a Typeface! Papyrus

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This post is more for me than you. I’m sorry but I must use this platform to get this off my chest. Please avoid Papyrus.

The post could have ended there, but as usual, I say too much and end up needing to apologize for something I’ve written. If I have or will offend you with this post, including Chris Costello (the type designer who created the monster known as Papyrus), I am sorry. I guess I could have taken Paul’s post on Comic Sans and inserted his comments here to cover Papyrus. You know, that’s not such a bad idea.

Here we go: “The problem with [Papyrus] is not only that it is used a lot. It’s that it’s almost always used inappropriately, which has caused its original intent to be lost. It was designed with a specific use in mind, but now it is ubiquitous.”  Well said, Paul. Costello agrees and says on his blog titled “Papyrus…Love It or Hate It?” that “Dude, Papyrus is ubiquitous because it was bundled with OSX and Windows operating systems, plain and simple… I had nothing to do with that decision.” I like his honesty and use of the word “dude” in the post.

Costello goes on to say in another post, “I cringe when I see Papyrus so poorly executed…and so often. But again, like any licensed software, what people do with it is out of my hands.” I think that it is awesome that Costello’s blog provides a place for people to rant or rave about his creation. Some of the comments provide insight into his creation and its original use, while others are just hilarious. There is even is a post from Costello’s mom, who has a take on Papyrus.

Much like Comic Sans, Papyrus in and of itself is not that bad of a typeface. It is the users of Papyrus who over use and abuse it.  It can be seen everywhere. I see it most commonly in restaurant menus (primarily Italian restaurants) and in signage or advertisements for day spas (primarily the type found in strip malls). I have even seen it on a sign for a dentist’s office. Which was an effective use considering the cavities found within each letter form. But really, please avoid Papyrus.

To learn more about Papyrus or Chris Costello check out his website at www.costelloart.com. Costello is also collecting comments and displaying his newest type creations known as Driftwood, Costello, and Sheriden’s Letters. Will one of those be the next Papyrus? Only time will tell.

For those who love Papyrus, and I know you are out there, check out http://iheartpapyrus.com.

Do I need a hobby or something else to care about? I want to hear from the herd, what is the typeface that really bugs you? For me it is Papyrus, for Paul it is Comic Sans, what is it for you?

Free fonts!

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As synthetic, mass-produced, quick-sign solutions erode society’s appreciation for the unique, it is the designer’s responsibility to restore it. If you only take one thing from this website, here is what it should be: Computer defaults are not your friend.

Among the most obvious default settings that are not your friend is your pull-down menu of available fonts. Some of these default options have become so overused that they are experiencing backlash. To see what I mean, read this discussion of one blogger’s selection of the top 10 worst font choices: www.heyokadesign.com/news.asp?post=top-ten-worst-font-choices. I note one exception: If you are starting an organic aroma therapy massage clinic and your plan is to advertise exclusively on coffee shop bulletin boards, I recommend that you use Papyrus for all of your communications. You’ll fit right in.

There are so many resources for free and expressive typefaces that are not horribly overused, that you are negligent as a designer if you use any of the same old few. Note that I have used the term expressive typefaces. By this I mean decorative or handwriting options like Papyrus or Brush Script that are easily identified by the casual viewer. When it comes to traditional serifs or sans serifs like Helvetica or Garamond that are not as readily identified, you’re safe using the classic options already included with the computer.

The point is, when your goal is to be expressive rather than functional, explore the options beyond the defaults, not just to be different, but to find that perfect typeface that fits your needs. Below are just a few of the many websites that offer fonts for you to download. The whole point of these sites is to give you stuff (usually for free) so that you don’t have to use the fonts your operating system chose for you.

www.1001freefonts.com

www.dafont.com (pictured above)

www.freemacfonts.com

www.urbanfonts.com

Ask a Nerd: What’s the problem with Comic Sans?

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From our “Ask a Nerd!” files, this question came in from “Steve” (whose real name is actually Steve; we just had some extra quotation marks lying around). Steve’s comments are in bold, with responses below.

Steve: In your book you come down hard on Comic Sans, saying it is an over-used default font that is very cold. I’ve avoided using it, Marker Felt, and Chalkboard, but for a different reason. To me they seem childish and informal, and I feared they would undermine my message, giving it less authority than it deserves. Do you think that a default font acquires coldness simply because it is used often?

IBD: Steve, let me say first that these fonts will undermine your message, so you have good instincts. The problem with Comic Sans is not only that it is used a lot. It’s that it’s almost always used inappropriately, which has caused its original intent to be lost. It was designed with a specific use in mind (to represent speech from a cartoon dog on the Windows 95 operating system), but now it is ubiquitous.

Much like the word “Smurphy,” Comic Sans loses its expressive quality (and becomes cold, which is what we’re getting at in the book) because it is used so much in so many different ways (in one famous instance, it was used on a gravestone; see the photo by Cory Doctorow above). When I see Comic Sans used, I feel that very little thought has gone into the design and it makes me think less of the site or organization it represents.

Steve: Would that apply to Helvetica and Times as well? Why or why not?

IBD: I believe Helvetica and Times are different because they were designed in a classical tradition, more for legibility than for expressiveness. It’s considerably more difficult to pick out Helvetica (which pops up all over the place) because it was designed in the modernist tradition not to be expressive, but rather purely functional. Times was designed specifically for use in newspapers and is often poorly used, but because it’s a traditional serif typeface, it tends to blend into the background. (See “Get to Know a Typeface! Times New Roman”)

Steve: I conducted a very unscientific study, asking a few people (fellow interpreters and general public) what comes to mind when I show them a few sample fonts, including these. None came up with anything like coldness for the printing emulation fonts.

IBD: First, it’s a great idea to show typefaces to others and get feedback, so kudos to you for doing that.

I’m sure that most people will not say “cold” or “impersonal” when asked to identify the expressive qualities Comic Sans tries to achieve. The design of the typeface itself actually is friendly or childish. However, it is so readily identified by even the casual observer, its inherent aesthetic qualities are overshadowed because anyone who sees Comic Sans on your communication has probably already seen it many times over that day alone.

As an interpreter and a designer, your task is to create meaningful communication, and using a font that has lost its meaning due to over-use does not help you do that.

Steve: I still feel if I needed to use a font to convey a very young or informal point of view I’d consider using one of these fonts. Convince me I’m wrong.

IBD: Don’t give in to the temptation! Remember, your nonpersonal media represents your site or organization. Even if you’re promoting a program for kids or a friendly community gathering, choosing the same typeface that countless others have used for take-out menus, personal e-mail, or garage sale flyers looks lazy and unprofessional.