Design FAQ #1 – What’s wrong with Comic Sans?

As a graphic designer, discussing what you actually do can make for an interesting conversation.

A lot of my friends would be considered ‘creative types’, whether this is from meeting in university/work/networking events or just by coincidence. When you step away from this group, the ‘what do you do for a living’ conversation can be a lot more diverse, and explaining what a designer does and why they get paid for it can be a whole different adventure.

Design is becoming less exclusive and more ubiquitous with our day-to-day lives. We’re surrounded by it on our phones, in advertising and it’s become a much easier topic to discuss. Certain areas have permeated themselves into the public’s eye more than others – lists of the best fonts, mobile phone design updates and huge public reactions to rebranding are all common in the news.

Even designer’s inside jokes have made it to the news and one such joke has poked it’s head out of the pile more than others…

What’s wrong with Comic Sans?

This is a question I’ve been asked a lot. Like Papyrus, the love/hate (mostly hate) relationship of designers to certain typefaces have made it out of design agencies and into the world at large. Now I find myself often being asked what is actually wrong with these typefaces, Comic Sans being the king of these and being questioned why designers can have a problem with a typeface?

The answer is not, what’s wrong with Comic Sans, but why is it used so inappropriately?!

Like all typefaces Comic Sans was designed to communicate information, you can read it relatively easily, but as I discussed in point 3 of my Typography #101 blog post a typeface can effect the tone of your message.

As Simon Garfield discusses in Just My Type (a book I can’t recommend highly enough) it was designed to make a Microsoft program more friendly and encouraging. And here’s the core of the issue designers have with Comic Sans, it is horrendously misused.

When used for the right message, Comic Sans works. (I won’t go as far as saying looks good – that’s still up for personal debate). But it can definitely work and deliver the message suitably. The problem arises when it is used for an incredible amount of inappropriate designs without thought to the message it alludes to.

Here’s just a selection from the first few lines of a quick google search…

While Comic sans may work on an invite to a children’s party or to help increase the legibility of education material it does NOT work for potentially life saving signage/financial user interfaces/septic tank related newsletters and posters about imitation weapons and sexual assault.

The solution, consider what message you want to communicate. If a light-hearted, whimsical and childish typeface sits comfortably alongside this, well done you’ve made the right choice, otherwise keep scrolling through that list of typefaces.

Remember the classic designer joke…

Comic Sans walks into a bar, the bartender says ‘We don’t serve your type in here’.

And if you’re still suffering from the grip of Comic Sans take a look at Comic Sans Criminal or seek medical attention immediately.

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