: What is wrong with Comic Sans? There's a great TEDxExeter talk by a colleague of mine, Simon Peyton-Jones, about the recent advances in the English lower school 'computer science' curriculum.
There's a great TEDxExeter talk by a colleague of mine, Simon Peyton-Jones, about the recent advances in the English lower school 'computer science' curriculum. Like all of his slide decks he uses Comic Sans throughout. Depressingly, though inevitably, one of the YouTube commenters berates him for the font choice, stating that his use of Comic Sans is "the design equivalent of putting a giant image of a middle finger on the screen; an insult to education". This prompts a further comment that points to 41:32 in another of Simon's talks where Simon is asked by an audience member why he uses Comic Sans. Here is Simon's reply:
This is a very funny question, "Why use Comic Sans?" So, all my talks
use Comic Sans and I frequently see remarks like 'Simon Peyton-Jones,
great talk about Haskell but why did he use Comic Sans?' but nobody's
ever been able to tell me what is wrong with it. It's a nice legible
font, I like it. So until somebody explains to me ... Ah, I understand
that it's meant to be a bit naff, but I don't care about naff stuff, I
care about being able to read it. So if you have got a sort of ...
some rational reasons why I should not then I'll listen to them. But
just being unfashionable? I don't care.
Simon is talking off-the-cuff here, so I think by "rational" he means affecting legibility, reading speed, comprehension, and things like that. Are there any studies relating fonts across those kind of measures? If so where does Comic Sans come in the ranking?
(N.B. I cannot help thinking it is a good design choice that he's made. He has deliberately chosen a font that no-one versed in the design of slides would choose. It suggests, in my mind at least, a kind of authenticity; but the argument between brand adherence and authenticity is one I keep losing.)
More posts by @Frith110
Nothing is wrong with Comic Sans
If someone has the opinion that Comic Sans fits her/his personality, that's fine.
Use Comic Sans for comics or comic like content
It's so easy, just read the fonts name.
Use other (legible) fonts for everything else
Or people will tell you to do so.
That way everyone should be able to focus on the content of the slides, documents etc.
That would be great, I think! :-)
There are a number of good answers already for why Comic Sans might be inappropriate, but all of them rely to varying degrees on some implied knowledge of culture, suggesting the appropriateness (or lack thereof) as defined by the existence of other articles... which I'm guessing doesn't quite answer your original question. It looks like you're looking for a logical reasoning for why people don't like Comic Sans, one that separates itself from the sociocultural environment, and just like the Microsoft Paperclip, I think I can help you with that:
There is a concept in psychology known as "the uncanny valley". Sometimes in design we try and add human elements to design, maybe we want a robot to look humanoid for example so we design it to be human-shaped and we give it a face. Most of the time we're perfectly fine with this because our brain can easily tell the difference between what is human and what is not.
The uncanny valley is a coin termed to explain things that reach a point that are so human in their qualities, but still not quite human, at a point where it confuses our brains and we find it "creepy". Psychologists have theorised that sometimes we find things "creepy" as opposed to eliciting genuine fear, and they believe this is when our brain is struggling to reconcile two dichotomous ideas, like when you stand near a ledge and you get a creepy sensation because part of your brain is analysing the danger of falling but another part of your brain knows you're capable of standing on solid ground... Or how people get creeped out by the dark, your brain knows that when light was last available there wasn't anything fearful around and none of your senses have detected a threat nearby but the dark still presents the unknown and that conflicts with what your brain is trying to tell you. The uncanny valley is a point where we see a thing that has many human traits but is just slightly off, in a way that causes a conflict in our brains rudimentary assessment of whether or not something is in fact human.
People who study such phenomena have suggested that the uncanny valley is the reason we so abhor Comic Sans. The font is quite human in design, it's meant to look like handwritten speech bubbles from old comic books and it's installed imperfections make it appear almost human... but not quite, placing it somewhere in the uncanny valley.
So, here is your logical answer for Mr Peyton-Jones as to why Comic Sans is inappropriate for his presentations: it's very nature offends people, it creeps people out because it lies in the uncanny valley, and is therefore detrimental to the efficient communication of his ideas.
I have just read The non-designer's design book by Robin Williams - a great book for beginners by the way.
Looking at what I have learned, I can find violations of all four principles (as there are proximity, alignment, repetition and contrast) in Simon Peyton-Jones's presentation.
However, many people watching the presentation are probably not aware of those principles. But there's one thing that makes them feel uncomfortable: the Comic Sans font. That's what they recognize, that's what they can name.
The rest is just strengthening their feeling, in a subliminal way. But due to the lack of being able to name the other violations, they do not say "Why are you violating all four principles of good slide design?", they just ask "Why are you using Comic Sans?".
With a little bit of desire of being more professional and serious, Simon Peyton-Jones probably just needs to read this book and he would create really convincing presentations.
The type Comic Sans has been discussed in other answer at length. The type falls into the Script category (out of the six Oldstyle, Modern, Slab serif, Sans serif, Script and Decorative). She defines scripts as
The script category includes all those typefaces that appear to have been handlettered with a calligraphy pen or brush, or sometimes with a pencil or technical pen.
For scripts, Robin Williams also says:
Scripts are like cheesecake - they should be used sparingly so nobody gets sick.
And it's really overused - not only in Simon Peyton-Jones' presentation.
When I'm in the audience, a presentation in Comic Sans just makes me feel like like the presenter is thinking I'm stupid, like I'm at the wrong place. It's like being talked to in Simple English. Imagine attending a talk on Haskell and the presenter starts with "We want to write letters on our computer that tell our computer what to do." — it's just inappropriate.
Incidentally, I often feel people treat children like they are stupid. But they are not stupid, they are just inexperienced people. So using Comic Sans when talking to children is no excuse in my opinion. It's similar to how people talk with animals:
Comic Sans is a poorly made font because it succeeds neither at resembling actual comic book handwriting, nor printed lettering.
For comparison, here is a well designed comic book font called Crimefighter BB.
The above example is italicized and all caps, so while a great font for comics, it is not exactly all-purpose. But there are plenty of other great handwriting fonts that are, such as Felt Tip Roman. This has natural flow, line width variation, and feels comfortably human.
So what would a real person actually have to do to write in handwriting that looks like Comic Sans? They would have to use a sharpie to slowly and carefully make each stroke in a sort of perfectly calculated ugliness, pausing for just long enough to get a subtle yet unconvincing bleed dot at the stroke stops, and taking great care to make sure the slant is not consistent between letters. It looks like the result of a cyborg trying to imitate a grade school student's handwriting. Try to write Comic Sans. Try it until you get it to actually look like Comic Sans, and I bet the unnaturalness of it will drive you mad. People like designers, who are sensitive to the movement of line strokes pick up on this awkward clash of mechanical and faked organic form and become nauseous or irritable as a result.
Just look at this abomination:
The deliberately calculated hooks on the uppercase C and lowercase S. But paradoxically those same hooks do not appear on the lowercase C or uppercase S. Look at the lowercase A~E and how they are obviously traced over perfect circles, but intentionally off just enough to try to make it look like they're not. Observe how the uppercase Q is not only on a different slant than the uppercase O, but also rounder and wider for no reason. Notice how the A and E have strokes that cross slightly through other strokes, as if to say "we realize real handwriting has imperfections, so we added some planned imperfections". Then they made uppercase F, H, I, and K without such cross-over, to you know, not seem too out of control. The creators meticulously calculated what they thought sloppy should look like. Why do the loops of uppercase D and R droop, while those of P and B do not? Also the uppercase M has no business flaring out at the bottom like that. It's not only the uppercase letters, the lowercase ones and the numbers have many problems too, just more difficult to describe and I don't want to write a novel here. the bottom line is no human would ever write like this! And if they did they would require psychological evaluation.
Using Comic Sans in your Powerpoint presentation at a TED Talk is the equivalent of wearing a Sponge Bob T-Shirt and a pair of sweat pants while giving your Powerpoint presentation.
There's nothing wrong with a cartoon t-shirt and pair of sweat pants. They are comfortable. Versatile. Affordable. But simply 'say' the wrong thing for a TED talk.
When people cringe at the use of Comic Sans, it's not necessarily the typeface itself, but the context it's being used it. In some case it's because it's in a context that is simple over-used or a lazy implementation (like elementary teachers) or simply in a context where it just isn't appropriate to begin with (such as in a slide deck at a TED talk.)
There are two anwsers I can think of. First: it's not about being good or bad per se. Black text on dark blue background for example is bad because it's hard if not impossible to read. Comic Sans is not unreadable (as other answers have explained, it actually scores quite well on readability). What it is: overused. The same goes for the default powerpoint templates - no longer original in any way. An additional factor with Comic Sans is that it seems to be especially popular in kids/school environments; we've almost bred a generation to associate Comic Sans with childhood, so you might not want to use it in your company's quarterly figures presentation or your CV that you want to look really grown-up and professional.
For the second answer, designer David Kadavy explains it better than I could: kadavy.net/blog/posts/why-you-hate-comic-sans/ .
There are technical, compatibility, legal, authenticity, and subjective reasons for not using it. I'm going to go through each in turn listing out the reasons with examples and references.
Hitler freaks out over Comic Sans
There are a handful of purely technical reasons not to use it.
The first, was a lack of italic variants. Comic Sans Pro attempted to correct this, and the new variants were merged into Comic Sans by Microsoft in Windows 8.
Second, Comic Sans just isn't a very good comic font, it has sub-optimal and wonky characters with poor kerning:
It should be noted that despite this, comic sans scores very high for readability in some studies - Diemand-Yauman, C.; Oppenheimer, D. M.; Vaughan, E. B. (2011). "Fortune favors the bold (and the italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes".
Comic Sans also comes in for criticism over reading disabilities, and as inappropriate for large blocks of text.
Here is architect small block on the left, and comic sans on the right:
Now while Comic Sans is much beloved by many teachers and
self-promoted readability experts, in fact you’ll see from the above
passages that relative to the font to its left it has quite a number
of fancy letter features, the other passage is more like what you
imagine the diligent teacher would have written on the board.
Probably, the belief you hear sometimes about Comic Sans being highly
readable is really that the teachers, well, they just like it.
taken from typoface.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/typefaces-for-disabilities.html#comicasb
Examples of fancy letter forms include the euro sign:
“The EU was going to sue us over that.” - Vincent Connare
While it comes in for criticism, it's also recommended for use by others. Few studies have been done to prove this however, and most support of Comic Sans justifies itself using simplicity, and personal anecdotes ( "well my brother is dyslexic and he says.." )
Of note, Comic Sans does have some features that help it in this regard, e.g. asymmetric glyphs for b/d, p/q etc
Here is the British Dyslexia Associations stance:
We asked dyslexia forum members. Only a few people responded. So it may not be a burning issue for most dyslexic people. It is likely that line length, line spacing and font size are just as important. Some loved Comic Sans, but others hated it. Some liked Century Gothic and teachers like purchasable Sassoon. On-screen and print preferences may differ.
More information on dyslexia and typefaces with regards to Comic Sans
Here is a Skeptics Stack Exchange question "Is the Comic Sans font easier to read for dyslexics?"
Microsofts own Comic Sans specimen at Comic Sans Café cites:
Comic Sans is the groovy script font which comes with the Windows 95 Plus! pack and is now available for the Apple Macintosh. Although it might be seen as a novelty typeface, which is great for titles, it's also extremely readable on-screen at small sizes, making it a useful text face.
The above quote and the full Microsoft Comic Sans website with full specimen can be found here
Compatibility-wise, Comic Sans is also not as widely available as people think. See this question on superuser for Linux support of Comic Sans MS, using comic sans does not guarantee compatibility.
If you're on Ubuntu, here is how you can install the Microsoft Core Fonts.
"If this page DOES NOT look like Comic Sans, you are probably using Linux!" - The Uncyclopedia page on Comic Sans
Legally, Comic Sans is not an open and free font, it's just very, very widespread, and there is a little known request for usage license from Microsoft & Monotype. Usage in css @font -face also requires a fonts.com subscription. Sadly the author does not receive royalties as Vincent was a staffer when he produced the font. The main reason people can use it is because Microsoft Apple and others pay for these licenses.
Authenticity & Sincerity
There are authenticity reasons for not using Comic Sans. While most of these are undone by the simple fact that Comic Sans is a digital font, the idea of comic fonts is that they are analogous to real-world attempts at lettering by hand.
Or this xkcd:
Now compare those to this comic set entirely in Comic Sans for an example of how effective Comic Sans is as a Comic font:
Some good points regarding sincerity were made as part of an Art installation called the Sincerity machine:
Click above to play
The sincerity machine was a typewriter set entirely in Comic Sans
However, there are these subjective reasons not to use it:
Fonts with superior design and technical features such as Comic Neue exist
Comic sans was built for comics in an age of low resolution screens. It was never intended to be printed on billboards and placed in powerpoint slides
Comic sans is not a serious font, and use in serious applications is either satire or indicates a lack of seriousness or professionalism
There are more legible and readable fonts out there
There's also the testimony of the author of Comic Sans:
In his own words given to an article at deezen.com:
"I think people who don't like Comic Sans don't know anything about design," Connare told Dezeen. "They don't understand that in design you have a brief."
He later compares the font to pink tracksuits and Justin Bieber:
"There are 200-300 fonts installed on every computer but people pick Comic Sans because it is different and it looks more like handwriting and does not look like an old school text book," explained Connare. "It is a personal decision. The same could be asked of why do people like Ugg boots, Justin Bieber or pink tracksuits."
"Comic Sans matched the brief, the brief of the entire Microsoft Consumer Division to put a 'Computer in Every Home' and to make something popular for the people of these homes and their kids. Comic Sans is loved by kids, mums and many dads. So it did its job very well. It matched the brief!"
For more information, here is a history of Comic Sans by Mashable
Comic Sans MS scores extremely well in readability, particularly for educational content (like Higgs-Boson announcement):
Fortune favors the bold (and the Italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes
Which Fonts Do Children Prefer to Read Online?
Only designers really take issue with Comic Sans MS because of how it is designed breaking nearly all "formal" principles and then looking child-like or cartoonish. It's more of a tradition than anything with actual merit. Study after study shows its an effective font, in fact it was designed by Microsoft specifically for legibility. Designers particularly take offense because of how it finds its way into places that have a tradition of professionalism such as Higgs-Boson. Where I live it's even on the side of police cars.
A friend of mine wrote this piece about the Comic Sans font on his art blog:
Do Not Use Comic Sans
What he says regarding the police vehicles:
It’s not just inappropriate – it’s disrespectful of the importance of city police, and of their relationship with the community at large.
While one may seem more sincere and be perceived more professional. It is without a doubt more difficult to read than the Comic Sans MS.
How you write is like how you dress. It's not about practicality, it's about how you present yourself. It reflects how much thought and effort you put into your appearance. It strongly influences your audience's first impression before you even open your mouth, and it colors what you have to say throughout the presentation.
In this metaphor, Futura would be a three-piece suit, Times New Roman would be a comfortable pair of jeans, and Comic Sans is the equivalent of wearing pajamas on stage. If you're not doing it for effect, then it indicates you've put zero effort into appearance.
There's nothing wrong using Comic Sans when it's appropriate: for comics (duh), informal publications, and applications targeted towards children. It's meant to have both legible and handwritten attributes. Here are two completely legitimate examples:
Since it's a font that comes packaged with Windows and the majority of users don't download or install extra fonts, it's easy for people to spot when it's misused. It's become an "inside joke" to mock the use of Comic Sans.
I wouldn't have chosen Comic Sans for a TEDx presentation based on the audience, which appears to be only adults. If it were a presentation targeted towards children I'm sure it would have been fine, but a TEDx talk strikes me as a very formal occasion and the use of Comic Sans sticks out like a sore thumb to me.
I deal with fonts a lot and as a result I have my own prejudices. I especially roll my eyes any time I see Algerian used (most famously in the Patrón logo). It should convey a "classy" appearance, but all I see is cliché. If you're opening up an Italian restaurant in America, I think there might be a law that you must use Brush Script MT for your logo or menus. And Trajan is your go to font for movie titles or academic institutions (that N is easy to spot once you know to look for it!)
At its core, There isn't really anything wrong with Comic Sans. It was designed for a purpose - comic-book-style speech bubbles primarily. It did a good job at that - if you're going to have Microsoft Bob talk to you on a screen, Comic Sans feels more 'right' than Times New Roman.
Three things have contributed to Comic Sans' unpopularity, in my view.
First, exposure. It shows up everywhere, and it's distinct enough for people to notice. Your average person doesn't look at Helvetica, Arial, Gotham, and Franklin Gothic and consciously perceive them as all that different, but Comic Sans was comparatively unique and readily available. Sometimes when things become really popular really fast, there is backlash from people who don't like popular things.
Second, and this is more of a legitimate critique, is appropriateness. The Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta, etc. - these are formal documents with a high degree of gravitas about them. If Jefferson had passed the quill to the nearest child in the room, the result would have been something that the King wouldn't have taken seriously.
A Gothic blackletter is fitting for the masthead of The New York Times. Comic Sans would not be. Conversely, having your average superhero talk with a Gothic blackletter in a comic book would also feel inappropriate.
So why is Comic Sans "appropriate" for certain situations? It most closely resembles informal handwriting, and thus conveys informality. If humans didn't write in cursive and we never saw any font other than Comic Sans, we'd never know the difference! But we do and we have, so such a connotation exists.
Without knowing anything about this guy, it seems like he'd be the kind of person who'd wear socks under his Crocs because it's comfortable and he doesn't care. And that's fine - Crocs are indeed lightweight and comfortable, and protect you from the heat and irregularities of the road. But if you're running for president or trying to get a job in the C-Suite of a Fortune 500 company, you put on dress shoes because that's what people in that setting do.
A third reason will sound snobby, but I think would explain a lot about how designers tend to think about this sort of thing. Imagine that you're a wine connoisseur and, everywhere you go, you see people not only buying boxed wine, but saying it's great wine and that they know something about wine because they found this box in the state store.
The idea is that trained designers don't really like people using Publisher anyways, so they're more inclined to hate on designs that are done by amateurs who pick Comic Sans because "it looks fun" or whatever. Then, once you've established that it's cool to pick on Comic Sans, everyone gets lumped into that group.
Comic Sans is not a bad font per se but it's been so overused in the wrong contexts (such as announcing the discovery of the Higgs-Boson) that it really annoys designers in the end, it's become a joke and sites like Comic Sans Criminal are there to testify.
As for that very specific case, I don't think the TED audience is the proper audience to have slides in Comic Sans. It's like showing up at a party that requires formal attire in a clown suit. Now if the speaker is trying to brand himself by being a font rebel and using improper fonts purposefully, that's something else. Legibility wise, I don't have numbers for you. Personnally, I have a much harder time reading quickly in Comic Sans but then again I tend to avoid it.
Using just Comic Sans is definitely not a good thing in my opinion because it doesn't have enough weights (regular, bold, condensed, etc.) to create proper hierarchy in the text other than by using different font sizes, thus limiting your options in laying out the text and making it more digestible for the audience.