Comic Sans, Curlz, Algerian…we sure do love to hate ‘em. Sometimes it seems a bit surly…
The love of type is a insidious and eventually demanding master.
It draws you in, little by little. One day you’re liking Gill Sans, then you’re looking up exactly what they call those little hooks, crooks, and tick marks around some of the letters, and the next thing you know you’re slotting a copy of Bringhurst on the shelf.
And somewhere, along the continuum from tyro to aficionado, you absorb the lore and history of type and begin to appreciate it as an art form in and of itself. Not long after that, you see Helvetica extended and struggle to suppress the urge to call it Velveetica overused.
You’re now a typophile. And things that never bothered you beforeâ€“things that some people would think are incredibly minor get under your skin like…well, something that really gets under your skin. P
Offenders of the Faithful
We here at Designorati:Typography have not, as of yet, come up with a list of what we think are America’s Least Wanted; enough people seem to already be doing this that it seems redundant. A good example of this is a witty, snarky, genuinely-funny post at the blog LMNOP titled “America’s Most Fonted:The 7 Worst Fonts“, a rogues’ gallery of the expected and the unexpected.
They also are a cinch to grab an absolute ton of comments.
LMNOP’s list includes: Viner Hand ITC (“Equal Parts Calligraphy and Angst”), Kristen ITC, Vivaldi, Papyrus (“The thinking-man’s Comic Sans), Kurlz MT, and Bradley Hand (The hand that feeds you…Dave Matthews lyrics”). And the comments run the gamut from appalled at the fonts to appalled at the intemperate comments.
Of course, as usual, the perennial top scapegoat, Typographical Public Enemy #1 is the top font we all love to hate…MS Comic Sans.
Kill It Before It Spreads…Oh, Too Late.
Pity poor Comic Sans. Just like a bad itch, it’s everywhere, but you can never quite catch it. And while discussions of “bad” fonts usually garner a wide variety of attitudes and tones, one mention of Comic Sans and it’s like chumming shark-infested waters.
After all, it’s the only text font we know of that has a site devoted to its hoped-for extermination. Algerian is the only other font we know of that generates such furoreâ€“but that’s really a display font. Overused, but display. Comic Sans, on the other hand, is pressed into service as text in highly inappropriate arenas, from warning signs such as “Keep Out” and “High Voltage” to medical records. Truly, which amongst us hasn’t seen Comic Sans used as headline text, informational text, where the mere whimsical appearance of it is such a distraction we begin to be annoyed by the inarticulate choice made by the composer?
Comic Sans was actually born of a need; appropriate design. Vincent Connare, creator of MS Comic Sans says as much in a dignified essay at his personal site:
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.
That application? Microsoft BOB. Connare felt, rightly, that the use of Times New Roman in such a playful interface was a bit off-target and, inspired by the hand lettering in comic books he had to hand, designed the font using Fontographer. MS BOB itself has been excused to the dustbin of computer abandonware, but once in the wild, the font went pretty much everywhere.
Without regard to the actual soundness of the design, the actual culprit seems to be largely poor taste than anything else. What caused such a font to take off is anyone’s guess, but there is, as far as we know, no expectation by Microsoft (or by anyone) that anybody should make it their go-to font for signs, essays, annual reports, or what have you.
We Want Fonts With Good Taste…
It would seem that our real culprit is perhaps a lack of appropriate choices by users rather than simply inept or inappropriate design. This is where the educational function of the designer comes in, and we all usually take it pretty seriously.
We know that the noise of “bad” design all too frequently tends to enter the visual grammar of our surroundings, and we find in ourselves the urge to inspire and instill apt choices in what those around us do. We know the feeling of exultation we get when we see a design in which the appropriate choices work. The design clicks and not only delivers its message but sort of carries us along with it.
The mirror image of that is the mostly-good-natured snarkiness we tend to indulge in when we see yet another headline in Sand or a web page with Bradley Hand. And little else says “I’m happy with defaults” better than Times New Roman. Type carries weight and communicative power beyond the meanings in the words they form; a well-chosen font reinforces communication; a badly-chosen font diminishes communication by distracting from it.
Imagine delivering a ransom not in Kristen ITC, and you’ll begin to see what we mean here.
Are we being too mean to bad fonts? We feel that’s open to debate, but if it seems as though we are, that’s just our passion showing thoughâ€“and coming out to play.
We want fonts with good taste…not just fonts that taste good.