What’s with all the hating on Comic Sans?

Google's April Fool joke got me reading about why graphic designers hate Comic Sans so much.

I can't help being reminded of one of my old college lecturers, a music theory analyst who once told a class I was in that "this composition was very successful, and remains popular with concert audiences. But when you look below the surface and analyze how it is put together at a technical level, you will come to realize that it isn't actually any good at all."

I didn't agree with him then, and I don't agree with the Comic Sans haters today.

To my mind, the fundamental purpose of art (which includes both music and graphic design) is to communicate. Sometimes the goal is to communicate factual information, other times emotion, humor, or a distraction from boredom. Technical details such as stroke modulation and letter fit in font design, or sonata form recapitulation in classical composition, are just a means toward an end. It is easy for those of us who have spent years studying these fields to lose sight of the fact that the means are not the end, and desirable ends can sometimes be reached by unusual means.

Sure, Comic Sans is a poor choice if you want to maximize legibility for reading large amounts of text. But to my mind its enduring popularity proves, not that amateur designers are stupid, but that this font conveys a unique and distinctive emotion which many people find valuable. If it didn't engender strong emotion, designers wouldn't care enough to hate it so much! Emotion is art, and art is good, right?

Besides, what other way do you know that we amateurs can so easily irritate those pretentious professional graphic designers? 🙂

Comments (21)

  1. Chris says:

    I hate comic sans serif. You can find me in the XNA "Can we do better with our box art" threads telling programmers to stop using it.

    Your argument that "it feels good so use CS" could be applied to mullets. A certain population (mostly in rural areas) thinks that a mullet is A-OK. However to most people it instantly keys off the connotation of "redneck". Even if a person who has not heard of mullet-hate or even know what the term "mullet" is will look at a mulleted person and say, "there is something wrong with that guy but I can't put my finger on it"

    This is what comics hate is all about. As soon as you use it you are sending out of a sub-conscious signal that what I labeled with CS is amateur. Even if your audience doesnt know about CS hate they will get this strange feeling in the back of their head like, "this thing is cheap but I can't put my finger on why"

  2. ShawnHargreaves says:


    There's something wrong with having a mullet???


  3. Chris says:

    I forgot how close Seattle is to Canada.

    Also arent you sick of CS after all those emails from the office administrative assistant saying "free food in the break room"

  4. CJ says:

    The majority Of hate cowards comic sans is not in it's PROPPER use to covey a child like, hand written, or cartoony lettering but in it improper use for things like warning signs,  headlines or company logos.

  5. Robot says:

    The notion that a font itself conveys some form of emotion is surreal to me ..

  6. Chris says:

    @Robot. Well you are, to be frank, a robot. You should ask your programmer for a new emotion chip or something.

    Think about the difference between ALL CAPS and normal type. It conveys shouting in once context and normal voice in another. Text is powerful stuff.

  7. ShawnHargreaves says:

    Of course fonts can convey emotional attributes! Confident, elegant, modern, futuristic, old fashioned, simple, complex, forceful, hesitant, dainty, humorous, aggressive, quirky – you can find a typeface matching pretty much any imaginable combination of attributes.

    A significant part of communication takes place outside of the words themselves. When dealing with the written word, the choice of typeface is a major part of that non-verbal communication.

  8. ShawnHargreaves says:

    If the Comic Sans hate was really all about it being used in appropriate situations, then:

    a) Why do so many of the "don't use Comic Sans" sites talk so much about technical flaws like letter fit? Surely these issues would be irrelevant if designers really meant "it's fine in the right situation, just not when used inappropriately"?

    b) Why do so many of these sites list alternative fonts that are also cartoony and inspired by handwriting styles? (which would presumably be equally inappropriate in all the places that Comic Sans is complained about, except they don't suffer the same technical flaws)

    c) Who says I can't use a silly, quirky font in a serious situation? I try to live my life lightly and with a degree of humor. If I want to express that via a silly font on my tombstone, what business is it of any graphic designer to tell me that is inappropriate? 🙂

    I do think there is one legitimate reason to avoid Comic Sans, and that is the cultural association it has developed through its history. Having been used so heavily by early desktop publishing, it will inevitably call up that association. But that doesn't mean it's a bad font or can never be used any more! Part of any design choice is understanding the cultural associations involved, and choosing ones that are appropriate for whatever you want to convey. I actually think it's pretty arrogant for a designer to say "early amateur desktop publishing = bad, crappy design, therefore unwanted association". I also associate that world with individual creativity, willingness to experiment, and a quirky form of DIY can-do humor, which I could as good things in many situations! (in fact much of my fondness for Comic Sans comes from my appreciation of that association).

  9. MikeBMcL says:

    Not for the easily offended: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/…/15comicsans.html . The first time I read that I was laughing for at least five minutes.

  10. ShawnHargreaves says:

    @MikeBMcl: that is AWESOME

  11. Chris says:

    @SH: You bring up some really great points. Regarding a, b, c, here is what I think

    a) Because it makes a stronger argument to bring up that complicated typography stuff instead of just saying "CS is sooo over-used by the secretary at work and your mom that using it is like listening to Rick Astley without irony (http://www.youtube.com/watch)."

    b) I have no idea. I hate all comic fonts.

    c) I think CS has gotten pushed so far into the realm of bad taste that using it is like wearing jorts to a wedding or growing a mullet. It just isn't funny anymore. If you want to be funny write funny jokes, not in your font choice.

    Here is my unified theory of CS: When you are an amateur designer and you pick CS you are most likely making a 100 other design mistakes (like centering all your text, using 3 primary colors on one page, and sizing all the fonts 12-point). However, the easiest thing to point out is the font. So when dismissing bad design it is easiest just to say god look at that comic sans.

    Its cool that we are a bunch of programmers having an intelligent design discussion. I highly highly recommend the following book. It is a good primer on design and tells hundreds of reasons why one's designs look cheap. I dont think they even bring up CS once. Really. Pick it up and you will never design another bad looking Company Softball Flier again. Since reading this I have realized that beyond CS our fictional designer is probably making more than just a font faux pas.


  12. Kriss says:

    I suggest a refocusing of hate upon the real enemy.

    Fonts where a lower-case 'l' and an upper-case 'I' are indistinguishable to the naked eye.

    Technically comic-sans is part of the sans-serif family that does this. However due to its bad design it actually provides unique glyphs in these cases.

  13. Michael C. Neel says:

    I recommend watching the movie/documentary "Helvetica" – I know it seems geeky to watch a movie on a font but a) admit it, you are that geeky and b) it's really good insight into designers and how the font issue is such a passionate debate.  The movie does a great job presenting both sides. (the director's next film "Objectified" is excellent as well).

  14. chrisj says:

    i think the guy actually makes a case for CS:  if your cat is lost and you need to type a poster, or an invitation for your 3-year-old's birthday party, what ELSE are you gonna use?   actually when i (am forced to) code in non-VS IDEs that allow me to change the font for specific items, i will often put the commented text to CS.  i just find it easier on the eyes that way. (and everything else to Proggy Clean TTSZ)  my "real enemy" is font smoothing, and if i were ever to support any movement to ban anything, it would be get rid of clear-type!  at least for large chunks of text. sadly i cant even look at ie9 — has to be ff4 now.  so any font that is designed to be pixel perfect is good in my books.

  15. elettrozero says:

    I hate fonts! I'd rather don't use them, especially Arial. Times new roman is very abused. The rest are s##t! Stupid silly fonts! What's Comic sans anyway?

  16. Shmoopty says:

    Your view seems to be that if something is popular, one can conclude that it isn't bad.

    To the contrary, designers and typographers will frequently say that the reason Comic Sans is so despised is that it is overused.  It conveys no purpose other than the author not being sure of the purpose of that font.

    In defense of the font, you could also note that the font is popular among people with certain types of dyslexia, as no character is a perfect mirror image of another character. "p", "b", and "d" have unique shapes, for example.

  17. ShawnHargreaves says:

    > Your view seems to be that if something is popular, one can conclude that it isn't bad.

    Yeah, that's basically right, but there is some nuance to it:

    If something is popular, I think that is a strong indication that a large number of people find something of value in it.

    That doesn't mean it must be good according to all possible metrics, but it does suggest that there is at least some good thing about it as percieved by a significantly greater than zero number of people.

    When experts in a field say "no, this thing is just bad, people are idiots for thinking otherwise", this suggests to me that the experts are judging by different metrics to what others are focusing on.

    I absolutely think that, especially in areas driven primarily by aesthetics, non experts should be entitled to form their own opinions, even if this contradicts the established expert wisdom.

  18. Dustin Horne says:

    @Shawn –

    Slightly off topic, but speaking of Google's April Fool's joke… did you see that someone actually implemented it for real…. using Microsoft technology of all things?  🙂  +1 for the Kinect!  I bet Google had nightmares of this one:


  19. bit pusher says:

    >When experts in a field say "no, this thing is just bad, people are idiots for thinking otherwise", this suggests to me that the experts are judging by different metrics to what others are focusing on.


    I think "expert" designers look upon Comic Sans similar to the way many "expert" programmers might look upon JavaScript and CSS ->  Intellectually awful and insult to our craft, but it's such widespread evil that it's impossible to avoid.  :o)

  20. Chris Z says:

    To Quote: ""When experts in a field say "no, this thing is just bad, people are idiots for thinking otherwise", this suggests to me that the experts are judging by different metrics to what others are focusing on."

    exactly!  "

    I know we are all programmers and want a definite algorithm that tells you why not to use comic sans. But there isnt one. It is just the font is out of fashion. It is out of style. I know you don't like "elites" telling you why not something is so and they seem like they are talking down to you. But really, it is a style and comic sans is out. That isn't a bad thing either. Embrace it.

    Programmers are notoriously bad at design. The term "programmer art" is there for a reason. Now that you know Comic Sans is out of style there is one less thing to worry about. Now you can get back to programming knowing that as long as you don't use comic sans on your XNA box art you wont be laughed at.

    It is like you guys are arguing whether bell bottoms or mullets are cool.

  21. Chris Z says:

    Also, it Shawn H it looks like you are now arguing the point "well if most people like it so it must be good"

    You have better hope for humanity than I do. Here is the thing we disagree about taste is NOT democratic. In fact, I think that most people have bad taste. Most people pick bad music. Most people take lousy photos. Most people have bad clothing choices. Most people have bad design sense. It is actually understandable. Most people have other interests like their kids and work and they don't have time to think that hard about the type face they use. And that lack of thought is why CS keeps coming up.

    Accounting for taste and wondering why more people always pick the bad one is a real philosophical question. If you are grappling with it I highly recommend this book:

    "Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste"


    The argument is why do so many people like Celine Dion when so many music critics say her music is awful. The guy (a music snob) tries to break down human taste and why so many people have bad taste.

    You can basically replace "Celine Dion" with "Comic Sans" and possibly arrive at the answer you seek.

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