The Ugly History of Comic Sans

Michael Beausoleil

It seems people fall into one of two camps: those who hate Comic Sans and those who pretend to like Comic Sans. At one point in time, this font was designed intentionally for a specific use. In current times it’s best used as a joke and a bit of a meme.

Surprisingly, the origins of Comic Sans root back to a failed Microsoft product. The concept of Microsoft having a failed product isn’t a shocker, but the idea that Comic Sans would emerge as the surviving relic of this failure seems unlikely. Decades later, almost every computer user knows what Comic Sans is. Very few know who, or what, Microsoft Bob is.

You could even argue that Comic Sans gets a bad reputation. There are times when the font might be suitable and there may even be people who can benefit from the font. Before Comic Sans becomes the butt of your joke, perhaps it could help to understand its purpose in the world and the reason early designers wanted it in their software.

The font that survived Microsoft’s failure

In the mid-’90s, home computers were becoming increasingly common. More households were getting their first PC, and they had to learn how to interact with the software. So, Microsoft developed an interface that mimicked a home environment. It became known as Microsoft Bob, and it was a failure for Windows.

To be fair, the idea wasn’t awful. The human-computer interactions we take for granted in 2021 had not yet been established. People didn’t know computers, but they did know living rooms. Users could follow prompts from Bob and his nagging dog Rover until they’ve mastered the Windows basics. Most users didn’t like the program, and even Melinda Gates claims it was a failure. Many computers didn't have the computing power to efficiently run Bob straight out of the box. Those who could engage with the interface found it clunky and annoying.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0bauv1_0Z7uByJ500

(photo: Microsoft Bob via ToastyTech)

If you look at images of Microsoft Bob, you’ll notice a lot of unpleasant interactions. What you won’t notice? Comic Sans.

Comic Sans was designed by Vincent Connare to fit the theme of Microsoft Bob and was inspired by comics like Watchmen and Batman. It would have fit Bob’s animated interface, but it wasn’t completed in time for the release. Given the short lifespan of Bob, we’d never learn to use Windows in Comic Sans. The font did get included in later Microsoft programs starting with Microsoft 3D Movie Maker.

The font was never meant to be sophisticated. It was designed to be animated and child-like, but that’s now the reason it’s mocked.

Comic Sans: Ugly but helpful?

Based on its intended inclusion in Microsoft Bob, the existence of Comic Sans has some purpose. It’s named appropriately, as the font imitates the print you’d see in a comic book. Without any stigmas attached to it, the lettering would be a fine choice for animation.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0TNJYM_0Z7uByJ500

(photo via MarlinDigitalImaging)

This may make the font ill-suited for serious materials, but some people have argued the font’s attempt to appear child-like has made it dyslexic friendly. The American Institute of Graphic Arts has suggested letters in Comic Sans have distinct curvatures and sizing. This makes it easier for dyslexic readers to distinguish between letters. The font has even been recommended by the British Dyslexia Association and Dyslexia Association of Ireland.

These claims have been questioned, as Comic Sans hasn’t really been studied for its impact on readers with dyslexia. Most studies do not include Comic Sans in their tests, but there is evidence to suggest sans-serif fonts reduce fixation times for those with dyslexia.

With this information, Comic Sans may be a good choice if you’re styling a comic book. It also might be helpful to people with dyslexia, but it’s not the only font that’s beneficial. If you’re searching for a dyslexic friendly font, you have other (and arguably better) fonts to choose from.

The polarizing nature of Comic Sans

While Comic Sans is not universally hated, it’s far from being a beloved font. Some people trace the dislike of the font back to David Combs who studied typography as part of a study at an art gallery. Both David and his wife shared a distaste for Comic Sans, which resulted in Ban Comic Sans Manifesto.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1wqicW_0Z7uByJ500

(photovia pri.org)

Other people seem to enjoy the font, and Vincent Connare doesn’t think it’s too deep. To explain the appeal he said: “it’s sometimes better than Times New Roman.” By this point the font has become so deeply ingrained in the tech world that there are just as many reasons to dislike it as there are reasons to like it. Maybe there really is no rhyme or reason behind the love of Comic Sans?

Those who do use the font in a work enviroment seem to have a disregard for social norms. The jovial nature of the font makes it inappropriate for a serious environment, and there’s a bit of fun to be had when sending messages using Comic Sans. It can grab attention for all the wrong reasons, and can take an otherwise professional note and make it appear elementary.

Whether you love or hate Comic Sans, it’s mostly just a personal preference. It depends on how much fun you can have with a simple but silly font.

Is Comic Sans that bad?

When you consider the fact that Comic Sans was modeled after comic books, it’s hard to be truly angry at it. Comics predate the Windows computer, and this means the font had some place in the world prior to Microsoft. Sometimes the font is used inappropriately or seems out of place. In those instances, you can’t blame Comic Sans. Blame the people who used it.

Part of the humor surrounding the font is its child-like presentation. This is amplified when you consider it was intended to be used in Microsoft Bob. The user interface failed, but somehow Comic Sans is the cockroach that survived the disaster. Decades later, it’s still alive and showing up where you don’t want to see it.

For those of us who grew up with computers, Comic Sans is a part of our development. We learned to type as we learned to write, and Comic Sans seemed like a font that replicated our handwriting. Children will use Comic Sans because it belongs in the shows they watch and the books they read. The font is also enjoyed because the lowercase “a” is written the same way children write their “a”s.

Perhaps this brands Comic Sans as an immature font. Every office is going to have someone who can appreciate the humor of Spongebob or Minions. That’s the person who will like Comic Sans. It’s not a pretty font because it’s not supposed to be. If you can appreciate it for other reasons, than maybe that’s more important than the ugliness.

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