Tag Archives: type

What’s really wrong with Comic Sans?

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Photo Credit: eanur0 via Compfight cc

 

The short answer is nothing and everything.

The long answer is still nothing and everything, but let’s explore why. Comic Sans, which was created by Vincent Connare was never meant to be used in the regular system of fonts available on a Windows PC (Source). It was created to solve an incongruity Connare noticed while he was working on Microsoft Bob, the interface designed to make the computer-using experience more palatable to novice computer users (Source). Connare noticed that while the interface was a cartoon, the characters’ text boxes uses Times New Roman. This didn’t make sense to Connare, so he created Comic Sans based on the style of Marvel and DC comics. So, the purpose of Comic Sans was to fit a very specific interface and experience–the comic, cartoon, animated experience. It was not meant to be used for business letters, websites, products, signage, CERN presentations, or tributes to retiring Popes. Christine Erickson of Mashable.com explains the source of Comic Sans’ bad rep: “While Comic Sans is perfectly adequate in designs for children or designs related to comic books or cartoons, designers believe it has no place in business or professional work usage. It’s also ill-suited in content body text, which means it’s best used as a headline/heading or short quote — in other words, a comic book” (Source).

In essence, the problem with comic sans goes back to the user (it’s the same reason we have “death by PowerPoint”). The problem with the typeface is not inherent to the typeface itself; the problem is that we use it incorrectly. Every typeface and individual font has a personality and mood. Research has even shown that typefaces evoke specific emotional responses in us. Eric Jaffe of Fast Company writes that “the latest evidence suggests that typefaces convey their own meanings and elicit their own emotions independent of the words they spell out” (Source).

So, not only does a font have a particular tone, but that tone is independent of the words written in that font–this means that text’s impact and meaning can be affected by the typeface used. Jaffe cites a 2004 study in which researchers noted that students described fonts like Times New Roman as professional but common; Helvetica was blah and least artistic; Comic Sans was childish (Source). An even more surprising study included in Jaffe’s article emphasized that while most fonts illicit one emotional response, “Comic Sans produced spikes across the emotional spectrum–from agitation to calm. It’s basically a rollercoaster of emotions wrapped in a few playful curves. People either love it or hate it” (Source). So, consistently incorrect use of an emotionally charged font has led to Comic Sans becoming the most hated, ridiculed, and ostracized font (it’s pretty much as bad as using Word Art).

Do we, as presentation designers ignore the public outcry to ban Comic Sans? Do we ignore the many criminally inappropriate uses of Comic Sans we see every day? How do we explain to novice designers, students, and those who use Comic Sans when a more appropriate font exists that it is up to them to turn the Comic Sans tide, to ensure it is used only when appropriate–in cartoons? Designers out there have their own solutions. Comic Sans Criminal asks users to take a pledge to think twice before choosing a font, and to consider its purpose. The folks who created Ban Comic Sans.com have turned their focus to positivity and using words for good, not evil. Dave and Holly Combs founded the Department of Public Words, an organization whose mission is use the power of positive words to better our community. By emphasizing the positive use of words and typography, we can emphasize that type must be used appropriately; it must be used for good.

Finally, designer Craig Rozynski has created a sleeker, more designer-friendly version of Comic Sans called Comic Neue. It is available to download free here. I tell students and teachers that bullets, Comic Sans, and frenetic animations “kill” their audiences and their presentation’s impact. Sometimes, this is perceived as me hating on the very foundations of the Keynote/PowerPoint presentation. And, they are right. But reducing this idea to “hating” is missing the point, which is that we must do better as presenters. The only way we can work to create better presentations is to let go of the bad habits of the past. Once we outgrow those habits, we may learn to use them the right way.

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Course introduction infographic

As I talked about in July, I’ve been working on building my infographic muscles. One project I’ve been involved in is an infographic to serve as a quick view version of the video and text course introduction our online students begin their month in Professional Communication and Presentation with. I used what I learned about designing an infographic to develop this deliverable. This isn’t a final version, as I still have a bit more tweaking to do, but I am stoked to share what I’ve done so far with you!

IntroInfographic.001

Color, Type, and Layout

One of my goals in creating this infographic was to maintain the overall look of other course materials. The course introduction for PCP was created by Alex Rister, so I drew my inspiration from her design. Alex previously shared her presentation with readers. Check out a version of the deck below:

This meant focusing on a simple color palette of orange, black, white, and grey, and two typefaces, Blackjack and League Gothic Caps. I appreciate the simplicity and cohesion of Alex’s design for our intro slides, and it translated very easily to the infographic form.

Intro Slides.002

In addition to considering color and type, I also worked to help students interact with and process the infographic by creating flow and organization through a left to right, top to bottom hierarchy and the use of lines and color to create segments.

Iconography

Because I want this to be a document that is quickly processed, I chose to use icons from The Noun Project as well as simple shapes and diagrams to communicate the core ideas presented in the infographic. My favorite? It has to be the robot!

Intro Slides.003

What do you think of this latest project? I am definitely in the revision phase of Duarte’s presentation ecosystem, and am open to suggestions. What projects have you been working on lately? How have you been building your presentation muscles?

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Tip of the Day: Displaying text on an image

I am three slides away from being done with my most epic deck ever. I cannot wait to share it with my Slideshare peeps, fellow designers, students, teachers, my mother… This deck is partly responsible for the brief drought in posts lately. I am taking a short break from the deck to share a quick slide design tip.

So, you’ve taken or found some amazing photographs to use in your slides, but some of the images are rather “busy.” You’ve learned from studying Presentation Zen that empty space is a good thing, and that the picture superiority effect is best applied when images are paired with one impacting idea. So, you want to combine images and text in a way that is going to reduce noise and maximize signal. How do you do this without causing competition between the image and the text? Bring in three slide design tools: shadows, boxes, and a letterbox mask. I will illustrate using two images I took during my walk to Dickson Azalea Park in beautiful downtown Orlando, Florida.

Shadows

Adding a shadow to text can help add a bit of pop to a text element. Use some opacity, keep the blur and the offset subtle, and you’ll create a seamless blend between image and text.

Use shadows sparingly and subtly. Technically, you are indicating to your viewer that the slide has a light source, which is generally used when trying to create a 3-dimensional space. This to me is the least effective strategy here, partly because even with the shadow, the text does not pop enough to ensure it’s signal and not noise.

Boxes

Boxes are a second option to amp up the contrast between image and text. There are several options for this method. You can create a textbox and add a color fill to it. You can also create a shape, color it, and add text to it.

Whatever you do, be sure to choose a color by grabbing it directly from the image (or stick to your pre-determined color palette). This is a better choice than shadows because it helps the text pop; however, it does eliminate some of the image.

Letterbox

The final and in this case best option is the letterbox effect. By masking or cropping an image to a letterbox/rectangular shape, you can create usable empty space above, below, or both.

You can then place your text in this space without interfering with the image at all. You lose a bit of the image, but in this case, what is lost is not a mandatory element.

So, next time you find a must-have image but hit a roadblock in turning it into a clear, well-designed, visually-impacting slide, try one of these quick fixes!

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