Tag Archives: typography

What’s really wrong with Comic Sans?

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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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Is Design Typography? 52 Presentation Tips by SOAP

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In yesterday’s Professional Communication and Presentation class, Alex’s students were given the task of designing their decks for tomorrow’s Worst Case Scenario Demonstration speech.  Several students came to me for input, and I discussed typeface choice with most of them. You may have heard the phrase, design is 95% typography,” but what does that mean? Does that mean that all of those minute decisions we make about shapes, images, colors, and textures are worthless if we make the wrong choice of type for a presentation? Does that mean we should devote 95% of our design time to choosing typefaces? When Oliver Reichenstein made this claim in 2006, he was primarily focused on type in web design. However, we can draw a few lessons about type in presentation design from his message (check out the follow up to Reichenstein’s landmark article here.):

  1. While presentations are a visual medium, the best way for audiences to retain visual information is to pair an image with text. So, one must consider readability and usability when designing type in a presentation.
  2. It’s not about having as many typefaces as possible at your disposal. It’s about knowing how to best use the type you have. That’s typography.
  3. Treat text as a design element and consider the user’s experience.

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Today’s deck, “52 Presentation Tips” by SOAP Presentations is an interesting addition to the ongoing debate about the role type plays in design.

SOAP’s approach is dynamic, the advice relevant (considering how many presentations on Slideshare still follow the Death by Bullet approach, we clearly need more champions for the cause like SOAP), and I find the overall design to be engaging and immersive. However, at times, I found the use of type to be disconcerting and the top down flow of information, in which words twist and wind down the middle of a 3-part vertical grid, made the content difficult to read quickly or easily. In the end, while I loved what I was seeing, I had trouble processing it quickly using Duarte’s glance media rule. However, this is intended to be an eBook and not a traditionally displayed and presented presentation, so SOAP’s design choice still makes sense. What do you think? Is dynamic/kinetic type useful in a presentation? What role does typography play in your presentation design?

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