Vincent Connare was trying to fix a communication problem: He was working on a computer program called Microsoft Bob that was intended to appeal to children—but the Times New Roman typeface being used in the word balloons felt too serious for the unsophisticated, cartoony artwork. He needed something more whimsical and silly to make the design feel coherent.
Connare created a brand new typeface (based on the lettering style of his favorite comic books) that he felt would be more appropriate for the target demographic.
And that’s how Comic Sans was born! To achieve visual unity, to properly convey the right feeling to the right audience. (Oh, the irony…)
Comic Sans quickly became popular with educators and parents as the go-to typeface for everything kid-friendly.
That was 1994. Fast-forward to 2016 and no typeface has been used more frequently to convey the wrong message to the wrong audience than Comic Sans.
You’re probably heard of the EPIC DESIGN FAILS. Comic Sans at the Dutch war memorial. Comic Sans on printed materials giving advice to rape victims. The salty Comic Sans letter that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote when LeBron James decided to leave Cleveland in 2010.
TragiComic Sans, indeed.
The internet went meme crazy with snarky delight. Artists everywhere created intentionally crappy designs with Comic Sans as the centerpiece. The much-maligned typeface (“most hated” by countless surveys) became such a punchline that eventually designers banded together to speak out against it, some even (semi-seriously) calling for its demise.
Here’s a witty excerpt from the BanComicSans Manifesto:
“Like the tone of a spoken voice, the characteristics of a typeface convey meaning. The design of the typeface is, in itself, its voice. Often this voice speaks louder than the text itself. Thus when designing a “Do Not Enter” sign the use of a heavy-stroked, attention-commanding font such as Impact or Arial Black is appropriate. Typesetting such a message in Comic Sans would be ludicrous. Though this is sort of misuse is frequent, it is unjustified. Clearly, Comic Sans as a voice conveys silliness, childish naivete, irreverence, and is far too casual for such a purpose. It is analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume.”
So naturally there was a rebuttal from “defenders of Comic Sans” who imagined an entire Comic Sans world because “Helvetica is so 2011.”
It’s really fun to ridicule Comic Sans. We’ve all done it. But if you’re designing some artwork for a very casual event—a kid’s birthday party, school function, or lemonade stand—you might be considering Comic Sans. Or wondering where to find alternatives to Comic Sans that won’t incur the wrath of your judgmental designer buddies. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Our friends at Identifont, Fontspring, Typewolf, and MyFonts recommended several similar typefaces to help you broaden your design palette:
Lexia (or Lexie) Readable
Lexia was designed by Ron Carpenter in 2007 as an alternative to Comic Sans that had maximum legibility and clarity but without the comic book associations. The non-symmetrical letter forms are widely believed to assist dyslexic readers, though no official proof of this exists.
Designed by James Greishaber in 2011, this “low contrast, semi-geometric typeface” is a suitable Comic Sans replacement that works well for medium-large text sizes.
Craig Rozynski designed Comic Neue in 2014 specifically to be a modern, more refined version of Comic Sans.
“Comic Neue aspires to be the casual script choice for everyone, including the typographically savvy. The squashed, wonky, and weird glyphs of CS have been beaten into shape while mantaining the honesty that made CS so popular.” -from ComicNeue.com
I hope these suggestions are useful in making your design elements feel more connected and complete. There’s a time and a place to be silly…and you need to be armed with the right typefaces to make sure that nobody takes those moments too seriously.
Vincent Connare didn’t create Comic Sans to be the laughingstock of the industry. He was simply ensuring that the message of his work wasn’t being lost because of a disconnect between visual and text. FWIW he also designed Trebuchet and Magpie and has a reputation as an excellent graphic communicator.
Looking for alternatives to Helvetica next? Check out my previous post here.