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You may have already researched fonts on the internet, which one to choose, which one is most the preferred, a list of most downloaded or best free fonts. I’ve done this myself several times, and why do we do it? There are many reasons, such as making a good design composition or looking for inspiration, but did you already try to find which font not to use? Comic Sans perhaps?
There are different kinds of fonts for different purposes and tastes. Some of them made history. Others are not even remembered. Some loved, and others hated. But what’s makes a simple font become the target of revulsion?
Why do we hate this font?
The Comic Sans case is the most famous, or perhaps the one that has had the most impact on me since I remember choosing the font to use on my schoolwork cover. Nowadays, thinking about it, I am happy that I did not put it in the whole text of my work because it really was my favorite font, but it’s so inadequate for reading large texts. Also, it definitely did not match Biology, History, or Sciences.
Comic Sans has been widely criticized and hated, but what many don’t know is that it’s excellent typography for the purpose it was created for. Its creator, Vincent Connare, designed Comic Sans to help illustrate a childlike and friendly cartoon puppy. His inspiration came from comic books, and their shapes were designed to be soft, rounded, friend, and affable. The dog was called Microsoft Bob and was part of a Microsoft package in the 90s that helped people unfamiliar with computers to understand simply and playfully that the machine was there to help.
The new letter design would replace Times New Roman, a serif font, very rigid and cold, in the puppy’s speech bubbles. Unfortunately, Comic San never fulfilled its purpose because it’s too wide and did not fit the balloons previously designed for Times. Later it was distributed to the world when it was included as a complementary font in Windows 95 and proved to be a success – an exaggerated one.
Comic Sans brought a warm and cheerful feeling and became the preferred and most used font, so widely used that it went out of its context. Several serious messages were printed in Comic Sans, and at the height of its fame, it started to be hated. People just couldn’t stand to see that font everywhere: menus, cards, books, and even tombstones were written using the famous font.
In the middle of the typographic chaos created, Connare said: “If you love it, you don’t know much about typography, and if you hate Comic Sans, you don’t know very much about typography either, and you should probably get another hobby.” And yes, he is right. The font is great and fulfills its purpose. The problem was the extreme popularity that put it where it shouldn’t be.
Comic Sans is not the only font with a bad reputation
Despite its fame, it is not the only one to lose its original purpose. Another example is Trajan. You probably have seen it on a movie poster, or maybe two… in fact, you’ve probably seen it many times. Vox (https://youtu.be/yI4shGV1EsM) explains that Trajan was used for epic films, dense and engaging stories in which the character needs to overcome difficulties. But it has become so popular and cliché that we can find it in several genres. In the end, it lost its personality and stopped being an option for big productions.
Souvenir, on the other hand, was a Comic Sans from the 70s. A plump, rounded font caused love and hate after being propagated in advertisements, album covers, and even magazines like PlayBoy.
There are other examples like Papyrus, Brush Script, Courrier, Neuland Inline, and even Times New Roman, Arial, and Calibri that got a bad reputation for being too common.
Personally, I don’t think that every font that became popular ended up being hated, even because many fonts are widely used (sometimes just because they have good legibility) and go unnoticed, and people don’t even remember their names, like Tahoma and Verdana, for example. For me, the discomfort happens when these fonts have unique characteristics. It’s unusual and easily recognized by anyone, so their differences “scream” mainly when used inappropriately.
Fonts match purposes
Simon Garfield, in the book “Just My Type: A Book About Fonts,” quotes a speech by designer Mark Simonson that brings an exciting theory about the attraction of people who do not have a trained eye for typography:
“To the average person, most fonts look more or less the same. But, if a typeface has a strong flavor, it calls attention to itself. It’s easy to recognize and makes people feel like they know something about fonts when they recognize it. And it looks ‘special’ compared to normal fonts, so using it makes their documents look ‘special.’ To the experienced designer, such typefaces have too much flavor, call too much attention to themselves, not to mention the fact that they often carry the baggage of being associated with amateur design.”
It’s clear that font’s choice is a matter not only of design but also of personal preference. They appear so common in our lives that we only notice the most beautiful, the ugliest, or the strangest. Certainly, overuse and misuse are reasons we dislike some of them, but there may be other factors like the memory of a bad movie. The best tip is to try to match the source with its story and especially the purpose always.