Thursday, April 26, 2007

The font of horror

HappyTech used to have a fake IT guy so woefully underqualified for the position that he eventually left in shame for a menial job at some hospital. When I took over as technical writer I was mortified- mortified, I tell you- to see the documents he had been sending out to our customers. Not only were they confusing, badly-written instructions, he had printed them in a butt-ugly, juvenile-looking font intended for use on day care signage and flyers for adult baby parties. No wonder nobody took us seriously!

Fortunately there are those among us who understand my trauma, and I applaud their efforts in the fight to ban Comic Sans. Here's an interview from Earz with one of the brave souls spearheading the campaign:
Why Ban Comic Sans

By Martin Skivington
Posted Sunday, 25 Mar 2007 03:42:23 GMT

Somewhere in the murky underworld of graphic design there is a band of renegade activists who answer to no-one, and are willing to fight against anyone using the Comic Sans font.

You know the font-- it's goofy-looking and a bit cheese. You will have seen it used everywhere, from movie posters and powerpoint presentations, to corporate logos and car park signs. So what's the problem?

Folks behind the 'Ban Comic Sans' campaign say it's disrespectful to the old art of typography. It's use implies naivety and silliness, and should be confined to pink lettering on little girls' bikes-- and not on serious media forms.

But what of the campaigners-- a shadowy bunch, they use quasi-religious terms like "the sanctity of typography" in their propaganda, while appealing to the "working man" to join their campaign erradicating a simple computer font.

So are they a dangerous militia? Or just some peeved designers armed with little more than stickers and an artistic temperament. I spoke to the movement's head-- who I'll refer to only as "Dave" --to find out if it's all about art, or all a bit fart.

Earz: I assume that you lot at 'Ban Comic Sans' are designers?

Yes, that's correct. My wife Holly and I are both graphic designers, and when we realized that we shared a common disgust for inappropriate Comic Sans usage we decided that rather than just complain about it we should take action.

Earz: Why, according to your manifesto, should comic sans be banned?

In short, it's just not safe for unregulated public use. It should be handled like controlled substances or firearms, and should be used only by licensed professionals in very specific settings. Since we can't have it that way, I'm afraid it should be banned altogether. As an aside, I've actually used Comic Sans for web design appropriately in its intended context:

Earz: Do you find in the design world your campaign gets a lot of respect, is it only lay designers who go around using comic sans?

We get letters all the time from designers thanking us for starting the campaign. Some have shown the site to their clients who "just adore" Comic Sans and want to use it for their corporate communications. At least a few corporate identity catastrophes have been averted in that way. I suspect that most trained professionals would rarely find occasion to use Comic Sans, but I've heard that professional graphic designers for Disney have used it.

Earz: Are there any major guilty parties you'd like to name and shame?

I guess I just did in that last response. I won't name the hospital, but there was one with a sign in front of their building which stated "Accepting New Patients" in Comic Sans. A ban comic sans sticker was applied to the sign and about a month later the sign was replaced with the same message set in much more dignified Helvetica. I don't know if that helped them gain new patients or not, but the new sign was only up for a short time which would suggest that it did.

Earz: I found a weird website on typography, it was written in Italian I think, and had images of a gravestone lettered in comic sans. What does that say to you?

That would only be appropriate if the deceased were a clown or comedian, but other than that, I'd come back to haunt whoever did that if I were the dead guy.

Earz: With regards to the campaign... Are people listening? Or are you the lunatic-fringe of the design world, like the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is to Christianity?

I think people are listening. The hospital sign person did. The whole campaign is a bit tongue-in-cheek, mind you. We know there are bigger issues in the world like war, pollution, and poverty, but this particular issue did seem to need a voice which it found in our campaign. For every person who sends an angry email telling us to "get a life, it's just a font" we get about 20 praising the campaign. No kidding.

Earz: What are your next moves, and where do you see the campaign going? What is your message to the world?

I've given some thought to collaborating with some different artists and designers to breathe some new life into the campaign, but haven't pursued that to date. If anyone's interested in collaborating with us they can contact us through the site. All on it's own, the campaign has spawned some similar campaigns in France and the Netherlands.

So I think the message is catching on and spreading as it resonates with people just from the website, flyers, and stickers we've done. We get 200+ visitors to our website daily so people are hearing the message. If after visiting the site they think for just a few seconds longer before they select a typeface for their next email or sign they're about post in the company breakroom, I'd say we've done our part.

Our message to the world? BAN COMIC SANS, of course! Thanks for the interview, and have a Comic Sans free day.

Thanks to the eloquent and far-from-shadowy Dave Combs for participating in the interview. I personally agree with his and Holly's opinion--the gravestone clinched it.

Using comic sans in serious literature is akin to wearing pink to a funeral, and should be avoided at all costs by persons with a brain. For more information, stickers and propaganda on the ban comic sans campaign, check the link below.