Everyone has had this moment.
"Check out the poster for the office Christmas party, Dan!"
There it is, in all its goofy glory – the Comic Sans typeface, accompanied with some clip art from old word processing software. Christine has a master's degree in business, she should know better. You cringe and smile politely, hoping people will show up in spite of her tacky oversight.
The infamous debate versus Comic Sans has inspired standup jokes, cartoons and even a portion of popular typography documentary "Helvetica." With wars being fought and marathons being won in the meantime, the question persists – why do we care so much? Interestingly enough, the answer lies in the hardwiring of the human brain.
The Ballad of Comic Sans
According to Mashable, Comic Sans was a typeface invented primarily for use in comic strips and other short-form, lighthearted media in 1995 by Vincent Connaire and quickly grew popular among Microsoft users across the country. Soon, however, a number of businesses, schools and other outlets began to use the font to represent themselves primarily on signage and on personal websites, and the battle began.
In 1999, the "Ban Comic Sans" movement was initiated by a group of people who believed that the font was overused and made potentially valuable businesses look unqualified because of the casual, childish look of the typeface. A widespread distaste developed for Comic Sans as organizations continued to use it more and more until even its own creator was forced to speak out against it.
"If you love it, you don't know much about typography," Vincent Connaire admitted. "And if you hate it, you really don't know much about typography either and you should get another hobby."
To this day, the public frustration persists – earlier this year, Microsoft released an updated version called "Comic Neue," spurring a series of backlash blog posts by users who remained unmoved.
Why the war wages on
Is Connaire right? Should we all just "get another hobby"? The chemistry of the human brain indicates otherwise, and studies have revealed the profound power of typeface in relation to how a product or person is perceived. This can be valuable information to have when a business is developing a new sign, logo or business cards before its reputation suffers for it.
Psychology Today contributor Dr. David Lewis examined these perception habits by taking a look at a number of past studies. It turns out that part of the reason Comic Sans and other very common fonts aren't effective is due to familiarity – readers are more likely to skim over fonts they're familiar with.
"By moving away from the very easy-to-read fonts in the traditional text books, teachers in the Ohio study encouraged students to pay closer attention to and think more deeply about what they were reading," Lewis explained.
The classic font not a menace to society, but it does seem that we're less likely to lend it any credibility in passing. Next time you're choosing the typeface of your next catalog or business card, don't just go with the arbitrary. And, it goes without saying, do not use Comic Sans.