Hey, Vsauce. Michael here.
Text. The printed word.
Vitally important, but never naked.
When words and letters are printed,
they have to wear the clothing of a typeface. A font family.
We don’t always think of it this way, but you cannot type without using a typeface. Even right now, here on YouTube,
when you leave a comment, you are communicating your own words,
your own thoughts, but through the visual styling of someone else – the creator up Arial.
In these Vsauce videos, Jake, Kevin, myself and others use Alsina, because it most closely resembles the handwritingof Nik Guinta, the creator of the Vsauce logo. Now, thinking of typefaces as fashion for letters is not a new idea. Adrian Frutiger famously said
that the work of a type designer is just like the work of dressmaker.
Or as Alan Fletcher put it, a typeface is an alphabet in in a straitjacket.
Some typefaces have serifs and some don’t.
Some are famously neutral, while others are silly or ugly. But one typeface is so silly and so ugly and so popular that it has arguably become the most hated font of all time. Comic Sans.
People who consider themselves discerning designers scoff at its ubiquity, usually wielded by amatures who don’t know better.
It was recently reported that on Twitter, the only thing complained
about more often than Justin Bieber, but less frequently than airlines, is Comic Sans.
Online you can play a Kill Comic Sans game.
And the website Ban Comic Sans provides a gigantic list of hand-written looking fonts
that they would prefer you use instead.
Comic Sans is so hated it’s almost pulled a 360 and is cool again, ironically.
David OReilly’s amazing t-shirts, for example. But irony isn’t the only thing Comic Sans has going for it.
The British Dyslexia Association considers Comic Sans a particularly good font for children
who have trouble reading letters because of its easily distinguishable characters, like the letter A.
For most of our history books and signs had to be hand written, often meticulously and expensively copied by hand.
There were no printers, no typesetters. If you wanted a book, someone had to literally write by hand the whole book for you. But Gutenberg changed that by popularizing interchangeable type.
He modelled his tight pieces after the handwriting of scribes at the time,
producing what could be called the very first font ever textura. Later on, typesetters in Italy realized
that words could be slanted and remain legible and readable, but take up less vertical space,
so more could be printed on a single page.
That’s why it’s called italics. Not because italics means slanted or oblique, but because of where it was invented – Italy.
Metal type pieces had to be cast from molten metal in foundries, which get their name from the French fondue, which means something that has been melted. And so it’s because of the word fondue that
we now call a collection of characters within a typeface a font.
When setting type, typesetters kept their type pieces in cases. The most commonly used pieces were kept
in the lower case for easy access, whereas capitals were kept just a little above in the upper case.
Back to Comic Sans.
Comic Sans was designed in 1994 by Vincent Connare.
According to the BBC, Melinda Gates herself asked Connare to design a font for the cartoon dog in Microsoft Bob to speak in.
And so, within three days, Connare had designed Comic Sans,
based on hand drawn fonts from comic books.
It never actually made it into the final version of Microsoft Bob, but was subsequently released as a font
choice on so many Microsoft products that it became what it is today.
Million of amateurs now had access to this font, which seemed simple and cute and became
popular on things like homemade birthday cards, but also in less appropriate situations. For instance, on an official Canadian coin or on a gravestone. Because of things like that, Comic Sans has amassed a lot of haters.
But it was never intended to be used so often or in such inappropriate situations. And so in reality, the fault may lie with us, the typers. Comic Sans doesn’t disappoint people. People disappoint people. Another way to think of it is this.
Discerning type aficionados may recognize Comic Sans so quickly because it is a threat.
Type design is a specialized discipline, but now anybody with a computer can take a stab at it without your approval.
They don’t need you.
To be sure, Comic Sans, objectively speaking, isn’t really that well designed
according to the fundamentals of type design. David Kadavy has a brilliant
explanation of this in his “Why You Hate Comic Sans.”
He points out that it’s unbalanced and not very well kerned. Comic Sans is certainly not a calculated, precise font liked Trajan.
But it’s not organic, like real handwriting.
Instead, it lies within the uncanny valley.
This concept often comes up in robotics. The more human something gets,
the cuter it becomes and the more we like it,
until its almost human but not quite.
At this point, things become creepy, almost scary.
Perhaps Comic Sans exists in that same area, typographically speaking. But that said, the screens that Comic Sans
was originally designed to appear on, were typically aliased, and as Kadavy
points out, compared to fonts like Garamond, Comic Sans does really well here. That is how we should think about Comic Sans. A pragmatic font, a font that worked
remarkably well in its era and exists today as one of the most
recognizable relics of one of the most important
design revolutions in history.
Books used to be painstakingly copied by hand.
Now later, you could design a story or an idea, but the final look really just came down to what a few typesetters could do.
Today, almost anyone can dabble in typography and that is an amazing thing.
Sure, it means that Comic Sans will be used. A lot.
But as Corey Holms points out, Comic Dans is proof the design works.
The public understands that “type means more than words.” And David Kadavy argues that just as
interchangeable type led to a spread of literacy, Comic Sans, and the personal publishing it comes along with, should lead us toward a spread of design literacy. Sure.
Comic Sans is a bit ugly.
But it’s ugly in the same way that the first few chords of ‘Smoke on the Water’ are ugly, as played by almost every beginning guitarist, who picks up a guitar at almost every instrument store.
Sure, it sounds annoying and a little bit fumbly, but it
represents someone who is using tools to move toward mastery. Adrian Frutiger said that type
has the power to make the whole world of thought legible, simply by rearranging the same letters over and over again.
Well, Comic Sans, overused by the untrained majority may seem unsavory to some people,
but as such, it most loudly represents something phenomenal. Today it is possible for the whole world of thought to be made legible and be shared by the whole world. And as always, thanks for watching.