Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Graphic Defender

A blast from the past
In my last post, I mentioned a blog entry from way back, which I wrote in defense of the fonts everyone loves to hate: Comic Sans and Papyrus. Today I share with you the entire post (edited somewhat).

November 12, 2007

This entry has been a long time in coming. This is my objective look at the whipping boys of the design world: Papyrus and Comic Sans.

Consider for a moment. Do you despise these typefaces? Do you do so because there is something fundamentally abhorrent about their design? Do you do so because you are tired of them? Do you do so because professionals, professors, and classmates have wagged their fingers and said, "No, no, no"? I'm fairly new to this business, and I'll admit, a prejudice against these fonts was instilled in me early. Mostly for reason number 3 above. So I decided it was time to make an objective study of my own.

I've looked at these fonts, I've even interacted with them, and I am convinced they are not the devil incarnate. While I wouldn't set a book with either of them, and I wouldn't recommend them for anyone trying to project an air of sophistication, they are not inherently evil.

The problem with Comic Sans and Papyrus is that they are 2 of the very few fonts with "personality" that come in the Windows font set. And since they are the only interesting fonts that most people have easy access to, they are the only interesting fonts that people regularly use. And things that are interesting when they are fresh and new, become trite and annoying when they are old and used.

But let's not blame the victim here. Let's blame the software distributors who are too miserly with free, quality fonts. Rather than chide them for being silly and overdone, let's give these typographic workhorses the praise they so richly deserve!

Comic Sans says:
Let's take a closer look at Comic Sans. What is it good for?
Its name says it all. It's comic! It was designed to represent the speech of adorable Microsoft help characters. For that kind of purpose, it works. Don't use it on your resume, but don't ostracize it either. That's not nice. (Sure, there are lots of other "comic" fonts out there that we haven't seen 3 million times before, but again, don't blame the victim--blame the overusers who don't know when to say enough's enough.)

Papyrus says:
I have to say Papyrus is one of my favorites. Long before I ever stuck my foot in the design door, I was using Papyrus in my AIM profile. (Actually, both of these fonts are splendid for on-screen use. Other "interesting" fonts that I've known become pretty much illegible at 10 points, but Comic Sans and Papyrus? No way! They rock an IM window like nothing I've ever seen!) At small sizes, Papyrus looks stylish and elegant, and I was rather disappointed when I once blew it up to a larger size and saw that it was all raggedy-looking. I think designers think it is tacky because it's been distressed, and what good is an elegant typeface that's shredded around the edges? Almost none. The field of legitimate uses for Papyrus is very small, but people like it. So it gets used, over and over again. Poor Papyrus. I feel sorry for it. It's been used and abused.

I will sum up today's musings with yet another variation of the NRA's famous slogan: Typefaces don't ruin designs; people ruin designs. Rather than banning popular typefaces with limited uses, OS vendors should include new fonts with their software, schools should teach students the basics of typography, and everyone should remember that variety is the spice of life, but too much spice is nauseating.

With values like these in place, I'm sure the world of design will be a much better place.

There. My work here is done.