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Don't Hate On Comic Sans

It might not be elegant, but for some folks it can make text a lot more readable.

The day my sister, Jessica, discovered Comic Sans, her entire world changed. She’s dyslexic and struggled through school until she was finally diagnosed in her early twenties, enabling her to build up a personal set of tools for navigating the written world.

“For me, being able to use Comic Sans is similar to a mobility aid, or a visual aid, or a hearing aid,” she tells me while we’re both visiting our family in Maryland. “I have other ways of writing and reading, but they’re not like they are for someone who’s not dyslexic.”

The irregular shapes of the letters in Comic Sans allow her to focus on the individual parts of words. While many fonts use repeated shapes to create different letters, such as a “p” rotated to make a “q,” Comic Sans uses few repeated shapes, creating distinct letters (although it does have a mirrored “b” and “d”). Comic Sans is one of a few typefaces recommended by influential organizations like the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyslexia Association of Ireland. Using Comic Sans has made it possible for Jessica to complete a rigorous program in marine zoology at Bangor University in Wales.

I've seen a lot of the Comic-Sans-hating movements online over the years, but hadn't realised that it had been specifically created to be easily readable.

Microsoft font designer Vincent Connare created Comic Sans — based on the lettering by John Costanza in the comic book The Dark Knight Returns — to be used for speech bubbles in place of the unacceptably formal Times New Roman. The font was released in 1994.

“Comic Sans was NOT designed as a typeface but as a solution to a problem with the often overlooked part of a computer program’s interface, the typeface used to communicate the message,” Connare says on his website. “The inspiration came at the shock of seeing Times New Roman used in an inappropriate way.”

And while there are now fonts out there designed for dyslexia, Comic Sans is the most ubiquitous.

As someone who has done a fair bit of design work over the years, typefaces like Comic Sans definitely have a place in the toolbox, particularly where the audience is non-technical. I suspect a lot of the sneering comes from the belief of some, perhaps many, designers that what looks good to them is what will be read well by everybody.

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