Perhaps it goes without saying: Comic Sans is the number-one most hated typeface on this planet. That is quite the honor to hold. When it comes to design and aesthetic preference, can you think of many other design choices that are so widely and collectively viewed as just plain bad, in any context, as using Comic Sans? Comic Sans has acquired such a high status of hatred in our society that it has become unacceptable to use anywhere, at any time, for any reason whatsoever.
I can’t help but ask how a typeface can get to that point. It’s easy to make the assumption that Comic Sans is hated because it is cliché or passé. According to this argument, Comic Sans is to typography as Billy Ray Cyrus was to country music in the 90s and is today—overplayed then, out of date and simply uncool now. But how far can that argument take us? Times New Roman and Arial are widely overused, too. They may not be the sexiest fonts, but they don’t carry the animosity with them that Comic Sans does.
Or, maybe, we might argue that Comic Sans is hated because it is used so inappropriately (like wearing cutoff jeans to a wedding). After all, it was designed to mimic comic book lettering from days of old and was intended by Microsoft (who paid to have the font created) to be used as the official typography of their user-friendly, and somewhat childish, graphic interface, Microsoft Bob. It was not intended to be used for danger of death signs, chemotherapy treatment labels, airline logos, or church signs (see below).
This argument makes sense to me, but Papyrus has been used inappropriately, too. Why would the movie Avatar, for example, use a font that was designed to make text appear 2000 years old when the movie takes place over 100 years in the future? Oh, sure, Papyrus is a hated font, too, but not not nearly as much as Comic Sans.
The most convincing argument I have heard about why we as a people hate Comic Sans is because it looks strangely close to human handwriting, but not quite close enough and that bothers us. In fact, it really bother us.
What might be happening with Comic Sans is a similar design phenomenon related to human aesthetic preference: “the uncanny valley.” According to the theory of the uncanny valley, people really like things that have humanistic characteristics, up to a point. In other words, when a robot is created, people like it when it seems more humanistic (has eyes and arms, speaks English, etc.), unless it seems too much like a human. Researchers have found that people are disturbed when things look uncannily human, but there are quirks that make them seem just a hint off. In fact, most people actually have a very strong revulsion to any image that falls in this uncanny category, and any preference they had to the humanistic qualities, drops off a cliff, into a valley of hatred and aesthetic repugnance. Look at the pictures below. Do they bother you? If so, you’re not alone. Most people have a hard time looking at these images.
Perhaps it is a stretch of the imagination, but is it possible that Comic Sans is loathed by so many because it has an uncanny resemblance to real handwriting, but it is too smooth and perfected to actually be? Is it so close to something we could actually create with a human hand, but just enough off that it aesthetically makes us cringe? I’m inclined to think there is some truth to that. Combine that idea with the fact that Comic Sans is cliché, passé, and flat-out mis-used, perhaps Comic Sans designer Vincent Connare created the perfect aesthetic storm (or faux pas). I’m not sure whether to hate him for it, or congratulate him.