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Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Study Suggests Comic Sans Is Good For You

Posted by on Thu, Jan 13, 2011 at 11:40 AM


I'm gonna cry.

According to a new study, illegible fonts may actually help reading comprehension. An article in Seed Magazine explains:

Reasearchers... asked 28 student volunteers to read about hypothetical alien species from a sheet printed in either 16-point Arial, 12-point Bodoni, or, yes, 12-point Comic Sans. The larger Arial font was much more legible than the other two versions, but in a quiz 15 minutes later, students reading the Bodoni or Comic Sans versions were significantly more accurate in recalling details about the aliens.

This contradicts an earlier study:

In 2009, librarian Eric Schnell wanted to know if the font of his library handouts made a difference, and uncovered a 2008 study which suggested that it did. Researchers Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz developed two versions of a handout designed to motivate students to exercise regularly. One was composed in basic Arial, while the other used the casual Brush font (like Comic Sans, a font meant to mimic handwriting). The students who read about exercise in Arial were significantly more enthusiastic about exercising than those who read in Brush. In a separate experiment, the researchers found similar results for a set of instructions on how to roll sushi. So perhaps those snobby typographers have a point: Setting type in a more readable font seems to lead to a better response.

More after the jump...

I think the research and writing of Edward Tuffte also contradicts this new study. While he primarily focuses on the visual presentation of data as opposed to specifics of design, I don't think it's a stretch to extrapolate his theories, especially when you read his criticisms of PowerPoint, among them:

Poor typography and chart layout, from presenters who are poor designers and who use poorly designed templates and default settings (in particular, difficulty in using scientific notation);

When it comes to design, I still believe that form should follow function. Information design—whether it's handouts, newspapers, websites or ads—should never interfere with the actual information. I guess the argument can be made that based on this study, Comic Sans in fact does exactly that. *Sigh*

I still hate you, Comic Sans. Jackass.


Comments (18) RSS

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Last of the Time Lords 1
I never got why people can get so uptight about a font.
Posted by Last of the Time Lords on January 13, 2011 at 11:46 AM · Report this
All the Comic Sans hate makes me want to use it more.
Posted by Ben on January 13, 2011 at 11:49 AM · Report this
agh, Arial.... it bores me to tears.
Posted by bpia on January 13, 2011 at 11:57 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 4
The worst are Baptismal Fonts.

Once you use those, you can never read Comic Sans again.
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 13, 2011 at 11:57 AM · Report this
Steven Bradford 5
This is old news. Sans Serif fonts are harder to read in body copy than serif fonts or fonts with some texture to the them, as Comic Sans has. Those little hooks etc on serif fonts make them each a little more different and easier for your mind to quickly recognize. This has been proven in many studies over the years. Shit, I learned this in High School, and that was during the Ford administration.

Designers love to use fonts that simplify to the point that individual characters become very similar looking. As a heading that works fine, especially if cases are mixed, but in body copy it becomes a wall of similar appearing characters. Though Comic Sans is a san serif font, I'm guessing that it's "wiggly-ness(?)" makes it somewhat like a serif font for quick reading comprehension.
Posted by Steven Bradford on January 13, 2011 at 12:00 PM · Report this
Simac 6
To the extent that font esthetics matter much at all (I actually agree with @1), in reality Arial is a far worse font esthetically than is Comic Sans. Whereas Comic Sans knows it is garish and childish, Arial pretends that it is sleek and modernist and elegant, but it is just as garish and childish in its own way. Arial exists because Microsoft didn't want to pay royalties for Helvetica, so Arial is sort of a Grotesque extruded into a pseudo-Helvetica.
Posted by Simac on January 13, 2011 at 12:04 PM · Report this
I don't think Comic Sans is that illegible. But it is ugly and ubiquitous.

@5 The idea that serifs are easier to read because they guide the eye is a misconception. Typefaces are designed with this in mind and sans serifs do it just as well. Consider that road signs use sans serifs; the ability for drivers to recognize these letters at various distances can have extreme consequences. What's going on is that we read more easily what we're trained to read, and this training for most people comes from books, making the effectiveness of serifs self-perpetuating. An example of this at work is Hitler's propaganda, which was printed in blackletter, which Germany had chosen as a national standard long before. When the Nazis moved east into western Europe, the spread of their propaganda was slowed because people couldn't read blackletter, even if they spoke German.
Posted by loocas on January 13, 2011 at 12:27 PM · Report this
Reverse Polarity 8
It is possible they are drawing the wrong conclusions from the data.

One thing they didn't control for was font SIZE. We all know that when someone types in ALL CAPS, we see it as shouting, and we actually read it differently. The Arial was in 16 point size, which is larger than is customary for body text. 16 point is usually used for headlines or flyers or other things to add emphasis.

So, they concluded that Comic Sans was easier to read. From the same data, you could just as easily conclude that 16 point type makes you read slower.
Posted by Reverse Polarity on January 13, 2011 at 12:30 PM · Report this
Well Mary the two studies you have here measure different things. One is voluntary response rate and one is comprehension/retention. It seems like Comic Sans might help you remember what you read, but unless people are in a captive situation they are less likely to read it.
Posted by LukeJoe on January 13, 2011 at 12:33 PM · Report this
warreno 10
@5, the point was that CSans was harder to read, forcing readers to slow down and work to assimilate the copy.


A good typeface should be, essentially, invisible. You shouldn't even be aware of its existence. As an interface for transmitting information, type should be transparent. The only exceptions are when you're deliberately working with typography as an element of the overall design.

There've been a lot of experiments done with type design over the years; I'm no fan of Comic Sans, but my personal love-to-hate font is Peignot. ( It was designed with the purpose in mind of eliminating lowercase letterforms, which all by itself is a stupid idea - but it was also designed to be visually challenging. It intentionally breaks away from type conventions.

I think Peignot's entire rationale is arrogant; unfortunately it gets used by a lot of graphic "designers" who (1) don't know any better, and (2) think it looks "cool" or "futuristic" or some similar horseshit.

But as for Comic Sans - actually, I dislike Arial more. I'm no big fan of Helvetica, but Arial is just a tawdry knock-off of it.
Posted by warreno on January 13, 2011 at 12:59 PM · Report this
Dougsf 11
@7 - As @5 gets at, the most useful application serif fonts isn't in road signs and headlines. A reader's eyes will become more easily lost in a multiple-paragraph sea of sans-serif, making it a less wise choice for large, uniform blocks of text. A font like comic sans may require the concentration to make short sections of content recollection more likely, but a reader would never, ever voluntarily read three paragraphs of comic sans.

And really, describing blackletter as having serifs is like describing the Six Flags guy as "enthusiastic."
Posted by Dougsf on January 13, 2011 at 1:08 PM · Report this
Dougsf 13
@10 - I share your disdain for that font. What kills me is the line weights and curves on that one. The sharp edges on the "P", but the rounding on the "E"... there's like three different sorts of letters happening in that set, with their main unifying featuring being that gross small-caps thing it's doing.
Posted by Dougsf on January 13, 2011 at 1:15 PM · Report this
Steven Bradford 14
"Consider that road signs use sans serifs; "

Exactly. And this is why road signs are hard to read.
Posted by Steven Bradford on January 13, 2011 at 1:21 PM · Report this
rob! 15
Totally sucky article in Smithsonian online, celebrating the worst of the last 40 years in typography:…
Posted by rob! on January 13, 2011 at 3:38 PM · Report this
@14:… Here's an article on Clearview, the new typeface being implemented on road signage throughout the U.S. You can make an unreadable serif typeface just as easily as you can make an unreadable sans face.
Posted by 311_TruthMovement on January 13, 2011 at 3:49 PM · Report this
Josh Bis 17
@16, Clearview is designed for a very specific kind of legibility.
Posted by Josh Bis on January 13, 2011 at 4:03 PM · Report this
lilmonster206 18
Why is no one upset that they used ARIAL instead of HELVETICA?! Helvetica is the mother of all sans serifs, and Arial is its cheap Microsoft knock off! Speechless.
Posted by lilmonster206 on January 13, 2011 at 4:26 PM · Report this
Sandiai 19
Arial is horrible. Not only that, but my Word program, on a regular basis, switches things up to make Arial my default font. (This, naturally, enrages me). The help desk here at work has been working on this particular bug for YEARS.
Posted by Sandiai on January 13, 2011 at 6:48 PM · Report this

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