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He Just Wants You To Remember It

The ABC reports on why Steve Bates used “that font”: Ugly font may improve learning

Inspired by comic strips and hated by font designers, new research suggests Comic Sans may help people remember what they read.

Comic Sans was released by Microsoft in 1994, as a font that looked friendly and childlike but most importantly did not look ‘techie’.

But the font does not enjoy overwhelming support. A few years ago there was an internet campaign to have it banned, and there are forums where designers and typographers whinge about the font’s awkward weighting and haphazard kerning.

US researchers from Princeton University and Indiana University decided to test what affect ‘difficult to read’ fonts such as Comic Sans have on learning and retention.

[If you aren’t using a Windows machine, you won’t may not see the font change.]

29 comments

1 Steve Bates { 05.30.11 at 11:55 pm }

“[If you aren’t using a Windows machine, you won’t see the font change.]”

Not so. Every version of Firefox I’ve used, including the one on Ubuntu Linux, displays Comic Sans or a convincing imitation.

I used, and use, “that font” primarily for doggerel. No other suitable “scribble” font is sufficiently universal across browsers, and something needs to convey the sheer silliness of most of my doggerel. Like any good IT person, I use what’s available that will do the job.

Once, long ago, before life became so damnably serious moment-to-moment, I used Comic Sans for everything, type designers be damned. Those were the days… these are not the days, and I’ve used “straight” fonts for several years now. Except for doggerel. When the doggerel gets serious enough for Times Roman, we’re all done for, anyway.

2 Steve Bates { 05.31.11 at 12:08 am }

On a related topic… if you want a good sans serif fixed-width typeface that is much easier on the eyes for editing code than that dog-awful but nearly universal Courier, try Inconsolata. It’s free for all ordinary uses. I have my Eclipse Java editor set permanently to Inconsolata 12, and I’ve felt no need to change it. It’s… what’s that word one seldom if ever applies to fixed-width fonts… graceful.

3 Badtux { 05.31.11 at 12:13 am }

Hmm, Chrome on Scientific Linux 6 (Red Hat Enterprise 6) shows it as Courier. Next up — try Firefox…

4 Badtux { 05.31.11 at 12:15 am }

Nope, same with Firefox. But SL6/RHEL6 don’t include a lot of the “fancy” UI stuff, so let’s go check Ubuntu…

5 Badtux { 05.31.11 at 12:18 am }

Nope, Firefox in Ubuntu 10.10 (32-bit) doesn’t show it as Comic Sans either. Again a fixed-type font, not Comic Sans. Now to check Fedora 14 (I haven’t installed Fedora 15 yet, though I’ve downloaded it)…

6 Badtux { 05.31.11 at 12:24 am }

Nope, shows up as a fixed typewriter font on Fedora 14 too, not as Comic Sans. Now to go check my Macbook (I’m running this from my big virtualization workstation with all the virtual OS’s installed, but can’t virtualize MacOS due to it having the world’s largest hardware dongle)….

7 Steve Bates { 05.31.11 at 12:27 am }

Hmm. I’m running Ubuntu 10.04 (32-bit), and Comic Sans MS is right there in the list of available fonts, but I don’t know what, exactly, put it there, whether it was original with Ubuntu 10.04 or installed from somewhere else. I’ve done a lot of messing about with typefaces, and it’s quite possible I installed it after the fact when I installed one or another package. I also have no info about the source of that typeface, i.e., whether it’s a knockoff of Comic Sans or the real thing (in which case it’s probably not legit).

8 Badtux { 05.31.11 at 12:39 am }

Okay, shows up as Comic Sans on the Macbook.

My guess is that either you, or someone else, sucked in the fonts out of Windows and either manually installed them or created a package that installed them. Hold on while I unsuspend my Ubuntu and see whether Aptitude shows a fonts package that could be Comic Sans MS… nope, no such package. But this Ubuntu doesn’t have the “license-challenged” repository enabled on it either…

9 Steve Bates { 05.31.11 at 12:54 am }

A quick glance at a couple of Ubuntu wikis, including this one, seems to indicate that MS has made some of its fonts freeware (in the sense that the license allows anyone to use them) but not Free in the Linux sense (because modification-plus-redistribution of them is not permitted). One package gets mentioned, msttcorefonts, and if you’re using the Synaptic package manager, the package is called ttf-mscorefonts-installer. I suspect strongly this is where I got Comic Sans MS, and as far as I can tell, it’s legal for me to use it exactly as I am using it. Regrettably, it demolishes my hope that other Ubuntu/Firefox users will see my doggerel in that font.

10 Steve Bates { 05.31.11 at 1:38 am }

Confirmed… installing that package is precisely how I got the various MS fonts. If you want more license freedom for three families, but not Comic Sans, you can always install the package “ttf-liberation”; it has “Liberation” fonts that are dimension-compatible with Times, Arial and Courier, and the license is free in the Linux sense.

11 Kryten42 { 05.31.11 at 11:43 am }

Yup! That’s how you get those M$ fonts on linux. 😀

I like the Lucida font set, I generally use : Lucida Console or Lucida Sans Typewriter (monospaced), Lucida Sans Unicode (sans-serif).

Other fonts I found pretty good for editing code and such are:

Envy Code R rel7.2 (created and made freely available by Damien Guard). It’s especially useful as it contains useful symbols missing in M$ Consolas, Lucida Console and many other mono fonts. This is the one I use most on Linux & Win (especially in Notepad++).

(Warning! Link to M$ website):
Consolas Font Pack for M$ Visual Studio

Note: Consolas is also available from M$ with the free PowerPoint Viewer 2007, which also includes Calibri, Cambria, Candara, Constantia and Corbel TTF/Cleartype fonts.

And yet another free mono font that Bitsream released for The Gnome Project, is Vera Sans Mono. Available for free from daFont (and many other places), It includes a ‘local.conf’ file.

daFont – Bitstream Vera Sans Mono

You can also find it in many repositories, usually some path like:
/pub/gnome/sources/ttf-bitstream-vera/1.10

Ciao! 😉

12 Steve Bates { 05.31.11 at 2:22 pm }

I once played a minor prank on a friend and colleague at a client’s shop… someone I knew would not make life difficult for me for doing it… by setting the Visual Studio default font to Comic Sans on a computer we both used. Both of us being a bit crazy, we decided to leave it that way for a while. It wasn’t as hard to use as you might think.

13 Bryan { 05.31.11 at 4:08 pm }

As I have a dozen licensed copies of the fonts on my current machine, I feel free to do what I want with what I own.

Apparently there is a close version of Comic Sans for Ubuntu called TSCu_Comic, and I added that to the font style definition. It is lighter that the MS version.

Fonts are apparently the best way to generate comments. 😉

14 Steve Bates { 05.31.11 at 8:51 pm }

Bryan, thanks for the ref to TSCu_Comic; that gives me a way to print my doggerel w/o being beholden to M$ for anything.

Kryten, thanks to you as well, for the ref to Bitstream Vera Sans Mono; I think I may try it for a while even in preference to Inconsolata (though Inconsolata is mighty good too).

15 Steve Bates { 05.31.11 at 8:58 pm }

One last thought about Comic Sans being an “ugly” font, and then I’ll STFU: Francis Bacon once wrote, in his essay “Of Beauty,” “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” That’s as true for fonts as for people.

16 Bryan { 05.31.11 at 10:09 pm }

There is a difference between pretty and beautiful – pretty is always well within specifications, while beauty defines its own specifications.

The most effective use of fonts is to demonstrate a difference.

I use serif fonts for body text because it has proven to be the most readable. Most sans serif fonts are nearly unreadable at small sizes. The lower case R and N kerning on Ariel makes it look like a lowercase M about half the time. It’s alright for headlines, but I just don’t like the smaller sizes.

17 Kryten42 { 05.31.11 at 10:23 pm }

No worries Steve. 😀 I have to admit, I have a *thing* for fonts! 😀 When I had my little computer wholesale/distro Biz in ’89-’92, we were indo what was then known as DTP (Desktop Publishing). We were the Aussie distro for Adobe (they mainly only had Postscript back then, they hadn’t yet bought out almost every small publishing company, like Aldus – the creator of Pagemaker, who we were also distro for then), Quark, Framemaker (now Adobe), Canvas (Now owned by ACD Systems,a nd I still have a non-expiring license for it), Ragtime, Linotype, and others including a bunch for type 1 PS font companies. I still have licenses for thousands of fonts (I have the entire Linotype, Agfa & Adobe type collections). It’s been quite awhile since I installed many of them though. 😆 I haven’t been feeling very *creative* the past couple years. 😉 It amuses me no end to keep getting updates for Pagemaker, Framemaker, Acrobat, Illustrator & Photoshop from Adobe! They keep trying to break my license agreement I had (lifetime updates) from when I was a distro! 😆 They were not so greedy when they were a relatively small company, and the agreement has no “if’s, and’s or but’s” in it! They are hard to break, with out considerable financial pain on their part! 😈

Ehhh… And they thoroughly deserve whatever pain I can inflict on the dirty crooks!!

I like Comic Sans. *shrug* I hate it when people use it everywhere, but it’s a nice useful font for certain applications. 🙂

If you need some kind of font you can’t find Steve (or Bryan or whoever), just ask. I probably have it (or something similar), and have mostly non-restrictive licenses (though I also have many *freely distributable with acknowledgment* type fonts also). 🙂 I can put it up on one of my *free-to-download* file share accounts. 🙂

And I spelled *Ciao* wrong above! *SIGH* I’ll get kicked outa the Italian club! 😆

18 Bryan { 05.31.11 at 11:18 pm }

In my misspent youth I worked for small publishers and typesetters, initially setting them up to accept computer text to be typeset on their equipment, and later setting them up to print from files their customers created with various DTP programs. I even wrote in Postscript to work around some the problems and incompatibilities caused by bad drivers in several programs for real Linotype machines running Postscript. Most of the programs assumed the limitations of Postscript laser printers and everything was tiny when output on a Linotype.

I have boxes of fonts on diskettes somewhere in this mess [clients bought me licensed copies for testing], and other than messing around with graphics for the headers, I actually use a half dozen, generally forms of Lucida for things I print off.

There are so many people out there with the necessary font software these days that if you need something different, they have already created it and have made it available for download, but I appreciate the thought.

Update: You will probably get dispensation for messing over Adobe. Keep it up and you will be “Rapture ready” 😉

19 Kryten42 { 05.31.11 at 11:51 pm }

Pffft!! I put Adobe in the same category as M$ & Symantec! They all buy good and decent s/w companies, and rape & pillage them (or just bury them!) A pox on the lot of them!

Did you ever get the Adobe Postscript *bible* book set? I still have mine (there were three volumes with a blue, green & red jacket). I’ve actually had people offer me i tidy sum of money for them (they are in mint condition too). 🙂

A friend of mine started a typesetting, print & book binding company in the early 90’s, and I helped him find a place where he could set up a monster Heidelberg 6-station press!! Bloody thing was a monster, weighed a couple ton’s and was about AU$1.2mill (from memory)! It had the usual C,M,Y & K, and also clear matte, and clear gloss (he did the Toyota & Ford brochures as his first jobs here because of that). 🙂

I just had a quick look at my Archives, and I have the complete:
Adobe Font Folio (all versions to 11),
Adobe Type Collection – OpenType Edition,
Adobe WebType Pro v12 Collection.
Agfa Type1 & TTF fonts.
Bitstream A-Z Font Library.
Linotype Gold TrueType Collection,
Linotype Exclusive Font Collection,
Linotype OpenType Library Bundle
(The Linotype collections include the ITC eCD fonts, Agfa eCD, Frutiger eCD, & Gudrun and Hermann Zapf eCD Collections).
URW++ Collection (2000 URW fonts),
URW OpenWorks Vol’s 1 & 2.
TakeType Fonts Collection Vol’s 1-to-5.

Oh, and the Broderbund ClickArt 10000 Fonts (2009). 😉 😆

And a few CD/DVD’s with various other fonts collected over the years.

Most of them have catalog’s (HTML and/or PDF) I can put online if you want a look. 🙂

20 Bryan { 06.01.11 at 12:37 am }

I learned to program in Postscript from the “Adobe bible”. They are with my DEC manuals, as I first dealt with Postscript on DEC printers before I committed to micros.

Well, looking can’t hurt, but the basic problem is that on the Web you can only effectively use the fonts the visitors have, or they don’t see what you wanted them to see. It is like the early days of Russian on the ‘Net, you have to get the fonts that were being used or you couldn’t read the site, so I have too many Cyrillic fonts in different formats to use the sites I was interested in. The new standards have helped a lot as long as you stay with the MS ‘New” type faces, which makes for some really bland sites, but people can at least read them.

Some of the sites I visit are obviously designed for fonts that I don’t have, as the spacing is very odd, as if the people who created them are looking at fonts that are considerably smaller or larger that the fonts I have. I assume that people are already looking into the problem and it will be solved at some point and fonts on the ‘Net will look like the font explosion that took place when laser printers and high quality inkjets were introduced. I remember with no fondness the inter-office memos in 6 colors and 12 fonts concerning agenda items at department meetings. Snide remarks about looking like invitations to birthday parties for pre-schoolers had no effect. I think we have been successful in suppressing the blinking, but there will always be a new challenge.

21 Kryten42 { 06.01.11 at 1:14 am }

Hey! I just got my results from one of those MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) tests I had to do over a three-day period last week. I’ve had to do several (or similar tests) over the years, and they rarely deviate much from what I consider my *norm*. 😀

Says I am an INTJ Personality Type (Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging, or Introverted Intuition with Extroverted Thinking)! 😆

And I quote: ” You live in the World of ideas and strategic planning. You value intelligence, knowledge, and competence, and typically have high standards in these regards, which you continuously strive to fulfill. To a lesser degree, you have a similar expectation of others.” Yup! I do not suffer fools well… you may have guessed?! 😆

“With introverted Intuition dominating your personality,you focus your energy on observing the world, and generating ideas and possibilities. Your mind constantly gathers information and makes associations about it. You are extremely insightful and are quick to understand new ideas. However, your primary interest is not understanding a concept, but rather applying that concept in a useful way. Unlike the INTP type, you do not follow an idea to extreme conclusion, you seek only to understand it fully. You are driven to come to a conclusion about an idea. Your need for closure and organisation usually requires you to take some action.”

“Your tremendous value and need for systems and organisation, combined with your natural insightfulness, makes your type excellent scientists. As a scientist you give a gift to society by putting your ideas into a useful form for others to follow. It is not easy for you to express your internal images, insights, and abstractions. The internal form of your thoughts and concepts are highly individual and not readily translatable into a form that others will understand. However, you are driven to translate your ideas into a plan or a system that will be readily explainable, rather than trying to create a direct translation of your thoughts. You usually do not see the value of a direct transaction, and also have difficulty expressing your ideas, which are non-linear. However, your extreme respect of knowledge and intelligence motivates you to explain yourself to others that you feel are deserving of the effort required.”

“You are a natural leader, although you usually choose to remain in the background until you see a real need to take over the lead. When in a leadership role, you are quite effective, because you are able to objectively see the reality of a situation, and are adaptable enough to change things which are not working well. You are a supreme strategist – always scanning available ideas and concepts and weighing them against the current strategy, to plan for every conceivable contingency.”

(As another aside, I proved that case whilst in my Mil/Int *career*.)

“Other people may have a difficult time understanding you. They may see you as aloof and reserved. Indeed, you are not overly demonstrative of your feelings, and are likely not to give much praise or support as others may feel they need or they desire. This does not mean that you do not have affection or regard for others, you simply do not typically feel the need to express it. Others may falsely perceive you to be rigid or det in your ways. Nothing could be further from the truth, because you are committed to to always finding the objective best strategy to implement your ideas. You are actually quite open to hearing an alternative way of doing something.”

(Yes. I had to learn to train myself to be more demonstrative and expressive, especially when I became a leader of others. I learned quickly that this helped get the best out of everyone, including myself. I had to learn not to simply assume that the people around me knew how good they were and how much I valued them. And the resulting expressions and improved attitudes of my team mates and co-workers made me feel better, so it was win-win.) 🙂

And this explains why I cannot AT ALL abide your (and our) right-wing lunatics!! Grrrrrr Makes my blood boil.

“Your interest in dealing with the World is to make decisions, express judgements, and put everything that you encounter into an understandable and rational system. Consequently, you are quick to express judgements. You have very evolved intuition (as an aside, my Intuition quotient was 89%), and are usually convinced you are correct about things even without physical proof, and are generally proven correct over time. You are often misunderstood because you often find it very difficult to express you insights and ideas. In these cases, you tend to blame misunderstandings on the limitations of the other party, rather than your own difficulty expressing yourself.”

Hmmm… I guess this is why some people (typically those whose opinions of me I couldn’t care less about) think of me as arrogant and/or elitist. 😈

“Jungian functional preference ordering:
Dominant: Introverted Intuition
Auxiliary: Extroverted Thinking
Tertiary: Introverted Feeling
Inferior: Extroverted Sensing”

“You generally have the following traits:

Able to absorb extremely complex theoretical and complex material.
Driven to create order and structure from theoretical abstractions.
Supreme strategist.
Future-oriented.
See the global “big picture”
Very strong insights and intuitions, which you trust implicitly.
Value your own opinion over others.
Love difficult theoretical challenges.
Bored when dealing with mundane tasks and routine.
Highly value knowledge and efficiency.
Have no patience with inefficiency and confusion.
Have very high standards of performance, which you apply to yourself most strongly.
Calm, collected and analytical, even in crisis.
Extremely logical and rational.
Original and independent.
A natural leader, but you will follow those you can fully support.
Creative, ingenious, innovative, and resourceful.
You work best alone, and you prefer to work alone.”

LOL So… that’s me! 😉 And I haven’t changed much in over thirty years! My Grandfather would be proud! 😉 😀

(And… Thank goodness for Scanners & OCR!) 😆

And no… I do NOT suffer fool’s at all well! But… I do know the difference between someone who is different from me, and someone who is a fool! I have no problem at all with *different* (except maybe trying to explain myself or finding a common point of reference, but these days, I see that as *my* problem to solve. 20+ years ago, I generally couldn’t be bothered. So I have changed in that regard.). 🙂

Maybe this will help you-all understand me a little better and put my past comments into some perspective. 🙂

22 Kryten42 { 06.01.11 at 1:18 am }

LOL we posted at the same time! 😀

Oooh… That was a loooong comment (Sorry! I just scanned the document, cut out a few personal bits, and pasted it with some of my own comments!) 😆

I never create a site with non-standard fonts, unless I have to and I can *gracefully* show the page on anything from Lynx up! 😀 It’s inconsiderate and foolish IMHO! 😉

23 Steve Bates { 06.01.11 at 9:37 am }

Did you know there’s a movie titled (and about) “Helvetica”? A friend actually owns a DVD of the movie, which is dull as ditch-water.

Last year I experimented with TEX for a while. A friend asked me to proofread a math paper which he had set in TEX, and that piqued my curiosity even though I have no real need for it. Since the Linux implementation of it is (of course) free, I installed it, along with a suitable front end called TEXmaker. My conclusion: this is worthwhile exactly and only if you are a mathematician intent on self-publishing. My mathematician friend, however, says many publishers will accept his TEX documents, and it avoids a lot of problems in a necessarily error-prone process.

24 Bryan { 06.01.11 at 8:44 pm }

Kryten, that looks like a survival profile for intel. If you don’t have the ability to see reality, you end up in the quicksand.

I know what you mean about have to consciously remember to praise the competent people. Encouraging those who are having problems coming up to speed is drilled into you in supervisor’s training, but the people you depend on to do their jobs without supervision, need some reinforcement. I actually had that scheduled in my planner, because I was really the pits about that, taking it as a given that some of the people on my crew didn’t really need supervision. They did things their own way, and it worked for them and produced what was needed. I concentrated on those that needed some help to get to the same level.

Yep, you are entitled to your opinion, but not your own facts. If you draw different conclusions from the same facts, you may well be right, but if you need to alter the facts to justify your conclusion, you lose.

Steve, that documentary actually has an IMDB entry. Why anyone wanted to create a film about a 50-year-old typeface is beyond my understanding. The typeface is boring, so the film would have to be.

Frankly, I can’t imagine using anything but TEX for anything scientific that involved formulae. The opportunities for errors are just too great, and I saw them first hand in high school and college. It was the last college book that really got to me – $50 for the book and you received hand-drawn corrections to the examples in the book from the instructor on the first day of class.

Apparently the author corrected every proof that was sent to him, but new errors crept in every time it was typeset. In the printed form the errors weren’t obvious until you started plugging in values. Not an ideal learning environment.

TEX was a very important product in the mini/academic arena. I don’t know of anything that is as accurate for its purpose.

25 Steve Bates { 06.01.11 at 9:57 pm }

“Why anyone wanted to create a film about a 50-year-old typeface is beyond my understanding.”

IIRC from the part of the movie during which I was awake, Helvetica is the single most commonly used (and hence most commonly licensed… it isn’t free) typeface in the Western world. The movie was a sort of survey of many of the uses, interwoven with interviews with a number of type designers. The movie was well-made, but no one could have made the subject truly interesting to anyone not involved daily with typefaces.

26 Bryan { 06.01.11 at 10:07 pm }

I know it isn’t free, as I have licenses for the sucker as a Postscript typeface and a Truetype, as well as several of the near clones.

Actually I preferred Avant Garde as my go-to sans typeface back when I was doing it, and Futura was the preference of my biggest client.

The typeface was specifically designed not to imply anything – it was literally designed to be boring. I think they succeeded beyond the original specification.

27 Kryten42 { 06.01.11 at 11:22 pm }

Really? Helvetica has a movie (or Documentary)? LOL

Ahhh… I just looked it up! 😀 Actually, that could be interesting. 😉 🙂

A documentary about typography, graphic design, and global visual culture.

Hmmm… Thanks Steve! 😀

And yeah, Helvetica is *HUGE* (the typeface I mean). There are so many variants now! I generally use the Linotype variant called “Neue Helvetica Pro” (available in OpenType, TTF & PS1) but it has over 50 fonts in the family (like bold, black, condensed, expanded, lite, medium and even a roman variation!) When I was in DTP, the most common were: Helvetica, Futura, Garamond, Palatino & Times Roman.

Oh yes! I used TeX or actually LATEX (let’s see how that turns out here!) 😉 It was/is the best way to create and process technical documents (I also used Mathematica for documents with heavy mathematical content, especially graphs & charts). Hmm… I see they are up to v3 now. I’ll have to install it. 😀

LaTeX – A document preparation system

You are correct, Bryan, about my profile being useful for Mil/Int. It was because of that that the *powers that be* decided to offer me the role they did (that and the fact that I’d already had some decent weapons, self-defense & survival training). I essentially jumped well ahead of the queue. It caused a few ruffled feathers, which, as you could tell from my profile, worried me not one iota! 😆

BTW, It’s quite possible that you (Bryan) and Steve have the same or similar personality type, given your history. 🙂 That would be *cool*, as they say! 😉 😀 But to be honest, it makes no difference to me in any case. I do value you both (and others here) for who you are. 🙂 I look at this blog, one of the very few I visit at all now, as a tiny Island of sanity & rationality in a Universe of insanity & chaos! Thanks all, sincerely!

PS. I’ll get those catalogs online for your perusal ASAP. Might take a few days. 🙂

28 Kryten42 { 06.01.11 at 11:38 pm }

LOL According to this, my type (INTJ) is rare (in the USA at least, 2-4%). 😉

Estimated Frequencies of the Types in the United States Population

There is a MBTI test here, if anyone wants to take a shot (I have no idea whatsoever about the accuracy of these online tests, but they may serve as an indicator for anyone interested I guess. The questions on this one seem very similar to the ones I was asked, but mine was actually three iterations over three days, to refine the indicators it was explained to me). 🙂

Jung Typology Test

Just for a bit of fun! 😉

29 Bryan { 06.02.11 at 2:30 pm }

Like any “personality” test there will be cultural biases introduced, no matter how hard the authors attempt to prevent them. I have taken so many of them that the patterns become obvious and, if I was in the right mood when taking one, I could be as sane or psycho as I felt like being on any of them. They are only effective in the center of the curve.

They include a massive number of questions, most of them ignored, to hide what they are really looking at, and to avoid people gaming the system. That only works in the center.

Reality isn’t dependent on personality type, it is. Whether people believe in it has no effect on its existence.

As for the catalogs, whenever you find the time, Kryten.