As a designer, I often stumble into the topic of Comic Sans. Sometimes I’m pushed into it, sometimes I approach it voluntarily, but whatever its introduction it seems to come up with an inevitable and startling frequency. Partially I think this is because Comic Sans has inspired such a strong reaction within the design world that it is one of the main topic non-designers think of or already know about when they think of the world of design. (Usually brought up either right before or right after the comment “I saw this documentary the other day, all about a font! Have you heard about it? I think it was called Helvetica or something.”)
And to some extent I understand. The furor over the font has reached practically legendary proportions. Personally, I think that some of the responses and commentary are hilarious, some are actually quite intelligent and some are merely perplexing. I have listed below what I believe are some of the most noteworthy jokes, facts, and websites on the whole Comic Sans debacle. Feel free to pass them on or rely on them for your own future Comic Sans conversations. And if you know of any good ones not listed here, please share—I would love to add to my collection!
1. I’m Comic Sans, Asshole.
This delightful monologue, from the wonderful people at McSweeneys, is a strong and hilarious defense of the font’s strengths, belligerently taking on all of its detractors. Here is the beginning of the rant, and you can read it in full on the McSweeneys website.
Listen up. I know the shit you’ve been saying behind my back. You think I’m stupid. You think I’m immature. You think I’m a malformed, pathetic excuse for a font. Well think again, nerdhole, because I’m Comic Sans, and I’m the best thing to happen to typography since Johannes fucking Gutenberg.
2. You’re a Comic Sans Criminal, But We’re Here To Help You
On the other side of the debate is the beautifully designed and delightful website comicsanscriminal.com. It does the most concise and convincing job I’ve seen of explaining just what exactly is so bad about Comic Sans. I highly recommend you go check it out, and refer all your friends and family to it. The gist of its message is that there’s nothing wrong with the font itself, it’s just its chronic misuse and overuse that have ruined its reputation forever. As a font designed for children and based off of comic strips, it is an inappropriate choice for serious topics, perhaps most poignantly seen in the example of the Surrey police station’s use of Comic Sans for its rape victim information sheet (definitely not a laughing matter).
3. Googling “Helvetica”
If Comic Sans has an archenemy, a nemesis, or perhaps just a polar opposite, in style as well as in the hearts and minds of designers, it would be Helvetica. Which is why Google chose it for one of its April Fools pranks in 2011. When anyone googled the word “Helvetica” (or “Comic Sans”), the Google results page was displayed with all text written in Comic Sans. The results were truly cringe-worthy, and got a lot of notice and chuckles.
4. Comic Sans Pro?!
At the same time as said famous April Fools Prank, a more serious development was going down in the world of Comic Sans. Monotype Imaging announced the release of their new typeface, Comic Sans Pro. Available for the low price of $120, the newly upgraded typeface will now provide swashes, alternates, and comic-themed icons.
“But the company wasn’t taking itself too seriously. The typeface is good for scrapbooking and school projects, but that’s not all, said Allan Haley, director of words and letters at Monotype Imaging. ”Comic Sans is also a favorite in professional environments, used in medical information, instructions, ambulance signage, college exams, corporate mission statements, and executive reprimands–even public letters from sports team owners to their fans,” he said. “Breaking up with your spouse? Why not write a letter in Comic Sans Pro, embellished with a typographic whack!, pow! or bam! Comic Sans is everywhere, and now it’s even better.”" (read the full cnet article here). It’s nice to know that the publishers know exactly how ridiculous the typeface is!
But my problem with this whole situation is that the only people I know who are even aware that typefaces can be bought, nonetheless actually have bought them, are designers. And Comic Sans has such a strong stigma attached to it, that no designer can ever really feel comfortable about using it. So who, exactly, is the target audience for this new typeface?! I’m sure I don’t know. Coincidentally, if you feel inspired to purchase Comic Sans Pro, it is available here.
5. The Personal Tragedy of Comic Sans
The saddest part of Comic Sans, to me, is the type designer who created it. Vincent Connare, who designed Comic Sans in all of a week, has never received the recognition for any of his other typefaces that Comic Sans has gotten.
“Mr. Connare, 48 years old, now works at Dalton Maag, a typography studio in London, and finds his favorite creation—a sophisticated typeface called Magpie—eclipsed by Comic Sans. He cringes at the most improbable manifestations of his Frankenstein’s monster font and rarely uses it himself, but he says he tries to be polite when he meets people excited to be in the presence of the creator. Googling himself, he once found a Black Sabbath band fan site that used Comic Sans. The site’s creators even credited him. “You can’t regulate bad taste,” he says.”
The rest of the article on the Wall Street Journal is really interesting, and I highly recommend reading it. Being the creator of a widely-reviled typeface is a bizarre legacy for a type designer to live with. I imagine it would be rather disappointing from a career standpoint too.
Just some food for thought on the ever-present Comic Sans. I’d love to hear your thoughts, responses, comments, or any additions to my list.
Around October last year I decided to bite the bullet, man up, go for gusto, no guts no glory, buckle down, gird my loins, etc etc, and submit my work to the Creative Quarterly design contest. Our directors do a pretty good job of keeping us informed on upcoming contests and submission deadlines, but I’d always lacked the confidence in my work to actually submit anything. However, having finished two years of grad school, and knowing that one of my classmates had been selected as a winner of this contest last year, I decided that I just might possibly finally potentially maybe have good enough work to submit to the contest.
Plus, Creative Quarterly had a student category, a submission fee of only $40 per design which is apparently outrageously cheap, and unlimited submissions which meant that I didn’t have to go through the agonizing indecision involved in picking just one piece. How could I not submit?
In the end I chose four pieces: my religious architecture posters and future of furniture book (both of which I polished up over break), my most recent typography project on Huronia and the language of the Inuit, and my poster from my film festival project last semester (I thought the poster turned out particularly well. Or rather, it was the one piece that I wasn’t embarrassed about!). I rushed to photograph and submit a couple of them, especially the Huronia project, as I had only finished it two days before. I agonized over touching up the photographs and choosing the final images, filled out the submission form, and nervously hit submit.
And then, honestly, I kind of forgot I had submitted them. I knew it would take awhile to hear back, and I was so swamped with school projects that the contest just sort of faded away into the back of my brain and then into oblivion.
So when I got an email in late December with the subject line “CQ30 Runners Up Announcement” it took me a minute to figure out what it was talking about. And then I realized my work, while not a winner, was selected as a runner up, and that in fact I had two of these emails—two of my four submissions had been selected (the film festival poster and the future of furniture book)! However, I immediately wondered how meaningful this was, if perhaps dozens and dozens or even hundreds of entries were selected as runners up. But when I went to www.cqjournal.com/winners.html, my name was in the Graphic Design: Student, Runners Up category with 10 others, and my name was the only one with an asterisk to “denote multiple winners.”
All in all I’d say that’s not too shabby for my first contest submission. Still room for improvement, but this helps give me faith that I’m actually creating and designing things to be proud of. It’s always nice to know that other designers like what I create. The work itself will be showcased online when the Creative Quarterly 30 issue is sent out in the spring, but perhaps my favorite part of this whole thing is that my name is officially listed on a webpage named winners.html!
Do you know what a murmuration is? The first definition is what it sounds like, the act of murmuring. Its second definition, however, is a group of starlings. Groups of different animals have different names, from a herd to a flock to a swarm to a school. Some animals have very specific names, including a gaggle of geese and a murmuration of starlings, or on the more sinister side, a murder of crows and an unkindness of ravens.
(You really have to see the birds in motion to understand how amazing they are.)
I’ve only ever seen a murmuration once, when I was studying abroad in Florence in the fall of 2008. According to this great Quick Guide on murmurations, this was the exactly the right place to be in order to experience it: ”[this] mesmerizing act is typically seen at dusk throughout Europe, between November and February. Each evening, shortly before sunset, starlings can be seen performing breathtaking aerial manoeuvres, before choosing a place to roost for the night. These range in number from a few hundred to tens of thousands of birds.”
It is such a beautiful phenomenon, and such an awesome word; I’ve always loved sharing it with people. So when I needed to chose a visual theme for a book I was assigned on typography this semester, I decided to go with starling murmurations. The idea was to use it as a inspiration for the abstract illustrations and a visual metaphor for explaining the rules and concepts of typography.
I ended up having so much fun with my designing murmurations. I used the two photographs below (found on the blog Chasing Light) as a basis for some of my spreads, but everything else was based on typographic forms and abstract arrangements of curves.
I also used Processing, a programming language built for visual design, and found a program that simulated flocking situations. With the help of a computer-programming friend, I edited the program to use letterforms instead of the original triangle shapes as the flocking objects, and took screenshots of the resulting program. I combined those with abstract line arrangements and patterns of large black letterforms. Every illustration I tried to make evoke movement, wind, groups, a flock of birds, and the graceful lines formed by a murmuration of starlings.
The other day I was looking through my collection of book cover designs and realized that one book was cropping up way more than any others: Vladimir Nabokov’s disturbing and classic Lolita, narrated by the protagonist Humbert Humbert, perhaps the most famous pedophile in modern literature. The enigmatic characters and plot of Lolita have drawn designers to it over and over. How to best capture the horrifying sexualization of a 12 year old girl? How to design an image for the story of a monster, but somehow convey that monster’s point of view?
However, as I was gathering the covers together I realized that there may be another reason, beyond the draw of its literary merits, that there are so many designs out there. Apparently three years ago the architect and blogger John Bertram put on a Lolita cover competition due to a personal belief that most previous designs had misrepresented the nuances of the novel and that designers could do better. His issue, described in an Imprint article on this competition, was that “she’s chronically miscast as a teenage sexpot—just witness the dozens of soft-core covers over the years. [but] ‘We are talking about a novel which has child rape at its core.’” The results of this contest are apparently being gathered together into a book, Lolita: Story of a Cover Girl, due out August 2013.
If you have a second I would definitely recommend reading through that Imprint interview with him that I linked to above. Bertram has some interesting stuff to say on the role of the designer, the difficulties of such a nuanced and sensitive subject, and the responsibility of a designer to do justice to such a literary work of art and not short change it. Perhaps, even add to it:
I was interested to see what well-known designers might come up with when freed from editors, publishers and art directors and the constraints implicit in the marketing and selling of books. The result, I think, is a sort of meditation on what it means to create a cover for a complicated book, but it’s also about how a cover can add to or change the book’s meaning. In other words, there is a sense in which it’s a two-way street, which gives the designer tremendous power but also demands responsibility.
So, here is my collection of covers, some of which I found were part of Bertram’s contest, and some of which weren’t. Enjoy, and let me know which is you think best represents the enigmatic Lolita.
I am more excited about The Silent History app than any other app I’ve seen in a long time. Ostensibly a novel, The Silent History is an ebook for iPhone and iPad that unfolds only over both time and place, transforming the reading experience from a passive experience into one of participation and exploration.
A collaborative project with many contributors, it is in part the brainchild of Eli Horowitz, managing editor and publisher of McSweeney’s. Apparently Horowitz has brought his expertise in pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a book or a magazine into the digital realm. It is hard to know yet how successful he has been in pulling this off, as the book has only released three days of content so far:
So how exactly does The Silent Histories work? Good question! The Silent Histories is the only book I’ve purchased that comes with an extensive FAQ section.
I’m still discovering exactly what it is myself, but I think at its most basic it is a novel that is being released in segments. The whole story line is broken up into six volumes and within each volume, individual segments will be released one each day until that volume is finished. So far in the three segments released I’ve been introduced to Theodore Green (a new father), Nancy Jernick (a new mother), and August Burnham (a doctor specializing in Childhood Disintegrative Disorder). The book’s description says it will track the emergence of a new generation of children with a communication disorder that no one has seen before. In fact, at a basic level it reminds me a bit of the book Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear that also deals with a whole generation of children being born with unusual characteristics.
But the book is not merely a serially published novel. In addition to having content released over time (referred to as Testimonials) the app/novel also has content released only in certain places. Referred to as Field Notes, these additions to the story line are tied to a physical place and are only available when the reader is in close physical proximity to that place. The app’s full description of field notes is the following:
“The Field Reports are short, site-specific accounts that deepen and expand the central narrative, written and edited in collaboration with the readers of the Testimonials. To access and comprehend a Field Report, the reader must be physically present in the location where the Report is set. Reports are deeply entwined with the particularities of their specific physical environments — the stains on the sidewalk, the view between the branches, a strangely ornate bannister, etc — so that the text and the actual setting support and enhance each other. Each of these reports can be read on its own, but they all interrelate and cohere within the larger narrative.”
What is perhaps even more intriguing than the fact that they are tied to physical location is the fact that readers can edit or add to them. Reading The Silent Histories is in fact a participatory act.
Will The Silent History forever change what it means to be a book? We’ll see. The news media is going crazy over it, and of all the apps I’ve seen that play with the possibilities offered in new ebook technology (and I’ve looked at quite a few), this is by far the most amazing and exciting. So what is my answer? It quite possibly could change the definition and experience of reading a book. And I’m looking forward to it.
What do you think?
As I continue to explore the world of iPad publications I am fascinated by the range of formats and features that magazines are offering in their iPad apps. This post takes a look at two travel-related publications—the app for the well known and beloved National Geographic, and the app for the new, gorgeous, and award-winning AFAR magazine.
- National Geographic does the best job I’ve seen yet of integrating animation and video into their interactive magazine. This perhaps should be unsurprising, considering the range of resources and material they already had at their disposal prior to the creation of the iPad app.
- AFAR appears to be essentially just scanning in their print magazine for consumption on an iPad screen. While that fails to provide an enhanced experience, it is probably a much easier and more affordable option for a magazine that was only launched three years ago. However, I was impressed with the multiple, intuitive and convenient methods of navigation, and the text-only option.
The internet is abuzz with the recently released preview of a new series of books Penguin is publishing in time for the Christmas season. The Penguin Drop Cap series will be a series of classic books with covers featuring letters designed by the wonderful Jessica Hische. The letters will be new designs, appropriate for each book’s content, that she prepares for this series and not simply caps taken from her previous Daily Drop Cap project. The series uses bold, bright colors and relatively simple elegant layout around the Drop Cap. I have to admit, I think the spines are just as nice as the covers (while you might not think a spine is as important as a beautiful front cover, the spine is all you usually see when a book is on your bookshelf!).
You can read the Imprint article, displaying all six of the released previews (A is for Jane Austen, B is for Charlotte Bronte, C is for Willa Cather, D is for Charles Dickens, E is for George Eliot, and F is for Gustave Flaubert). Below are my favorite two; although Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorites I prefer the Willa Cather and Charles Dickens covers. However, Middlemarch is the only one I haven’t read yet, so its probably top of my list for purchasing. What do you think? Will they be on your Christmas wishlist?
I recently revamped a student project done for my Experimental Typography class last semester. I’d put a lot of work into the images, but I wasn’t entirely satisfied with how the final layout had turned out. So during my vacation I took a few days to re-evaluate it, figure out what parts I wanted to keep and what I wanted to redo. Below is the description of my project; you can also see it up on the Behance Network: Designing Sacred Spaces.
For Experimental Type class we were given the assignment to create a series of three 18″ by 24″ posters on architecture that use hand-made type. I chose to theme mine on religious architecture (I’ve always been fascinated by what makes a space feel sacred), with the first poster on Cathedrals (featuring stained glass), the second on Mosques (featuring geometric tile patterns) and the third on Buddhist Temples (featuring wood carved). The three posters featured words used in prayer or meditation in their religion.
One of the difficulties was that a lot of the beauty of these religious spaces comes from the intricate, time-intensive detail that they are decorated with—the challenge was to figure out how I could create a reasonable replica of the style with the resources available to me. For the Cathedral poster I used a skill I learned in high school and designed and created the stained glass window myself (I bought supplies and rented studio space at San Francisco Stained Glass Works). The Mosque and Temple posters I created using a laser wood cutting machine at the Stanford Machine Shops. I used photoshop to touch up the photos, including adjusting the colors to have a deep, rich feel to them and make sure there was enough visual differentiation between the two designs cut on the laser cutter.
For the poster composition I wanted to strike the somewhat difficult balance between a structural, clean modern architectural feel and the intricate, rich, traditional older feel of the religious buildings. For a sense of structure I used alignment and variations in size and leading for the different text blocks, along with two light rules. I used the typeface Pullman for the main title and the list of lecture topics on the left column, which is an angular typeface with a geometrical feel that I felt gave it a more intricate, ritual aspect. The other typeface I wanted to be very clean and simple, to balance the character of Pullman, so I chose Univers in a variety of weights and sizes. I also tied the posters together by giving all three a column of black on the left, where I traced the continuation of the the photographs to emphasize that the lectures were about designing these spaces and give a subtle allusion to a blue print or plan for the design.
All three posters feature original photographs of original artwork. All work copyright Rebecca Wright.