The power of type (or why not to use Comic Sans to present a scientific breakthrough)
Yesterday saw a landmark moment in science, history and indeed, evolution. CERN scientists, who have been working for years at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, claimed the discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs Boson.
The news spread like wildfire and soundbites like ‘we’re reaching into the fabric of the Universe at a level we’ve never done before’ were issued to all that would listen. However, one of the biggest reactions to the breakthrough was nothing to do with the feats of science achieved, but the way it was presented to the world - more specifically, the font which was used to present the findings.
Of all the thousands of fonts available to convey such a critical milestone, the scientists plumped for the Marmite of typography - Comic Sans. Within minutes of the news breaking ‘Comic Sans’ was trending on Twitter, with the majority of tweeters expressing their disgust at such an important announcement being conveyed in such a way.
While Comic Sans does have its fans and naysayers, the reaction did raise an important point. It truly demonstrated how fonts are crucial tools in evoking emotion and sentiment.
Often taken for granted, as they are all around us, there are around 200,000 fonts in existence today. However, you should bear in mind that each one has been meticulously designed and crafted to convey a message. Indeed, selecting a font is quite like getting dressed. If you had a specific occasion to attend, you would dress accordingly. Similarly, a font is normally selected in accordance with the kind of message you wish to communicate.
Type is also a key player in instilling trust among the public. Imagine you were to receive an email or message on your phone, which claimed to be from your bank - for the sake of argument, let’s say HSBC. Ask yourself, if the message didn’t contain the black lettering of HSBC on the grey background, would you not question its legitimacy? It’s the very reason that typography remains such a crucial part of branding and why there is still a demand today for type designers’ skills.
Type designers are some of the most patient, but proudest artists in the world today. Not even taking into account the need for originality due to the sheer volume of fonts around, the skill and determination required to elicit emotion, simply from text, is a huge accomplishment. What I believe is amazing is how, when the industry has existed for centuries, there are these incredible designers from all corners of the globe, who continue to innovate and create new typefaces, which still generate reactions.
And I believe that a key driver to do so is that the public have and continue to relate to typography, even though they maybe don’t realise it. We’ve all had the experience of a certain scent reminding you of a fond memory. The same applies with typography - certain fonts trigger certain emotions and memories - and this is why there has been such a reaction to CERN’s choice of font.
Comic Sans may often be heralded as the ‘world’s most hated font’, but it does have its place. It may not be in a presentation which reveals the secrets of the universe, or within the corridors of a Fortune 500 company, as this picture demonstrates, but one thing is for sure. It has conjured a huge reaction and that is testament to the power of typography.
Nadine Chahine is senior type designer at Monotype Imaging and Linotype.