How we made the typeface Comic Sans

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The level of hatred was amazing and quite funny. I couldnt believe people could get so worked up about a font

Vincent Connare, typographer

I was working for Microsofts typography team, which had a lot of dealings with people from applications like Publisher, Creative Writer and Encarta. They wanted all kinds of fonts a lot of them strange and childlike. One program was called Microsoft Bob, which was designed to make computers more accessible to children. I booted it up and out walked this cartoon dog, talking with a speech bubble in Times New Roman. Dogs dont talk in Times New Roman! Conceptually, it made no sense.

So I had an idea to make a comic-style text and started looking at Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, graphic novels where the hand lettering was like a typeface. I could have scanned it in and copied the lettering, but that was unethical. Instead, I looked at various letters and tried to mimic them on screen. There were no sketches or studies it was just me drawing with a mouse, deleting whatever was wrong.

I didnt have to make straight lines, I didnt have to make things look right, and thats what I found fun. I was breaking the typography rules. My boss Robert Norton, whose mother Mary Norton wrote The Borrowers, said the p and q should mirror each other perfectly. I said: No, its supposed to be wrong! There were a lot of problems like that at Microsoft, a lot of fights, though not physical ones.

Comic Sans was developed too late for Microsoft Bob, but our office administrators started using it a lot in emails mostly young women whose job was to make everything fun. They did birthday parties, organised events, and Comic Sans fitted with their cheery messages. As it became more well-known, it was eventually included in Windows 95.

I started to see it everywhere and then the backlash began. A group called Ban Comic Sans was formed to educate people about the uses of typefaces, though they did email me to ask if it was OK to set it up. It seemed silly, but I said knock yourselves out. Though that backlash has calmed down, except on Twitter. People who come up to me are more likely to say they love it.

Type should do exactly what its intended to do. Thats why Im proud of Comic Sans. It was for novice computer users and it succeeded with that market. People use it inappropriately: if they dont understand how type works, it wont have any power or meaning to them. I once heard a guy at a Rothko show say: I could have done that. He clearly doesnt know anything about art. Hell probably use Comic Sans without realising its wrong in certain circumstances.

Ive only ever used Comic Sans once. I was having trouble changing my broadband to Sky so wrote them a letter in Comic Sans, saying how disappointed I was. I got a 10 refund. In those cases, I would recommend it. The basic theory is that typography should not shout but Comic Sans shouts.

They announced the Higgs boson in Comic Sans that was inappropriate. Photograph: Cern

Tom Stevens, program manager, Microsoft

My job was to match products to fonts, sort of like a marriage broker. Comic Sans was designed for Microsoft Bob, which in many ways was a precursor to Cortana or Siri for people who had problems with computers. A woman called Melinda French was helping to head it up. I wasnt well connected and had no idea she was dating Bill Gates and would end up marrying him.

The magic is that people took to it on their own, rather than via any Microsoft marketing. It does get misused, usually because somebody just loves it. Things like the slideshow at Cern, where they announced the Higgs boson in Comic Sans, that was inappropriate. But the fact that people have the freedom to say, This is my favourite font and Im going to use it is a marvellous thing. The backlash, the level of hatred, was just amazing and quite frankly funny. I couldnt believe people could be so worked up over something as simple as a font.

Its almost an anti-technology typeface: very casual, very welcoming. Its like going home, back to your childhood, getting letters from family members. Or somebody might use it to get away from the staid environment of their work. When you use Comic Sans, youre making a statement: Im more relaxed, more creative. I may be working in this area, but this job does not define me.

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