Are You Serious?

I found this article (via Kottke) about Serious Sans, yet another attempt to produce yet another version of Comic Sans, one that maybe this time people will like; one justified by a bunch of vaguely defined supposedly academic advantages. There is a particular belief about Comic Sans that always seems to come up as a justification why it’s actually not that bad, and that people who hate it are horrid type snobs in ivory towers (or should that be lead towers?) who really don’t get how the common man or woman perceives type. It is summed up rather well in this quote:

Struggling to understand what could possibly be good about Comic Sans, Valerio — together with partners Hugo Timm, Filip Tydén and Erwan Lhussier — found that the doggedly goofy font’s irregular forms made it one of the easiest typefaces for dyslexics to read.

Now, this is to many intents and purposes, quite true. However, it is also true of almost every other sans-serif face out there; Avenir, Helvetica, MS Sans Serif, Verdana, Arial, and so on. There is nothing unique or special about Comic Sans that makes it particularly good for dyslexics, except in the case of “you read best what you know best” - a dyslexic used to Comic Sans may well find it easier to read, but others may not. The trick is to find a happy medium; something that works best for most people (i.e. your audience of, say, dyslexics) and reasonably well for the rest; something that does no harm*. I have done a lot of work designing UIs with accessibility as a primary requirement, and in one of the largest projects an ‘expert’ demanded that the interface and all instructional graphics be set in Comic Sans. Later, after consultation with real experts at the Royal National Institute for the Blind, we ended up with the following advice, summed up in this rather pithy quote from the RNIB website:

Avoid highly stylised typefaces, such as those with ornamental, decorative or handwriting styles.

The RNIB consultant basically recommended Arial: it is commonly available, people are well used to it, and is an unornamented and regular sans-serif with clear letterforms. It also has a clear advantage of not being incredibly insulting to adults who were using the learning programme, and believe me, they did find it insulting. I’d know - I was there.

Oh, and as for Serious Sans, well, there’s not much to say. It’s not very good, but I don’t think it’s really meant to be. If you’d like to see the results of a genuine and serious project to produce a legible and accessible face, have a look here.

I have ranted on this subject before.