• 12.05.13

How Having A Baby Made Me Learn To Love Comic Sans

No, really.

How Having A Baby Made Me Learn To Love Comic Sans

Having a child changes you forever. Everyone knows this. So when my wife and I had our daughter, Penelope, six weeks ago, I expected my priorities to shift, my sleep schedule to disintegrate, and my capacity for loving a tiny bald screaming person to go beyond the infinite. What I didn’t expect was that I’d also discover an unalloyed, non-ironic appreciation for that perennial whipping-boy of typographic design–Comic Sans.


Vincent Connare’s infamous creation occupies a strange place in the design firmament, in that people who don’t even know what “sans” means somehow become instant typographic connossieurs capable of rendering damning judgment on this one humble font. Its crossover non-appeal is ubiquitous: Everyone knows Comic Sans is, like, the worst font evar! I’ve taken potshots at it myself, calling it “shorthand for stupid” and citing research claiming that it makes people more likely to let themselves be scammed online. There’s even a restaurant in my neighborhood that uses Comic Sans in its signage, and I wrinkle my nose at it haughtily every time I walk down the block. What could it possibly be good for, other than telegraphing one’s complete lack of basic good taste?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but now I know what it’s good for: communicating simple, primal comfort to a fearful, confused, sometimes-desperate new dad flailing through one particularly painful week of early parenthood.

Let me explain.

Penny came out beautiful and healthy, but like many newborns, she had trouble nursing during the first couple weeks. It was an excruciating ordeal, every two hours, every day, 24/7, and nothing seemed to help: not getting Penny’s tongue tie released, not trying “the football hold” and “cross cradle” positions, and definitely not reading that #$&*ing book from La Leche League with the angelic-looking baby and beatific mother on the cover. Everyone kept promising, “It’ll get easier!”–but that’s cold comfort when your exhausted wife is crying from the constant pain, your baby is unhappy, and there’s not a damn thing Daddy can do about it. In retrospect, I was doing what was necessary: being a cheerleader, encouraging my wife to not give up. But there’s one thing I remember that did help with that: a sheaf of stapled print-outs from our lactation consultant set in–you guessed it–Comic Sans.

The actual content of the handout was no magic bullet, of course–it was mostly just a few breastfeeding tips and tricks, backed up by anecdotal evidence, most of it stuff we’d already been trying with what felt at the time like little success. But the Comic Sans jumped out at me: For some reason, instead of distracting me with its homeliness, it felt like the typographic equivalent of getting a warm, strong hug. It felt present, personal, outside of worldly concerns and utterly nonjudgmental . . . maternal. As if it was saying “I’m here”, “I understand,” and “You can do this” all at once. Which was exactly what I needed, because I needed to be able to communicate those exact feelings to my wife despite the fact that I felt as powerless and small as a child myself. And it worked. Why? I don’t honestly know, and of course there were dozens of other factors helping as well (encouragement from friends and family being the biggest). But if typography is the art of enhancing the written word with a subtle aura of direct, unspoken, perfectly pitched emotion, Comic Sans–in this one moment, for this one person–was a design achievement for the ages.

Context is everything, of course. That restaurant sign in my neighborhood still looks a bit ridiculous, and a résumé set in Comic Sans isn’t going to win you many job offers. But good design is design that works when you need it to–even if it’s for just one moment. So Vincent Connare, if you’re out there: Thanks, from Penny and me.


[Image via Shutterstock]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.