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Comic Sans is for Children

Thanks to a Google April Fools’ Day prank, the font Comic Sans is one of the day’s most popular search term. Unlike the more staid Helvetica, which found itself roped into the prank, Comic Sans is despised by typography aficionados and designers. They say the font “conveys silliness, childish naivete, irreverence” and using it for anything remotely serious—like a letter by the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers blasting LeBron James for decamping to Miami—“is analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume.” Is this just typeface elitism, or does the ban Comic Sans crowd have a point?

According to research by Michael Bernard, Melissa Mills, Talissa Frank, and Jan McKown, Comic Sans was the most popular of the four fonts the researchers tested on children. They had kids ranging from ages 9 to 11 read passages in Times New Roman, Courier New, Arial and Comic Sans and then evaluate the fonts for ease of reading, attractiveness and desire to have them used in school books. On all three measures, Comic Sans was the winner. Times New Roman was statistically significantly less easy to read, less attractive and less desirable for use in school books, the researchers found; the differences between Arial, Comic Sans and Courier, on the other hand, were frequently not statistically significant. The experiment doesn’t settle whether Comic Sans is a good font or not, of course, but it does mean that its adult fans fall into the same category as elementary school kids.

For more research on what’s in the news, check out the rest of TNR’s newest blog, The Study.