Errol Morris' recent two-part editorial in the New York Times has caused the typeface wars to flare up once again. Based on an online test conducted in July, Morris concluded that some typefaces consistently inspire more confidence in readers, while others inspire less confidence--even when they are used to express exactly the same thoughts in exactly the same words.
The experiment was simple. Morris took a passage from David Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity about the possibility of defending the planet from collision with asteroids. Readers were presented with the exact same passage in a variety of different typefaces and their degree of confidence in the truth of the passage differed based on what typeface the passage was presented in. The results were striking:
The disparity between the most believable and least believable font lead Morris and his collaborators to the following conclusion:
The conscious awareness of Comic Sans promotes — at least among some people — contempt and summary dismissal. But is there a typeface that promotes, engenders a belief that a sentence is true? Or at least nudges us in that direction? And indeed there is.
Now, I'll leave it to others to question the lack of diversity of the sample population, the lack of control for other factors, and other issues involving how this test was conducted. That would be a very Helvetica-y thing to do, and Helvetica isn't the typeface that I've come here to defend today. I want to make the case for Comic Sans, that much maligned font that inspires so little confidence, while traditional, bookish Baskerville and cool, streamlined Helvetica get all the glory (although, interestingly, Helvetica comes in low on the agreement scale in this test). To return to Morris' apocalyptic scenario about an asteroid colliding with the earth: would you want to read about this in etched-in-stone Baskerville? Humorless Helvetica? No thanks. I'll take my apocalypses with a dose of irony and a lot of attitude. That's Comic Sans territory. But I should let Comic Sans defend himself, via Mike Lacher's hilarious monologue posted on McSweeney's a couple of years ago, "I'm Comic Sans, Asshole:"
Listen up. I know the shit you’ve been saying behind my back. You think I’m stupid. You think I’m immature. You think I’m a malformed, pathetic excuse for a font. Well think again, nerdhole, because I’m Comic Sans, and I’m the best thing to happen to typography since Johannes fucking Gutenberg.
Me? I'll take a lovable sans-serif badass over a stuffy agreeable serif any day of the week. And yes, I recognize the irony in my writing about this in quasi-fascist Helvetica.