Poor Comic Sans! The favorite font of administrative assistants and H.R. representatives everywhere is deeply hated by so-called "design nerds." But guess what, design nerds? Poor unpopular Comic Sans might actually have a beneficial use. Because it's so horrifically ugly.
There may be no kind of nerd more irritating than the self-proclaimed "design nerd." You know: "Oh, I can't eat at that restaurant, their menus are in Papyrus." Or, "Oh, I don't want to go to that dentist, her sign has improper kerning." Look, guys we don't live in Sweden. You know? Tobias Frere-Jones is not going to design your local Thai joint's takeout menu. Sometimes, there will be ugly fonts, and that's okay. And finally, we have the science to prove it.
A new study indicates that difficult-to-read fonts can help people learn and retain information, possibly because they require more attention and work to process and understand. And, boy, Comic Sans is difficult to read, partly because you are thinking the whole time, "Why is this in Comic Sans?"
In one experiment, participants were given lists of alien species and their characteristics (nerds!), either in the more-difficult-to-read Comic Sans and Bodoni, or in the easier (and, come to think of it, also hated) Arial. When the participants were later quizzed, those who had the Comic Sans and Bodoni lists scored 14 percentage points higher than those who had Arial lists.
Another experiment tracked the grades of high school students, some of whom received handouts in Comic Sans Italicized and others who got their handouts in easy-to-read fonts. As in the earlier experiment, the Comic Sans kids did better. The researchers think this is an example of a "desirable difficulty"—that is, a seeming obstacle that in fact makes retention easier.
But, okay, I get it! Comic Sans is ugly even for a difficult-to-read font; there are better-looking fonts out there that could accomplish the same goal. And, yes, "good design" doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as "easy to read"—and in the future, a well-designed textbook may in fact be one that makes reading slightly difficult. (Publish it in Wingdings, in my opinion, in black type, on black pages. That'll learn 'em.)
I don't care. I still hate you, "design nerds," with your iPhones and your opinions about corporate logos and your beautifully-furnished apartments and your desperate investment in haut-bourgeois aesthetic superiority even in the face of a decaying, bankrupt civilization, and from now on I'm publishing everything in Comic Sans. Forever! And never again are you allowed to complain about the "No Smoking" sign in Sand, or the missing dog flyer in Copperplate, or, God forbid, the companywide memo about the third-floor bathroom in both Curlz MT and Brushstroke. Because now, thanks to science, I know I will always remember about the third-floor bathroom.