GateHouse — You probably don’t need to be reminded of this, but I have a lot in common with Kanye West. We share a taste for red leather suits, we have many of the same ex-girlfriends and we once both released albums called “Late Registration” with anthropomorphic-bear-mascot cover art, which was awkward, but he and I joke about it now, usually while throwing wads of $100 bills into the air and driving around at 8 mph.
Kanye and I first bonded over our two shared passions: pink vertical-slat sunglasses and fonts. “Sometimes I get emotional over fonts,” Kanye tweeted last summer, and it’s like he was peering into my soul. As someone who grew up with early Macintosh computers — and thus not having to worry about squandering quality brain-juice on such decisions as “Is he thinking breaking ball here?” or “Six girlfriends, one Homecoming, whom do I select?” — I found myself very early thinking things like, “Why don’t people use Palatino more IT IS SO CLASSY!” and “I know San Francisco is supposed to be fun but this pro wrestling fanzine is supposed to look PROFESSIONAL.”
Fonts, as you probably already know if you’re still reading for some reason, are of great importance. They convey ideas, they offer sly, subliminal insights into the minds of their designers and they can be very helpful in making harsh, uninformed early opinions about people you don’t know (i.e., “Oh, this resume’s header is in Impact?” Why not just print it dot matrix?” one might think, which among font people is a CRUSHING BURN.) I have personally been involved in conference calls in which full-grown adults spent 30 minutes debating the relative merits of Bold vs. Semi-Bold. Dozens were bloodied.
But there is one font that stands above all the rest, one that has achieved legendary status as the Worst Font In The World, one that’s like the Newt-Gingrich-in-Iowa of fonts, one so despised that there’s probably someone at your coffee shop who’s sent email to Microsoft asking why they still even make it, and then had that email immediately devoured by a Windows virus.
That font is Comic Sans, which was birthed by Microsoft in 1994 and has been deeply reviled by font hipsters since late 1994. So you can imagine how everyone felt reading last week that Comic Sans makes you smarter.
Indeed, last week, researchers at Princeton and my very own alma mater Indiana University (Go Fighting Serifs!) tested the effects of “difficult to read” fonts such as Comic Sans on learning and found that making something harder to read makes it easier to retain.
“Participants remembered information significantly better if it was in a font that was harder to read,” said the study’s lead author, Connor Diemand-Yauman, in the journal Cognition. “We were real excited by this finding.” Please note here that people who write for places like Cognition are excited about much different things than you are.
Here is why this is a big deal, on the unlikely chance that fire has not yet begun shooting out of your ears: Take a look at your iPhone, or your Android thing or the newspaper or website on which you’re reading this, and look at how smooth and endearing the font is right now. It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? Sleek. Classy. Enticing. You want to touch it. You want to invite it out for pie and take it to meet your mama. You want to be forgiven for your thoughts about taking it on a long midnight beach walk.
But it is exactly those kinds of thoughts that are RUINING YOUR BRAIN, at least the parts not already ruined by your having erotic fantasies about fonts, because there’s a school of thought that because smartphones, e-readers and websites are so easy to read no one is actually retaining anything from them.
Which is why I am announcing today my own tablet, the E-Purplulanum, which will be pretty much just like an iPad except all the type will be orange on a purple background in the Herculanum font, which, for those of you with tans, is the one that looks like old Greeky lettering on the Parthenon or those small tubs of feta cheese. You will hate it and it will drive you insane and it will probably eat through batteries like an alligator at a Marshmallow Peeps factory, but it will make you smarter, and you will be thankful for its brainpower-augmenting orangeness. Production will begin as soon as I run the prototypes by Kanye.