CERN Higgs Boson V Comic Sans Debacle

Watching the news from CERN via Twitter yesterday made for interesting viewing as one by one whispers of a design faux-pas echoed round the room and rash of Comic Sans hashtags broke out.

Watching the news from CERN via Twitter yesterday made for interesting viewing as one by one whispers of a design faux-pas echoed round the room and rash of Comic Sans hashtags broke out.

The Higgs Boson, the suspected key ingredient in the composition of our universe and Comic Sans, a much maligned font designed by then Microsoft employee Vincent Connare in 1993, tussled for superiority for the duration of the presentation live from CERN in Switzerland..

The reaction to the use of Comic Sans in such a prestigious announcement was akin to many as a social faux-pas on a scale of open flies or a small amount of faecal matter on one's cheek and threatened to overpower the statement on the very centre of our existence.

To give those who are unaware just how much this font is hated by some in the design community simply head to one of a number of sites that call from the outright banning of it, such as the deftly named Ban Comic Sans site, or the recent The Comic Sans Project.

Does usage of the Comic Sans font at CERN count as inappropriate use? Or, as the presentation was broadcast globally, did it fit the remit of widespread family friendly use?

I spoke to Vincent Connare, father of Comic Sans, and asked him what he thought of the furore. "Scientists and software engineers have skills and knowledge but often lack good design and dress sense" admits Connare. "I worked at Microsoft where it was not uncommon to see people in corporate t-shirts at the Christmas ball. I think it showed that Fabiola Gianotti [the particle physicist in charge of the ATLAS experiment] is an intelligent caring woman."

What would Connare of selected from his list of font creations? "Courier for code and probably a Scotch Roman for normal text" he responds. Does yesterday's outrage at the use of Comic Sans say more about the design community or the science community? "It shows tunnel vision and not liberal thinking" he says, "not everyone in the world uses Syntax or has a Barcelona chair." You get the feeling that he's in familiar territory here.

Back to Twitter and the vent for the man on the street yesterday lunchtime, I said hello to one of the dissenters and asked them why they felt moved to tweet. "Partially because my follower base knows me as someone who has a passion for typography design and thus, they kind of expect me to tweet things on this subject, but also because the use of Comic Sans in such an environment genuinely struck me as quite out of place, quirky, and odd' says @jeeveswilliams, the human handle to which is a mightily erudite schoolboy by the name of Steve Williams.

Williams then goes on to explain that "good typography is very much invisible. The fact that more people commented on the use of Comic Sans than the information the text was conveying shows a poor choice of typography."

So what does the scientific community have to say? Speaking to Dr. Anais Rassat, Cosmologist at EPFL in Switzerland and regular blogger at the Huffington Post she responds with "sorry, but I don't really have any comments on the Comic Sans issue". I ask her whether perhaps the scientific community sometimes has difficulties in relating to the wider world and asked her what actually happened whilst everyone was coughing and pointing to the typeface on the screen. "The results [of the experiment] also show a "glimpse" that something might be there. With today's data we cannot say if this glimpse is a glitch or an observation. We will have to wait for future data to find out. This may sound disappointing for the general public, but this is also what science is about." Damn right.

Back to Mr Williams on Twitter to help clarify the Comic Sans, use of. "I think they went with Comic Sans because it's renowned for its readability and visual friendliness . It could also have been used merely because it's a default typeface bundled with Windows and thus, they spontaneously chose one of the first faces they found."

Researching Connare I find that as well as a master of typography he's also an avid photographer. Guess who he's photographed and turns out he's good friends with? Drum roll please for the medium for the scientific community, and scientist working on the Higgs Boson project, Professor Brian Cox.

There is balance and harmony in the universe.


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