Are You a Comic Sans Criminal?

Who knew that a college graphic design project could turn into an overnight viral sensation?

On Tuesday, December 22nd, UK-based graphic design student Matt Dempsey, 21, launched a cute primer called Comic Sans Criminal.

The elegant site instructs amateur designers how to use the most juvenile-looking typeface in a designer’s toolbox.

His cheeky project caught on, causing “Comic Sans” to trend on Twitter on Wednesday and gaining nearly 200,000 unique viewers in the first 30 hours of its launch.

Grace Bello interviewed Dempsey on behalf of WDD, about his design background, the popularity of Comic Sans Criminal, and the typeface personalities with which he’d like to go out for a beer.

More a handy guide than a manifesto, the pages communicate with beautiful typography and simple images; for instance, a simple paperclip stands in for Microsoft Word (hey there, Clippy). Dempsey instructs us that “all fonts have a personality and a purpose” and that we should opt not to use Comic Sans for, er, hospital signage.

Comic Sans Criminal tells us not only the pitfalls of poor design but also that side projects that we’re passionate about can make a huge impact.

When did you get started as a web designer?

Well, I’m actually a graphic design student, 21 years old, in the second year of my degree. I’ve been freelancing as a web designer since the age of 14, where I did it for fun and a couple hundred dollars here and there.

I started taking it more and more seriously in stages, and now, in my spare time, I take on freelance work from clients internationally to help fund my degree.

Wow, that’s awesome. What school do you go to?

I go to the University of Portsmouth in England.

Which were some of your favorite projects to work on as a designer?

As a freelancer, I enjoy working on projects where I redesign and improve what already exists.

My portfolio site is ridiculously out of date so I can’t really point to any recent interesting projects, mainly because I have very little time to do freelance work.

So you mention on Comic Sans Criminal that you plan to create stickers and posters. Is there any other Comic Sans merchandise that you plan to create?

Well, to be honest, I’ve been totally caught out by this whole situation. The site was part of a university self-initiated project and was only ever intended to be seen by a couple of tutors for a couple of minutes. The fact that in the last 29 hours it’s had 170,000 unique visitors and growing has taken me completely by surprise!

I’ve had a lot of e-mails asking for stickers/posters/t-shirts and haven’t had time to think about how they would look, who I would print them with, how I would distribute them, etc. So I’m just getting feedback and ideas from people at the moment, and then I’ll email them all in a few days maybe with my plans.

I would probably keep it to posters stickers and maybe t-shirts, but if I did it, I’d want to find a fantastic printer; it wouldn’t be some sort of CafePress-style site that plasters a single logo on top of any type of merchandise you can think of.

Was this originally a project just for fun?

It was for part of my course. The brief was basically to create a piece of work that highlighted an issue you felt passionately about. So some chose more serious issues like poverty, alcoholism, world hunger, etc.

I went with something more light-hearted with Comic Sans [Criminal]. I did, however, take it further than most people did because I was genuinely interested in the subject. So although I’ll get a mark at the end of the project and it’ll go towards my degree, the whole project was basically a personal project that I really enjoyed, too.

A lot of the designers I know complain about Comic Sans to no end. That and Papyrus…How did you publicize Comic Sans Criminal? Or did friends go ahead and publicize it for you?

I didn’t publicize it at all. I posted it on Dribbble, a website that allows designer to post snippets of work-in-progress design pieces to get feedback.

I posted a photo of some of the stickers I’d created and included a link to the website for anyone interested to take a closer look.

I don’t know who picked it up first, but obviously someone saw it and tweeted about it and it spread like wildfire from then on!

So you mentioned in Comic Sans Criminal that “all fonts have a personality and a purpose.” That said, which typeface “personality” would you want to have a pint with?

Haha, that’s a great question. I guess the typefaces I use and love aren’t necessarily the typefaces I’d want to have a pint with.

I’m a big fan of Akzidenz Grotesk, the predecessor to Helvetica, Trade Gothic, and Knockout (the font used on CSC) and Avenir/Gotham, but I guess in most cases those typefaces are more corporate and serious than the laidback, fun kind of person I’d go for a pint with! I certainly wouldn’t go for a pint with Comic Sans though.

Ha! There was a short story published on about how Comic Sans goes off to get a beer with Papyrus.

Haha! Yup, I think I’d avoid that pub.

Written exclusively for WDD by Grace Bello

Are you a comic sans criminal? Which font personalities would you hang out with? Please share your thoughts below…

  • Darkened Soul

    Ha, comic sans… it’s a cool font for certain projects… is it not??? (and there ya go, a buckload of mad designers replying ;) )

    Some discussions are overrated, but this initiative here is pretty funny indeed ;)

  • Ardz Lingatong

    Im totally digging this! why is everybody making a deal with that font? as long as its readable its fine.

  • TrafficColeman

    Its an great things that Dempsey has done by give this project an platform to stand on..web design isn’t an easy business at all, but some people have the Nat for it.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • RK

    The anti-Comic Sans stuff is so played out and overdone now. We all get it. Everyone hates Comic Sans.

  • Omel

    Hey! I used comic sans on my site, on my menus…got bad comments on that though…

  • Vivek Parmar

    didn’t like comic sans, even though many of them like it

  • ben

    There are no specific laws or rules on how you should use comic sans. There is, however, a hysterical trend against it. It started with one famous designer rejecting it and stating his reasons for it. It got picked up by other designers and professors in the universities, and now we have a huge band of schooled designers rejecting comic sans as if they all know what they are talking about.

    Lear to accept that design is still very subjective, and that there is no sin if it used for any purpose you choose fit.

    • donetsk

      I don’t know this history and I not understand negative relation to this font. I think it’s funny and suitable for specific text or title.

  • Theo

    Nice interview, i really enjoyed it!


    comics is the past!!! amazing this post! ;)

  • DavidM

    Lol, brilliant and witty idea.

  • Helge-Kristoffer Wang

    Ben, I couldn’t agree more with you. Design is subjective, and that is (I would call it..) pretty basic knowledge for graphic designers.

    Personally on my own personal projects I would not use Comic Sans because it doesn’t appeal to me and my audience. Comic Sans is a very good font; if it’s properly used.

    Lastly, I just wanted to say that I liked the interview and this website gave me some good inspiration. Thanks alot, Matt Dempsey! :-)

    • Angelee

      I totally agree with you.. The font suits for kids cos it looks playful.

  • Teach

    I totally agree with the overuse of Comic Sans, but sadly as a teacher comic sans is the ONLY default font that uses the letter “a” the way we teach it to students. Most of the time students who are beginning to read cannot recognize the “fancy” a. How I wish I could use something else…

  • Arun Krishnan

    nice :)

  • Gaurav Mishra

    Comic sans give me a sense of a very casual and easy going font. If the audience is kid I prefer to use it that for them.

  • Gabriel Champeix

    The curse of Comic Sans come from the fact that it is used by a lot of non-designer people, most often in a clumsy or inappropriate way.

    • Paulo Couto

      This is the truth about the Comic Sans hate. It’s a shame tough that the self-proclamed we gurus refuse to accept that and only use the hate(?) to the font to self promote them…..

  • Papabear

    yeah.. why they hate comic sans? it’s cool anyway >..< haha nice idea

  • Sam

    Recently a week ago i got a project where the client insisted us to use “Comic sans” for title’s of all the page. I was shocked, but after designing and converted to XHTML, it looks simply superb. If we use it in appropriate place it definitely has outstanding looks as compared to others.

  • Enver

    Black background and stars.
    72 Pt Dark red comic sans.
    That’s what I call design!!!

  • Ben

    I love this website, it tells exactly the story of Comic Sans.. If I could get a t-shirt I would definetely buy it!!!

  • Gareth Coxon Dot Design

    I great idea that has really caught on.
    I suspect Matt is going to have a great 2011!

  • Dave

    It’s not the font I have a problem with, but the way in which it is used. Just like Matt has pointed out, it is consistently over-used in the wrong context. Every font has it’s place, just like comic sans is a jovial font, but again, like Matt says, shouldn’t be used for formal design… And this is why it has such a bad reputation.

  • mawi wijna

    hahaha, it reminds me back to the time when I was hanging around with some .html stuff :D

  • Web Design Derry

    great website!! very good