The Comic Sans creator explains how he made the world's most-hated font

Font inventor Vincent Connare spoke at the fourth annual Boring Conference, along with a man cooking pancakes on a couple of irons and an expert on Walkers crisps

Vincent Connare is in many ways the ideal keynote speaker for the fourth annual Boring Conference: his talk is about "the world's favourite font". As a topic it sounds boring, but it isn't.

That's because Connare is the inventor of Comic Sans, a typeface that is arguably both the most popular and the most reviled on the planet. Before it came along, most people barely registered type. But everyone recognises Comic Sans, especially on those occasions when its deployment is arrestingly inappropriate. Despite the campaign waged against it by designers and the website Ban Comic Sans, the jokey comic book font still turns up on tombstones and mortuary invoices. Connare, however, didn't invent it so that people could make jaunty "Employees Must Wash Hands" signs.

"A typeface is an answer to a question," he tells me later. "Everything I've ever done is a solution to somebody's problem." The problem that Comic Sans solved concerned a short-lived Windows interface called Microsoft Bob. It featured a cartoon dog who spoke to computer users through speech bubbles. The words inside the speech bubble were rendered in Times New Roman, which didn't look right to Connare. He thought a cartoon dog should talk like a cartoon character, in comic book writing. But the software package was about to ship – it had to be done quickly. Connare consulted several comic books, and drew his characters with a mouse to get the "wonkiness" he was looking for. "It only took about three days to get the basic font down," he said. "You knew what you wanted."

Microsoft Bob did not endure, but Comic Sans became one of the font options offered on Windows 95, and instantly became a favourite. "It sticks out," says Connare. "Everything else looks like something traditional that you see in books."

Connare was not put off by an invitation to tell this story at a conference called Boring IV. "I think it's good fun," he said. "They like things a bit funny and a bit weird."

Conference organiser James Ward accepts that booking speakers can be a delicate matter. "I always say the theme is boring but the content isn't," he says. But the name also inoculates the event against incidental tediousness. "If anything goes wrong," says Ward, "I can kind of go: 'Well, it did say on the ticket'." And no one has ever complained about an insufficiency of tedium. "It would take a particular type of person to go to an event and enjoy it and then complain that they enjoyed it," he says. "So I basically have a zero refunds policy."

George Egg
At the Boring Conference, George Egg demonstrates how to make pancakes with things you find in a hotel room. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian Photograph: Linda Nylind/Guardian

It all started in 2010, when Ward learned that something called the Interesting Conference had been cancelled, and jokingly tweeted that he would put on a Boring Conference instead. "The moral of the story is never to joke on the internet," he said. "Someone will say: 'That sounds good', and then you'll have to do it."

If the speakers at Boring IV have anything in common, it's that they are prepared to examine a potentially boring subject in such pitiless detail that it immediately becomes fascinating. Lecturer Martin White gave a talk on "Boring German Interpretations of English Language Humour", which he demonstrated using movie poster translations. For example: in Germany the title of the film Airplane! was translated as "The Unbelievable Journey in a Crazy Aeroplane"; Smoky and the Bandit 2 became "A Crafty Rascal Is on the Road Once More".

From calendar-loving dentist Toby Dignam the audience learned that all Walkers crisps go past their best before date on a Saturday. Ali Coote's fairly comprehensive PowerPoint presentation on her two years working in an ice-cream van contained plenty of what James Ward demanded: "Insider information and sound clips". The comedian George Egg gave a lesson in cooking using things you find in hotel rooms, all while making pancakes on two upturned irons on top of an ironing board. "They're set to linens," he said. Journalist and Scritti Politti keyboardist Rhodri Marsden played the endings of 25 different national anthems – all of them exactly the same.

Last of all came Vincent Connare, his name alone spelled out in Comic Sans at the bottom of the programme. He is sanguine, even mildly amused, by the worldwide love – and contempt – for the font. "You can have the haters out there, it's fine," he says. "Not everybody loves Justin Bieber."


Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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