Is Comic Sans Really That Bad?
This week on Overtime, we unpack what it means to decolonize our design thinking and un-follow the rules we’ve been taught—leading us to ask questions like, “Is Comic Sans MS really that bad?”
Plus, brands design apologies that all look… the same? Finally, Meg talks about how to stop lifting up the same people over and over again, and start lifting up some new voices for a change.
Thanks to Basecamp for sponsoring this episode! Basecamp is the all-in-one-place to keep all of your stuff and run your design company the calm way.
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Meg: Oh hello, hello, hello, come on and sit down in my little comfy chair that I’ve set next to my microphone. Pop your little hiney down, get all comfy, and welcome back to Overtime. I’m your host Meg “She Doesn’t Even Own a Single Pair of Flip Flops” Lewis. This is Dribbble’s weekly podcast where I cover design news, and I just might give you a tip or two to create your very best work. This week on Overtime, I can’t stop talking about power and how those who have the most are creating the rules and maybe you don’t have to follow them. Plus, designers designing apologies is funny in theory, but like, let’s do better. Oh, and – I have some chaotic energy today – is hiring your friends bad? Probably yes, but a little bit no. I’ll talk about how to stop lifting up the same people over and over and over again all the dang time and just make some new friends already and lift them up instead.
Now, if you’re on the same internet I’m on, you’ve probably heard the term decolonization swirling around over the past few years, or maybe just the past couple of weeks. And I always welcome, as you know, I welcome, welcome, welcome the critique on why we make certain design decisions and who the heck gets to decide what good or bad design is. It’s usually the people with the most power, but I will get into that later. First of all, I want to talk about an interview with somebody who knows a lot more about this than I do, Clara Balaguer, who did an interview with the Walker Art Center a couple years back, probably in 2018. And in the interview, Clara is so much smarter about all this stuff than I am. But Clara outlines a few different things about decolonizing design that I find really interesting and have really changed a lot of the things and ways that I think about design.
Okay, so first, in case you aren’t aware of what colonizing or decolonizing is, colonizing is generally, there are a lot of expanded definitions of this, I’m giving like the most basic definition possible, but it’s the act of people go into a place that isn’t theirs and taking control over it. And a lot of us live in colonized countries, myself specifically, because I live in the United States of America. We all know it’s a colonized country, this is not news. Okay. But decolonizing is basically, it can represent a whole lot of ideas. But how it relates to this design conversation, decolonizing is the act of recognizing that we live in a society that was created by some people who stole land, and then brought a bunch of Western stuff over and plopped it down.
So, how does that relate to design and Clara’s interview specifically? Well, I think Clara makes a few good points. Clara first gives an example that I found really interesting and useful because I remember this happening back in 2014. NBA Players wore a shirt that said, “I can’t breathe,” that was in solidarity with the family of Eric Garner, who was the black man that was choked to death by the NYPD. And the world was like, “Great, this is really a great use of your privilege as a basketball player, having cameras on you, people are seeing this, it’s showing solidarity.” But yet, designers were over there going, “Wait a minute, those shirts, the words ‘I can’t breathe’ is set in Comic Sans.” And we were all arms in the air like, “Comic Sans? What are you doing, NBA? You should have chosen a better font.” And Clara makes a really good point because designers can be a little elitist sometimes and I think now you can probably see that, I can see that very blatantly, because the design was serving a point and it was working, and it was serving its purpose and we just kind of jumped in there and gave our own opinions of it looking bad, based on who? Who decides that?
So, Clara gives us the challenge of thinking about fonts like Comic Sans, or Curls, or Brush Script, or, you know, Papyrus of course, and think about, why do we think that those fonts are bad fonts? Do we think they’re bad because we actually think that they’re bad and ugly? Or do we think they’re bad because somebody a very long time ago, or somebody with the most power, told us what looks good and what looks bad? Okay, so, I think this concept of decolonizing in the design industry is just – the first step that you need to do is just be aware. That’s what I’m constantly working on, is being aware, assessing the little judgments that you make on what looks good, what looks bad, the decisions you’re making, and know why you’re making them, where the original source of inspiration or the source of idea came for that thing being a trend or being popular, and can it be routed back into a bunch of white people, a bunch of people that have the most power, who decided that that thing is good or bad.
And I think that the best that we can do right now, if we’re not used to this kind of thinking, this kind of being self-aware with our design decisions, that’s the best first step to take. This is what we should be doing. We should just take that first step and just be aware, assess the decisions we make, why we’re making them, who’s influencing them, and realize that the rules that we follow in design, the rules that we follow largely in life, are rules that were set by people a long time ago that had a lot of power and still have power. And that’s why we follow them today. Because we’re used to that kind of thinking.
So, this is what I’m actively doing: I’m assessing the design decisions that I make, trying to figure out why I’m making them, who is influencing these choices that I’m making, and that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m not going to go ahead and get one way ahead of myself and start trying to create solutions for this because I’m not 100% aware of the issues that I’m creating here. These issues that have been going on for hundreds of years that I am perpetuating with my own design decisions. Because we could just stop, we can make up new rules, we can make up a new society, we can make up a new design culture that isn’t rooted in this colonized thinking. And it’s a lot, it’s lofty, Clara is obviously way smarter than me. So, please read the full interview with Clara, read everything that Clara does, please. Because I am in this process right now of just self-assessing my decisions, trying to think anytime I make judgments about what looks good, what looks bad, or have opinions, try to think, I’m trying to think of the root of that, who has taught me my whole life that these things are good or these things are bad. And is that something I actually agree with? Do I actually think Comic Sans is bad? I don’t. Fire me Dribbble. I’m so sorry. I’m not sorry. Okay. I don’t know. It’s very confusing. Do I think Comic Sans is bad? Probably not. It’s probably not that bad, okay?
So, that’s decolonizing your design thinking, it’s just being aware. And of course, there are a lot of people that know a lot more about this than me so just do your research, learn, keep learning, I’m still learning, keep learning, be aware. That’s your first step. So, don’t get ahead of this step right now and go and create all these solutions until you’re totally aware of the problem, and how you are part of the problem, because I’m a part of the problem. We all are because we all grew up in a colonized country for the most part. Some listeners out there, maybe not. But any of y’all who are from my country, where I reside, you probably definitely need to go through this practice.
Alright, so you’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, brands and individuals are getting called out for active and past racism, right? We’ve seen it. And did anybody see that Helen, @Helen, that’s the handle, Helen Donahue’s tweet showing a bunch of these apologies, the images and talking about what it must be like being a designer who has to design an apology, but keep it on brand? Ah, it’s so funny, but it’s real and it’s really happening. So, let’s break it down, because Fast Company Design wrote a piece about what’s happening there, and they interviewed Bobby C. Martin Jr. of Champions Design.
Oh, and by the way before I forget, Bobby has a Black Lives Matter shirt in print, and it is my favorite. As soon as I saw it, you’ll know what I mean, if you’re familiar with my work, as soon as I saw it, I had to buy it right away because it’s like, type that’s all wonky and hard to read in the best way possible, and it speaks to me. So, go to, I believe it’s getmerchaid.com to pick up that print. But that’s not what this is about. This is about apologies.
Okay, so Fast Company kind of goes through this and interviews Bobby about it. And whenever you see all these apologies alongside one another, you start to realize that they’re all the same, they look the same. They’re very minimal. It’s like high contrast text, white text on a black background, black text on a white background. And it’s just they all start; all these apologies are looking the same. They’re very bland. They’re very minimalistic, I think it looks formulaic, too. So, Bobby says that doing that, and if you haven’t seen them, most of them are like, it’s a quote, like the CEO of the brand, or whoever is apologizing comes in on Instagram or Twitter and makes this image that’s text. So, it says a bunch of text about how they were wrong, how they were bad, they’re going be better or something. Or it’s just plain text that says, “I’m sorry.”
And so, Bobby says that whenever you do it this way and have the quote, it kind of it removes all the humanity because, like Bobby says that they want to, we want to see your face, like we want to see the apology giver’s eyes and face so that we can look them in the eyes so that we can see that they mean it. And Bobby also draws the parallel to the last few months, because a lot of brands were doing this with COVID saying, like, “We stand with healthcare workers,” or “We’re in this together.” You saw those, I saw them and they’re just like, it’s so safe. And, Bobby thinks it’s coming out flat because, as we know, only 3% of designers are black. And clearly, those designers are not part of the conversation with these brands that are having to apologize. So, if they were, we’d probably see a lot more vulnerability, we’d see a lot more action, and it wouldn’t be falling as flat or looking so safe.
These messages like, “We’re in this together.” What does that mean? That’s such a safe statement to make. Of course, we are all in this together, but clearly that’s not working. We have a neighborhood group here in the neighborhood that I live in because I live in Minneapolis, and they were trying to take a poll with the neighbors of what we can make, some signs that we put in our yards, and all of the sign suggestions were statements that are very blanket statements like, “We stand with our neighbors.” Oh, okay. What do you mean? Which neighbors do you stand with? And it’s just, this is not a time to be safe. Bobby makes great points, though. I mean, if we would just involve black designers in the process, everything that we’re saying would be so much more thoughtful, more considerate. There’d be more action involved, it’d be much better informed, we’d know more about what we’re talking about, and often we do not. So, much like if I had a black designer/co-host on this podcast, I would be able to deliver this new story with a lot more insight on what brands should be doing instead. But for now, I’ll look to Bobby. Thanks, Bobby.
Meg: We all know that the design industry is super insular. The same people, usually the ones with the biggest, loudest voices and the most power – I’m sorry, this episode is about power. I didn’t mean to have such a thing. Usually, those people get the opportunities which make their power, again, even greater, and their voices even louder. Part of the problem is that we let the same circle of people refer each other. They lift each other up, and, you know, like they stand in a circle and they give each other a special handshake in the shape of a circle. You get what I’m saying? Okay.
And I have found many benefits of this because once you’re in the circle, it’s really easy to keep going. It’s great. Momentum is a delightful thing for everyone in their career. And for me, being somebody who does public speaking sometimes, I found so easily as soon as I started public speaking, it was so easy to continue public speaking, because event organizers were just looking at each other’s websites, and they were like, “Okay, this person speaks. And they must be fine, because this other event had them speak. So, I will also ask them to speak at my event.”
And so, you know, I found it very easy to keep speaking once I started. And that’s just the wonderful thing about momentum, and also the curse, because, again, it’s the same people just circulating over and over and over again. So, the question is, when it comes to referring your friends for jobs, and hiring your friends for jobs, and working with your friends, collaborating with your friends, because I’m a huge fan of that, is it bad? Is it bad to hire friends? The answer is yes. But also, not necessarily. But also, probably. But also, no, if you do the right thing. But what is the right thing?
So, the secondary theme to power of this episode is just be aware. Be aware of who you’re hiring over and over and over again, who you’re lifting up, who you’re supporting more than other people. Are they your friends? Probably, because you love your friends. You’re a big fan of your friends. I love my friends. I love to give them jobs. I love to see them succeed. That’s part of being a good friend is helping people, helping your friends shine. I love to do that. But the key is to make sure that your friend group isn’t so small that you’re just perpetuating the same problem that we’re all perpetuating. Make sure that you’re assessing who your friends are. Do they have enough power already? Do you need to keep elevating the same people? Or is it time to elevate some other people? Is it time to look at your other friends over here that you’ve been leaving out this whole time and help them too? Or, perhaps look at your friends. Look at them. Oh, yeah, you can see them. Like, do you have enough? Like, do they all look like you? Do they all act like you? Or maybe it’s time to make some new friends?
I think that friendship making is hard. It’s hard to make friends as an adult. But what I like to do is I’m one of those people that I have a massive, absolutely massive group of friends. A lot of you who are listening are probably my friend. I love making friends. So, so much of a big fan. I just want to be everybody’s friend. I want to meet every single human; I love humans so much. Okay, but as we know, some people like a lot of friends, other people like just a little teeny tiny handful of friends, just like a little, you put your little friends in your little baby hand. And that’s your friend. Those are your friends. Those are the friends you have. That is not me, but I understand if you’re that way. But for the sake of this podcast episode, I’m going to give you a little slap on the face and tell you to stop it. Make more friends. Because it feels good to hire friends. And yes, that’s great. But you need to have more friends, you need to expand your friend group, you need to constantly be getting those coffees, get those little drinks with new friends. Or, you know, you probably can’t do that so much right now, so you might even have a little Zoom call meeting with a new friend, meet new people. And when you make new friends, here’s what you do. Here’s what I love to do, I highly recommend this: ask them about themselves.
Ask them about themselves, ask them what they want to be doing, what their ideal projects are, what their ideal job is, ask them deeper questions about what they really want to be doing in this world. What’s important to them, what do they value, do they have a life’s purpose, are they working towards something greater than themselves? Ask them the real questions. Ask them the real question so that you can get to know them for who they are, because ultimately, they’re going to be different from you. And those answers to those questions are going to be different from the answers that you would give. And different from every other friend you might ask those questions to. Because we all have our own ideal work situations, we have our own dream jobs, we have different ideas of what we want out of life, where we want to work, and all of that.
So, the more information that you can collect, and I believe that I learned this practice years ago from Mr. Dan mall, who loves to meet people, what a beautiful heart of gold this guy has. If you’re not familiar with Dan Mall, please go check him out because he’s just like, oh, I’m melting. He’s a good person is basically what I’m saying. But what Dan taught me is that, and he’s done this to me, he sits down with people. He has conversations with them and really gets to know them and what’s at the heart of what they love to do, and what they want to be doing. And that way, he has this beautiful directory in the back of his head at all times of all these people that he could potentially hire and work with and elevate some time. And that way, as opportunities pop up, say somebody for me, for example, somebody emails me and they’re like, “Hey Meg, we want you to illustrate a children’s book.” If somebody asked me that, I’d be like, “Oh my gosh, that seems really hard. I’m not that great of an illustrator. And I also kind of don’t want to.” Like, children’s illustrations, I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s for me. I don’t know if that’s a project I want to do that doesn’t feel quite right for me, but there’s that person I met five years ago at that event and Louisville, they would be perfect for this and then I recommend that to them.
So, I know it’s not the easiest route because it’s easy to recommend the same people over and over again because you know you can trust them, and you know they do a good job. I am guilty of this just as much as anybody else. But I have found it so much more valuable to just meet more and more and more people, actually sit down with them, learn. There are no negatives that I have found to making friends, especially if you meet great people, and your intentions are beautiful, and you just want to elevate and support each other. Ah, ooh, it’s beautiful. And then we can get more customized opportunities to the people that want them the most. And that’s great. We all deserve that. We all should be looking out for each other and helping place each other in the positions and into the opportunities that are best for that individual person, right?
Because you don’t want me illustrating or designing a children’s book when I’m not so great at it. Wouldn’t you rather have somebody who that’s their dream opportunity? Who’s really good at it doing it? Yes, of course.
Okay, do I have anything else to say about power? Probably. I don’t know. Stop giving opportunities to the same people over and over again who have the most power. Ooh, yes. Oh yes. Oh yeah. I feel warm inside just thinking about taking power away from people with too much power. Yeah, so can you tell where my brain is at this week?
Wowee! And that’s it for this episode of Overtime. Remember to be a good person this week, and if you screw up, just apologize, correct, and be better going forward. And if you’d like to take this conversation onto the old internet, use #DribbbleOvertime or tag me, tweet me, call me, beep me if you want to reach me. My handle is @YourBuddyMeg. Bye! Hear me next week!