From today, all of CERN's official communication channels are switching to exclusive use of the font Comic Sans. The move comes after weeks of deliberation by CERN management and top web designers about how best to update the image of the laboratory for this, its 60th anniversary year.
"This is an important year for CERN and we wanted to make a bold visual statement," says CERN Head of Communications James Gillies. "We thought the most effective way to communicate our research into the fundamental structure of matter at the very boundaries of technology was by changing the font." For Gillies, Comic Sans says: 'This is a serious laboratory, with a serious research agenda.' - "And it makes the letters look all round and squishy," he adds.
Following the viral success of ATLAS spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti's presentation on 4 July 2012 announcing the discovery a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson, Gillies scrambled a team of emergency typographers to work towards the change. Working in shifts night and day for over a year, they deconstructed Gianotti's presentation at the very tiniest level to study its fundamental structure. They then came up with a sophisticated statistical model to separate the font from the background content.
"According to our calculations, 80% of the success of the presentation came not from the discovery of a fundamental particle that explains the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism for how particles get mass, but from the choice of font," says presentation analyst May Dupp, who worked closely with comic-book artists and circus clowns to lead the change. "It's a logical step – and plain common sense – to apply this technique to all of CERN's communications."
CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer ensured the success of the project by declaring the work "5 sigma" - highest priority on the 5-point scale that particle physicists use to assign certainty to the choice of fonts.
And it all comes down to a moment of insight from Gianotti. "When preparing my Higgs presentation, at first, I had Georgia on my mind," she says. "But when I saw the closely spaced, slightly squishy rounded characters in my drop-down menu, I knew in my heart that Comic Sans was the right way to go."
The change of font is the first in a series of proposals ratified by management to update CERN's image, including suggestions such as adding a selfie of Justin Bieber to the CERN logo and rebuilding the LHC in the shape of a triangle. Council also decreed that especially important physics results would from now on be accompanied online by animations of little clappy hands.
The changes will take effect 1 April 2014.