Nancy Dubuc started on May 29 as CEO of Vice Media, the $5.7 billion upstart known for its aggressively edgy attitude. Dubuc, the former CEO of A+E Networks, had accepted the daunting task of leading the business to profitability during a digital media downturn and restoring professionalism to a company rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct.
At 9 am on her first day, she sent a company-wide email introducing herself and laying out her management style and vision for the organization. The memo was clear-eyed, authoritative, and forthright. And for reasons known only to God and Dubuc, it was written in Comic Sans.
As Natalie Jarvey reports in her just-published profile of Dubuc in The Hollywood Reporter:
It took her a month to realize that Vice’s hip employee base, one that averages 30 in age, had been snickering behind her back about the older-skewing font choice. It was her assistant who finally broke the news. “Nick was brave enough to go, ‘They’re laughing at you ’cause of the font,'” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh God.'”
Dubuc’s faux pas is a haunting reminder: Never, ever use Comic Sans at work. Comic Sans is ugly. Comic Sans is childish. Comic Sans will undermine the content of any message, no matter how important or sincere, such that all a reader is capable of taking away from the text is: Look at that goofy font.
Comic Sans was not designed for professional use. It was originally intended to represent the speech of an animated dog in Microsoft Bob, a family-friendly software package released in the mid-1990s.
“It’s almost an anti-technology typeface: very casual, very welcoming,” Microsoft’s Tom Stephens told Quartz’s design reporter, Anne Quito, last year. “When you use Comic Sans, you’re making a statement: ‘I’m more relaxed, more creative. I may be working in this area, but this job does not define me.’”
That may be fine for a rank-and-file employee tasked with making flyers for a company potluck; it is not the message a new CEO wants to convey when taking over a troubled company.
Dubuc knows that now. According to The Hollywood Reporter, when an unflattering magazine profile of Vice appeared less than two weeks after her arrival, she wrote another email to staff to convey calm leadership—this time in a different font, with a message that could have just as well applied to her first attempt at company-wide outreach: “We have a lot to be proud of,” she wrote, “and let’s just let this one roll off our back.”