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University of Portsmouth news

The latest study and research news from the University of Portsmouth

January 2011


Design student wins international fame

Second-year University of Portsmouth student Matt Dempsey got a lot more than he bargained for when he put his design project online to be assessed.

Matt’s stickers designed as part of his campaignHe told his tutor that if just one person visited his website and it inspired them to think about what typefaces suited different purposes then he would consider it a success.

But within minutes of going live his website was being praised by web designers and within hours he had won international ‘fame’ by becoming a top trending topic on social website Twitter with over 10,000 users mentioning his work.

By the end of the first day 90,000 visitors had seen his website. Articles sprang up on websites and blogs worldwide. Job offers started flooding in, culminating in an invitation to hear more about a job opportunity at one of the world’s most famous websites.

Matt, 21, said: ‘You could say it’s been a bit insane.’

It all started with a six-week project at the University of Portsmouth where Matt is studying Graphic Design in the School of Art, Design and Media. He designed a booklet and website criticising the widespread inappropriate use of the typeface Comic Sans, arguing that its use on official or serious documents should be stopped and that the font was suitable only in select circumstances; for young children, comic books and in some cases, those with dyslexia.

ComicSansCriminal.com went live on Tuesday before Christmas and he uploaded a screenshot to the work-in-progress sharing design community Dribbble.com. Seconds later designers began posting the website link on Twitter and Facebook and as Matt said: ‘The mayhem began.

Designer Matt Dempsey‘The site had 90,000 unique visitors up until midnight on Tuesday, and those aren’t even page views, those are literally 90,000 different people seeing it.

‘By Tuesday evening "Comic Sans" had become a trending topic on Twitter and was second only to "Christmas" as the most talked about subject by millions of users worldwide. It’s had over 34,000 Facebook "likes" and 14,000 tweets since launching. It was impossible to count in the first 48 hours, there was literally one every couple of seconds.

‘On Wednesday the site received a further 150,000 unique visits. I was featured on tons of blogs and had a few articles written about me, most notably on HOWDesign.com, Fast Company’s design blog, DaringFireball.net and on Christmas Eve I was Yahoo!’s website of the day.’

Even the designer of the Comic Sans typeface joined in the discussion on Twitter – though he defended himself by criticising Matt for not yet designing a typeface as popular.

ComicSansCriminal.com is now the fourth result on Google for "Comic Sans" out of almost five million, which is an impressive feat in such a short period of time in search engine terms.

‘During the excitement I received several freelance job offers and an invitation to hear more about a job opportunity in America with a very well known website. They’re keeping my CV on file for when I graduate.’

Matt’s tutor, course leader for the BA (Hons) Graphic Design, Sarah Houghton said she was overwhelmed by the attention Matt’s website had received.

She said: ‘Graphic Design students learn how to communicate messages using type and image. They understand that every aspect of the design will be "read" and interpreted by the audience and that each typeface has its own voice, tone or association. Matt chose Comic Sans as a clear example of where inappropriate use can detract from or undermine the intended message.

‘As part of their evaluation students are asked to test their design on their intended audience and consider if it works. I think the answer in this case is a resounding yes!’

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