What’s wrong with Tiresias?

Tiresias Screenfont is widely considered a smashing success. Sadly, the kind of people who hold that opinion tend to know nothing, or just a little, about captioning and subtitling or typography. They’re the last people you should trust.

How shocked will you be to learn just how little Tiresias Screenfont has going for it, and how thoroughly people have accepted the font’s marketing as truth?

Documents available

Interview with John Gill (2001)
The researcher behind Tiresias explains how it came about, why legibility is something different from beauty, and why there isn’t an italic
Debunking the research on Tiresias Screenfont
The research that claims to support Tiresias Screenfont’s superiority over other fonts is suspect. They didn’t test with the right people. The people they did test with were old. They changed the experiment between the blind and the deaf subjects. They didn’t report all their results. They used the wrong comparison fonts
Design critique of Tiresias Screenfont
Dissecting the appearance of this oversold, overpriced, near-vapourware font
Response to Ofcom literature review
Petition to U.K. broadcast regulator to commission independent research and, if necessary, typeface development to correct the deficiencies in Tiresias Screenfont research. (This project is not applying to conduct that research)
Speaking notes: “Don’t show printouts to grannies and call that a test”
Presented at ATypI Brighton 2007. All about the research flaws of Tiresias. Gives new principles for research into caption/subtitle fonts

What’s next? The Tiresias clone called Tioga, of course!

What they aren’t telling you about Tiresias

Here’s what you need to know about Tiresias, the claimed magic bullet for every kind of caption or subtitle:

  1. It was tested on only a few dozen people, but is marketed as a font for everyone.
  2. Some of the tests for this claimed caption and subtitle font used printouts, not captions or subtitles.
  3. It’s claimed to be superior to typefaces like Times, even though what we’re talking about are screenfonts, not print fonts.
  4. It costs up to $17,500, but it doesn’t even have an italic.
  5. Its researchers admit to little expertise in typography, yet the researchers’ parent organization receives 40% of the retail price.
  6. It’s claimed to be a better solution to a specific problem than a generic typeface would be, but it has itself turned into a generic typeface that is misapplied to specific problems.
  7. The ingenious, unique typeface has already been partially cloned, via a competing knockoff typeface with a different design and identical widths.
  8. It’s ugly by design.

Good enough or better enough?

If you think Tiresias is good enough or better enough, we’re sure you’ll be surprised by our evidence.

If that is indeed what you think, then you probably also think the entire issue of caption and subtitle screenfonts has been permanently solved. If so, we’d like to ask you a simple question: If the whole idea of Tiresias convinced you that screenfont needs were different from print-font needs, what will it take to convince you that screenfonts themselves have several different needs that can’t all be met by a single font?

If you think Tiresias is bulletproof, go on using it. If you want to spend $17,500 on a single face without an italic, be our guest. But our debunking of the threadbare and unconvincing science behind Tiresias (to say nothing of our design critique) may persuade you that you’ve actually bought a lemon. Nobody likes to hear that. But which would you prefer – to keep on using an overpriced, unproven typeface or to try to solve the real problem?

See also

Also read our design critique of that Tiresias clone, Tioga.

Version history

Posted Gill interview.
Added link to debunk article.
Added link to design critique.
Added link to Tioga critique.
2006.07.27 13:43
Added response to Ofcom literature review.

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