Design critique of Tiresias Screenfont

Elsewhere, we pretty much blew out of the water all of the so-called “research” that claims to justify the use of Tiresias Screenfont for captioning. But how successful is the design of the font? (See full character showing [PDF].)

“Amateur” in one sense

In no way could Tiresias be considered an amateur design save for one: Apparently no one got paid to design it. John Gill separately told us that the design team had “15 people in it, all of them unpaid.” The closest thing to a type designer anywhere in the gladhanding documentation of this near-vapourware project are Chris Sharville (of Laker-Sharville) and Peter O’Donnell. We assume that qualified type designers worked for nothing on this font because the ostensible beneficiaries were disabled and the commissioner was a charity.

We don’t see this as a viable model for developing fonts for captions and subtitles; the reading demands of those media are too precise and exacting to be borne on the backs of designers’ free time. People with disabilities are too important to rely on charity. Besides, if we’re paying you we can demand better work.

Nevertheless, even working for nothing it is unlikely that experienced type designers could colossally screw up, and indeed that did not happen with Tiresias. On first blush it seems to be a viable font, and many features obviously have been well considered. The problem is that the designers are not being graded on intentions or general success; the criterion of interest is actual suitability to caption and subtitle use, and that means all the details count, not just the ones they got right. And “actual suitability” applies to all caption and subtitle viewers, not just the low-vision grannies who dominated the testing phase of this typeface’s development.

General features

Confusable shapes

Some clear effort went into differentiating oft-confused shapes:

Unnatural forms

Tiresias falls down completely on a few notable letters.

Accented forms

Pi characters

Can Tiresias be salvaged?

No. And in fact things are getting worse, since sources tell us that a Cyrillic version has been commissioned, again without italics.

Version history

2006.02.16 16:24

You were here: Screenfont.caFontsToday’s fonts
Tiresias → Design critique of Tiresias Screenfont