Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Optician Sans – A free font based on the historical eye charts (optician-sans.com)
250 points by dcschelt on Dec 12, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 91 comments

Is it just me, or is the gaussian blur effect on the website a bit excessive / headache inducing?

Cover your right eye. Do you still have the problem? Now try the left.

Sort of a stroke simulator effect. I agree that it's quite unpleasant, but it's also the only reason I shared the link to the rest of my company so I suppose it's done it's job and gotten us talking.

Doesn't do it for me, maybe you need an eye exam!

didn't even see it because of noscript lol

I don't understand why anyone would want that. I'd imagine that the eye charts use characters that are intentionally close to each other, in order to better measure visual acuity. Just look at how similar the C and the O are, for example. This font seems like it would make text harder to read, not easier.

Typography is has subjective aspects such as evoking the feeling of a particular aspect of design. Just as old western fonts, Art Deco type, and Baskerville; Optician Sans is a brilliant take on typography. A large number of people have glasses and at one point or another, we’ve carefully studied and read the letters on the eye charts, yet it’s so obscure and not something people think about.

As far as the application is concerned, it can be used for perhaps for a optical company branding? The recognition factor is a huge asset in branding.

Legibility argument falls apart - otherwise we wouldn't have Zapfino and Bodoni. In certain situations, legibility takes a backseat over stylistic intentions. In other cases, yes you're right - I wouldn't want my blood test results to be misread. Another area where fonts can have devastating effects is say for example lack of a slashed 0 in nuclear missile launch codes. But we are in good hands with respect to typography and design for serious things - the Martin Baker EJECT seat handles in fighter jets don't use comic sans and they have bright yellow stripes for super fast visual recognition. :-)

The biggest use would likely be to recreate eye charts

Yep, this can be seen in the embedded video around the 13 second mark.

I think it's interesting that "sans" seems more important to indicate something is a font, than indicate it has no serifs.

Like US soccer teams with "United" in their names.

or FC (and I'm an FC Dallas fan)

This is actually a Sans font though, the E with serifs is a different font, an older one called Snellen.

(they could make a Serif variant based on Snellen instead of on Sloan)

It's pretty common to distinguish your font from others with a description in the name, be it sans/serif/slab/mono/condensed/extended, etc — it does communicate "this is a font" clearly but it's also useful when you're in an application just looking at a text list of font names.

Yep, kind of a font namespacing, e.g. Sans::SourcePro vs. Serif::SourcePro.

Yeah, but it is just all E's!

I invite you to do a pull request here: https://github.com/eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee/eeeeeeee...

with only the E characters of the font. It would be a welcome addition.

alas it ees archived

Curious if somebody compressed all existing font designs into a small latent space, using vector representation. It seems to me that fonts are quite similar (or can be clustered that way) with a few hard choices on shapes of characters like "a", "G", and weight, slant.

You may be interested in "computational typography"[1], "mathematical typograhy"[2], and "variable fonts"[3].

[1] http://printingcode.runemadsen.com/lecture-typography/ [2] PDF: http://www.math.lsa.umich.edu/~millerpd/docs/501_Winter08/Kn... [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variable_fonts

You might enjoy "Learning a Manifold of Fonts" from SIGGRAPH 2014. Here's a point in the middle of the paper's presentation that demos the navigation within the learned space:


I enjoyed the mistake in the Alphabet. (-:

That licence almost certainly does not count as "free".

Haha, typo is fixed! And to clarify licensing, I've updated it to SIL OPEN FONT LICENSE.


Sometimes WYXZ is a hidden clue in an alternate reality game. Sometimes it is just an QWERTY typing error. (-:

I hope that M. Krzywinski gave you some inspiration for lowercase.

I have no problem with the license. It's free to me!

If you wanted to use the font in a commercial work, your legal team would absolutely not approve. There are free font licenses that say exactly what they want, but in more specific legal speak that guarantees protection.

It's free as in beer.

The second word of the licence is definitely "free" as in freedom.

Font copyright and font licensing is a tricky thing. (There's an argument that some people make, for example, that bitmap fonts such as the 5x5 original Snellen glyphs, cannot be copyrighted.) The SIL Open Font Licence might have been a better choice.

You're absolutely right. SIL Open Font Licence is a better choice and I've changed the licensing to that now.

Why are the last 3 letters in the alphabet ("Y X Z") out of order?

It seems to be a mistake. The image files are named as being characters 25 and 24 correctly.

Some background on the history of eye charts: https://ilovetypography.com/2015/07/12/what-are-optotypes-ey...

(Found via http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/snellen-optotype-font/, when searching for a Snellen font)

I wouldn't enjoy reading anything using the lowercase letters in M. Krzywinski's fonts. (-:

I see that xe went back to the original "e" shape in July 2017.

>"LICENSING Feel free to use this typeface on your website, print, startup or organisation. But don’t be a jerk and distribute or sell the typeface as if it was your own. A link back to this site from your website would be really much appreciated! And let us know if you use this typeface for a project you think we should know about."

this is not a license, people, please just stick the CC license of your choice on it or something.

> this is not a license

Yes, it is: express permission from the rights holder to do something covered by their exclusive rights is a license.

The wording is casual, but that doesn't make it not a license.

It's not a license recognized my companies licensing software, so it's not a license to me.

That's a defect of your software (and, perhaps more, your company's decision to use software as a source of truth on what is a license, rather than a tool for tracking licenses that deals with real-world licensing), not the license.

You're both correct. It's a license, but it's not a License.

Legal departments don't want to go through the hassle of trying to keep track of hundreds of different licenses for relatively small things like fonts, so they require those sorts of resources to come with Standardized Licenses like CC or BSD.

If you have an internal process for respecting licenses, and that process is simplified by picking from a list, then that's probably fine. It just mean that this license is not one that you can use, there are many such licenses.

If you belong to one of those companies that is sloppy with licensing, then you might end up using those fonts, and being legally constrained by the license, informal or not.

Either way, it's a license, and that fact affects your options.

It looks like your software isn't very good at recognising licenses.


Uncivil comments will get you banned here. Please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html.

Why is this not in the spirit of HN? It’s not condescending, but yet still delivers that ‘je ne sais quoi‘[0] level of comment.

[0] I had to duck it to get the correct spelling

There is a general consensus in the open-source type community around the SIL Open Font License: https://scripts.sil.org/cms/scripts/page.php?site_id=nrsi&id... It’s what most of the fonts on Google Fonts, including such widely-used families as Adobe’s Source Sans Pro and Google’s own Roboto family, are licensed under, and something I imagine the creators of Optician Sans would be comfortable with.

In this case, though, it's likely the creators would be more than receptive to giving you a legitimate CC-BY license if you ask. They're likely just not familiar with the CC-BY details. Rather than shaming their work for it, let's enjoy it with the understanding that there are humans in the loop with the flexibility to offer bespoke licensing, and licensing will be sorted out if it needs to be.

This is not excusable when you're putting out the work and claiming it to be free to use and later some chap uses it, they get sued because the wording was vague. There is some level of professionalism and ethics that is required to avoid nasty situations. Criticism of their wording, lack of license and the need for adopting existing licenses (don't roll your own license if possible) is valid.

"Rather than shaming their work for it,.." - No one is shaming their work. We are talking about the licensing terms. I love the font concept and I think its brilliant.

The creators are obviously not interested in suing some chap for using the font unless he claims it's his own font. And even then, the poorly worded license would make suing harder, not easier.

People should be able to share their work under common-sense terms without being sucked into Kafka's swirling cesspool of legalese and bureaucracy. The demonic inhabitants of that dimension can just... choose not to use it.

Regardless, any legal department worth its salt will avoid touching this wording of a license with a ten foot pole. Which means that only hobbyist will use it.

It would be great if businesses worked on common sense and honor, but that's not the world we're living in.

The legal department can give advice, but they can't stop the company from using it anyway. So just ask the legal department: Realistically, how likely are we to be sued if we use this font according to the most obvious interpretation of the license as written? (Free to use, but don't take credit for it.) Listen to the answer, and then apply common sense.

It's policy at most companies to terminate employees who act against the express advice of legal department on legal matters (especially where a low-value asset like a font can trigger high-risk legal exposure). In many companies, that would even be considered a for-cause termination, meaning no severance.

So think about it this way: is it worth risking your career over a silly font? Because common sense in this situation is to just do what Legal says.

So don't use it. Just be clear that it's a self-imposed limitation based on irrational fantasies and there is little to no actual risk. Back on Earth, the font's creators clearly gave permission to use it under one simple condition that would be hard to violate. There's more risk of being sued for using GPL software because it's easier to violate.

If the font's creators do turn out to be loonies and start filing frivolous lawsuits, that's an ever-present (small) risk regardless of the license.

> Just be clear that it's a self-imposed limitation based on irrational fantasies

What an interesting problem, legalism as religion.

But they didn't give "clearly give permission" (in the original release). Because they also said "don't be a dick about it" which is an incredibly vague restriction. Is that limited to claiming ownership of the font? Does that include using it in military applications? What about criminals?

At any rate, this point is moot since they re-licensed it under a real license by the time I responded to your comment.

It was already just as "real" as any license, and I'm disappointed that they caved to the ridiculous people, but it just validates my point that they were in fact giving permission to use it. The new license is more restrictive about sales.

My entire point is that anyone who wants to use this font will shoot an email to the creators asking to use it under CC-BY, before escalating to the legal department. That's the human in the loop.

Good point. But then you agree that a proper legally coded license is needed to interconnect the human side with the inhuman world of enterprise legalese.

Many businesses do work on common sense and honor, just not those that employ lawyers.

my comment was mostly intended for HN readers, who may also be likely to release small projects of their own in the future; I strongly feel anyone making works subject to copyright needs a basic understanding of licensing. Reading up on this stuff only takes a few hours, and a work released under a standard license makes things nice for both the creator and the user.

People are either not going to care because they don’t really care what license, open source or otherwise, it’s under. Or they’ll simply drop it like a hot potato because it’s got a weird license. To a first or second degree no one will contact them to see if it’s ok for some specific application.

It's a license, just not a very tightly worded one. "I was not being a jerk AND distributing ..." But the intent is clear enough.

and at least when it comes to contracts, ambiguity goes in favour of the party that didn’t write it afaik? so it’s a VERY permissible license if that holds

Yes, as long as you're not a jerk while you do it, you're fine. I'm curious how a judge will determine whether or not you are one.

It's a nonfree license (which alone is sufficient to make me look elsewhere for functional replacements); the license disallows commercial redistribution and contains no language that permits modification.

This license is also sufficiently unclear that I'm not sure what rights exist for licensees. With licenses that have been reviewed (such as the reviews on https://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html#Fonts ) I can find amenable free software licenses.

Wow, I'm afraid of what "let us know if you use this typeface for a project you think we should know about." means if interpreted as legalese.

Also, why even mention startups? Startup is such a buzzword that everyone wants to cash in on.

They could have just simply said “Please feel free to use for personal or commercial use. For full license details see this link: license.txt”

They could have said a lot of things. Near infinite actually.

Really cashing in with that free font.

You're totally right. It's unclear. And that's way I've decided to release this under the SIL Open Font Licence instead. Website is updated.

thanks! no hard feelings, I really like the font.

I agree, the license is a nonstarter. Might be okay for a personal project, but would avoid for anything else.

It certainly does count as a license, just very ambiguous which could scare off some people who would use it. So, yes, it would still be a lot better to actually specify one of the more commonly used licenses.

I like it. It would have been nice to include at least the full set of ascii char glyphs. It seems to be missing a few basic chars such as tilde, gt and lt.[1]

[1] https://i.imgur.com/di6oHxV.png

You're right, it's missing some basic characters. Thinking about releasing it open source to see if anything would like to contribute.

Odd that the site does not use the font they are proclaiming is better.

It's better for eye charts, not running copy on websites.

yes they are... the logo of "OPTICIAN SANS" on the main section at the top is using it.


All headings are set in Optician Sans.

One thing I learned from this link is the traditional eye exam charts are from a set of only 10 characters. Interesting, good to know.

Looks beautiful, I'm glad I've found this.

Nevertheless I've been actually click-baited by the post title thinking it's a font designed for reading efficiency based on eye movement analysis.

What are some fonts actually made to help you read faster, easier and comprehend more?

This one appeared on hn some time ago:


I use "Hack" in my editor, one of the only fonts that puts me at ease when programming. Other than that, I'm always happy to see the system font stack used on webpages.

there are fonts designed for dyslexia, they look weird but are actually fairly readable.



i suppose the amount of science is open to debate but there are centuries of practice behind serif body fonts although the details depend a lot on the reproductive medium and other specifics.

A typography site that breaks it's main headline on mobile is a bit too much carelessness in my book.


Woops! Fixed.

After the fourth or fifth tine I’m now realizing that great fonts are the most work-life enhancing thing I’ve interacted with on Hacker News.

The G looks exactly like the Google logo.

Geometric G = Google. Basically. You can always use the alternative G glyph included in the font!

Wish they had a monospace version. Doesn't work well as a terminator font, I tried. heh.

Great idea! Maybe We'll make that too.

Looks like a great alternative to Microgramma and its cousins.

Finally... I can cheat on my eye exams and get a good grade

Edit: This font is pretty great imo

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact