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Atkinson Hyperlegible Font (christiantietze.de)
293 points by ingve 29 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 86 comments

There's a launcher called BaldPhone, which looks pretty big-shaped and high-contrast, and also open-source: https://baldphone.com

Presumably there are Android phones with oldschool physical navigation buttons—at least there were back when the sky was bluer and the grass greener.

Dunno how the launcher is on the configuration side. But in general I'm sorta attracted to the idea of using it myself. There's the rawness and clarity akin to modernism.


It has black letters on a dark grey background, something the author of the post complains about.

For even bigger, you can find plenty of Android tablets with SIM slots.

The problem with this from a usability perspective is that in many markets, tablets ship without dialer functionality, and carriers frequently will block tablet ESNs from dialing and MMS/SMS functions. Running a VoIP client is always an option, but an extra layer of complexity that the target audience here is likely to struggle with, especially when it comes to troubleshooting.

"tablets ship without dialer functionality, and carriers frequently will block tablet ESNs from dialing and MMS/SMS functions."

I really wonder why they do that.

My personal guess is, they probably want to capture the market for mobile web connection on tablets, and offer cheaper packages for that. But since they don't want you to circumvent regular mobile calls on your phone and use voip instead, you can't purchase these plans with mobile functionality. With phones or dialer-equipped tablets, you'll only get pricier traffic plans. As a bonus, if you want to have mobile calls/sms and cheaper web, you'll have to get two contracts—what's not to like?

Cool! The clock's font size is good. Display contrast could be enough to work. 2x2 tiles instead of 3x3 would be ace.

That looks fantastic!

> In the past, she memorized the number of presses on the “down” key that were required to scroll through her phone book to call someone.

Some things are lost when everything is touch. I remember writing fast on T9 keyboards, and with time learning the order of suggestions it was trivial to text without even looking.

There are also certain games that are hard to play on touch screens. I remember having a gameboy emulator on my old phone, using the number keys for some fast paced games. The same games are impossible to play on touch without feel for the buttons, a lot of misclicking.

> Some things are lost when everything is touch. I remember writing fast on T9 keyboards, and with time learning the order of suggestions it was trivial to text without even looking.

My fingers are not refined enough to reliably hit the tiny hitboxes for regular touch-screen keyboards. This is both with "tap" and "swipe" keyboards.

A few years ago in a HN discussion about phone screen keyboards someone linked the MessageEase keyboard[0], which uses big buttons + swiping. It sounded very "T9"-ish, so I gave it a shot. It actually helped me avoid typos, and it's my "default" keyboard now (there are some quirks that result in it not working with some inputs some of the time, and it isn't up-to-date regarding emojis)


I went with the literal T9 route... Got a KaiOS phone, also it has great repairability compared to any android available in my country.

> Some things are lost when everything is touch. [...]

> There are also certain games that are hard to play on touch screens. I remember having a gameboy emulator on my old phone, using the number keys for some fast paced games. [...]

Same here. I find even something simple as Tetris almost unplayable on a touch screen. I have the impression that kids generally don't have that problem, as they have grown up with touch screens. I don't understand how they do it.

100% agree. Most large mobile phones are useless. Can't feel the keys, or have touch.

This is why I really, really liked the idea of the Blackberry Storm back in the day. I, myself, bought a Blackberry Storm II to replace my Blackberry Bold 9000 and I was over the moon with the clickable touchscreen. I could type so much faster on it than my girlfriend with a first gen Samsung Galaxy S.

But the drawback was the software. It was slow, had few (decent) third party applications and in the end was not optimized for a touchscreen. I would love to see another, modern device like this though.

Have you tried the KeyTwo? It is a normal Android phone with a QWERTY keyboard. I love it.

I have had a touch screen phone for.. decades now?

I still never managed to learned how to use the keyboard correctly. I guess I have sausage fingers.

I was fine with a blackberry / palm and physical buttons. With any (small) touchscreen keyboard, I always have trouble with wrong entries.

I realize that I must be an exception, but personally I find the move to all touchscreen regrettable.

The menus could also be navigated using the number pad as shortcuts (first item=1 key, second=2) so getting to "write a new SMS message" could also be done blind in 2-3 key presses

Why don't you use a T9 keyboard anymore ?

It wasn't really T9 that was so good, it was the physical buttons. No misclicks, compared to a flat screen.

Interesting that the slash in the slashed zero[1] goes from top left to bottom right, as I have always seen it go from top right to bottom left.

I can only guess that this is to differentiate the slashed zero from the slashed O[2] used in Scandinavian.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slashed_zero

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%98

In Ø the slash goes right through the O, so it's quite distinct visually. (Except maybe to near-blind grannies, so I guess orienting 0 the other way around doesn't hurt.)

Many fonts don’t make that distinction for that character which is another good reason for the choice.

Sight for S0rensen eyes? ;)

For those trying out this font, the Print folder will have better rendering (postscript outlines) vs the Web folder (truetype outlines). I use fonts without anti-aliasing, and this shows problems with hinting. One cannot assume either that one's favorite font will continue to render the same way. I have a font where the original release is well hinted without anti-aliasing, but a later version looks much worse.

The fonts have the same characteristics I seek in good monospaced fonts for coding. Was hoping for a monospaced version.

For programming, there's a font "Ubunto Mono" that's similar in spirit:


Im a big fan of the dotted 0, nice font.

Inline link to voice assistants essay was a 404 for me. Here's the correct one until author fixes it:


Too bad there is no monospace version...

It would be incredible for code on screencasts, to make sure even people in the back can easily read what's on the screen.

Indeed, accessibility isn't only for people with disabilities.

From reading their description, the spacing is actually a big part of what makes it readable, though.

that would be great.

I make it so log files load in emacs with a tiny font to allow longer lines. this would help.

Also would be a good early-morning-email or late-night-editing font. :)

Hmmm... could you auto-generate a monospace version with some font tool?

EDIT: seems there might be ways to do this.

See Comic Mono: https://dtinth.github.io/comic-mono-font/

https://tex.stackexchange.com/questions/182972/can-i-turn-a-... seems to do the trick BUT it might not be nice. Uses luatex to convert an otf font to another.

Just saw this: https://github.com/cpitclaudel/monospacifier

Please share if you figure out a way :)

I really like that font.

In case of android, note that there is a Magnification[1] accessibility feature which enables a shortcut on the navigation bar that magnifies any portion of the screen.


I bought flip phone to my grandfather. It’s easy to use, as he just needs to physically open it to answer the call and close it to drop the call. I configured important numbers as shortcuts to 1-9, so he needs to press a button and that’s all. It worked quite good. The only issue is that modern phone factors tend to exclude flip phones.

That he found a font that helps is grandmother is amazing.

But I'm surprised that they're tackling the problem this way rather than getting her cataract surgery. That's what it sounds like and even if she has only a few years to live (statistically) the quality of life improvements are obviously huge. Obviously I have no idea of her actual state of health or if it is in fact cataracts so this might be less than helpful.

It could as well be macular degeneration from the way it's described.

One assumes that, if surgery would be both feasible and helpful, she would have availed herself of it rather than continue with the status quo.

Doctors are incredibly hesitant to operate on someone that old, as there is a much higher risk of bad reaction to anesthesia.

Ah that's a very interesting piece of information! So I guess if you think you're going to get cataracts get the surgery done in your 70s or 80s so you can do it. Not that a person could really plan this.

Oddly, the biggest help for legibility for me without my corrective lenses was the spaces in the numbers, and fitting fewer entries in the same space. It’s hard to objectively judges between the two with such changes between the samples.

The clustering idea came pretty late, sorry, it's not a scientific comparison :)

I just did a drop-in replacement for Arial / Helvetica with Atkinson on one of my websites and size-wise it's on par! I believe this could be quickly implemented across many projects with minimal sizing concerns.

Just installed, seems pretty good. Will be giving it a fair shake for a while.

> By downloading, installing and/or using the font software, you confirm that you have read and agree to be bound by the terms of this End-User License Agreement.

Ironically, I really liked the font the article itself is written in. Does anyone know what font that is?

according to browser dev tools it's Source Serif Pro

Not sure what it is about this font, but it gives me a German vibe. Am I the only one?

Well, it's a German site and the text samples are also German. It'd be hard to distinguish the vibe from that from the vibe of the font itself.

Yes, reminds me of the "Berlin" font.

Can someone please point to an "abcdef..." of the entire font?

Interesting how the 9 is nothing like a rotated 6.

Just tested it. "q" looks like "9".

This looks like an excellent font!

I downloaded and installed it.


Is there no demo if it? (^_^)

Does it work in Hypercard?

I get the visual issue and the font is nice. But Apple has put a lot of effort (and garnered praise from organizations and users) in providing visual assistive technologies. (I don't know what Android does but I'm sure they have a serious approach as well).

Did the author try none of those? As for dialing, the intelligent assistants for both OSs provide a robust and easy to use audio interface - "Hey Siri Dial Taxi".

Maybe I missed something in the sentiment of the article?

OP here:

She also can barely hear, so giving voice commands might work, but understanding the machine-generated audio feedback doesn't work. Also, she can't fix problems, like accidental activation. It's too overwhelming. And that's while she's technologically curious and adopted mobile phones and smartphones to some extent. She just can't use these things properly.

I bet we will have an easier time with these things because we learned how to use them while everything was fine.

His grandmother is 91 years old, and smartphones are complex objects to understand and use, even with assistive technologies. If a 91 year old with normal vision has a hard time using the phone, I don't think adding near-blindness and assistive technology will make it any easier.

You are exactly right.

My mother is 87. She's still pretty sharp, but anything other than a simple flip phone is very frustrating for her. Things just move too fast, too many things "pop up" (like notifications, etc) and she doesn't know the different types of gestures needed to control it well.

Totally! I often wonder how much accidental functional ADHD we are training ourselves to suffer from when I see how elderly people including my granny react to modern tech devices and all the movement, flashes, animations, notifications, ...

Many of us with imperfect eyesight like to read still. With text on a page or a screen. Fonts are (if designed for utility) a delicate art balancing expressiveness and readability. Some hew more in one direction or the other. This one favors readability.

As a blurry eyed person in my midlife period who consumes a lot of written word, text and code I very much appreciate any efforts to make it easier on my eyes and my brain, especially in type that is nice to look at.

There are also customizable fonts like


I find an extra bit of built in spacing helpful.

Yup! I still use a custom Input Mono for coding.

Wrote a short follow up in case you're interested: https://christiantietze.de/posts/2021/01/voice-assistants-an...

BTW, on the Atkinson page, the link to this page is broken (you included the .md)...

Fixed! Thanks

I really enjoyed both write-ups. Precise, technical and humane at the same time!

Thanks for telling me! Glad I found a tone that rang well

Have you seen a young person have 100% success with a voice assistant, let alone a 91yo? Not a chance I'm sending Granny with whatever my phone thinks 'taxi' is.

Is 100% success your level of success? I think a nice font that assists users with low vision level is an excellent idea which I said and I thought the font was very well designed.

What happens when your vision is too poor to read even the best designed font?

At that point 100% success is an unrealistic level and so a discussion about how smart assistants work or even other assistive functionality is a fair discussion and one the author did not mention at all.

I think failing to some extent is fine, if the feedback is good and the device returns to a clean state. Even on a phone with buttons, she sometimes fat-fingers the wrong button super close to the phone-book-down key and ends up in the main menu, scrolls down 10x, then tries to hit the dial button for e.g. display settings. Phone appears broken because it just doesn't dial, and neither resets itself for invalid input so she could start over. She has no mental map of the various other states the phone might be in, and in confusion forgets that the hang-up button also returns to the home screen. Things are less than ideal.

> Is 100% success your level of success?

Yes. Yes, it is.

For some reason we're sold on the idea of "good enough" for things that are actually "just barely usable under perfect conditions". And this doesn't apply only to voice assistants.

And, like, 100% success or very close to it is fairly standard across the line–if you flip a light switch the light turns on, if you turn a door handle the door opens. When you give someone something complicated and novel and it doesn't even do the thing you say it should do consistently that just tanks confidence in being able to use the thing.

This fellow’s grandmother doesn’t have a mobile device - she uses a telephone. I don’t see the value in making an older adult learn to use an entirely different technology when they just want to be able to call a taxi on their landlines.


She had a Windows Phone for years because you could zoom-in the tiles and thus increase touch targets for quick dialing. That eventually broke down, too, because of lack of haptic feedback and, well, we all can hardly imagine how hard it is to navigate a device like that when everything's so blurry you cannot see the space between huge-ass tiles on a, what, 6" screen or so.

Intelligent assistants are good at setting alarms.

Other than that, in the real world, they seem to rarely work. You can come up with a curated list and make sure it's all working correctly. But as soon as you do something novel, all bets are off.

Not sure what world you live in but at least on iOS Siri is highly accurate and can interact with enough of the system that it is highly useful.

In the original post's case calling contacts is a trivial exercise and one that works 99% of the time accurately. Reading and sending texts is also a rock solid feature.

Again my main issue with the article was that these assertive features were not even discussed.

Non-English world, perhaps?

And even if you use English, any kind of non-US accent is pretty much doomed.

And even if your accent is 100% Silicon Valley denizen, any app that uses your input for searching will possibly have ambiguities or incorrectness on the results, and currently there are very few tools to correct misunderstanding, even if it doesn't mishear.

And that is assuming that search results are even deterministic, many apps either randomize (or "personalize" for business interests) or update their search logic regularly enough for it to be a problem for a casual user.

Calling a taxi to the wrong destination (for example) is very much not acceptable, ever.

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