One of the most popular newsletters I ever published was about fonts. In it I discussed the differences among their characteristics and personalities (yes, dear reader: fonts have personalities and sometimes even a bit of attitude), and recommended the best types of fonts to use in tables, graphs, and dashboards. It seems that folks find fonts fun. (They also adore alliteration!)
Imagine, therefore, my delight when I learned about a (relatively) new font designed to help people with dyslexia navigate text in a way that will reduce confusion and add clarity for them.
Developed by Dutch designer Christian Boer (who has dyslexia), the font has been around since 2008, but is getting new, widespread attention thanks to having been featured at the Istanbul Design Biennial. (And you thought Istanbul was just a fun word to say in combination with Constantinople.)
According to Boer, interviewed for the (very cool) British design magazine Dezeen, “When they’re reading, people with dyslexia often unconsciously switch, rotate, and mirror letters in their minds…Traditional typefaces make this habit more troublesome, because they base the design of some letters on those of others, inadvertently creating ‘twin letters’ for people with dyslexia.”
Here’s an example:
To avoid confusion, Boer designed letters that with heavier bottom halves, making it less likely that a reader might flip them. He also made some openings in the letters larger, and slightly tilted some that closely resemble others, such as “b” and “d.” Dyslexie also incorporates more space between letters and words, to help prevent a dyslexic reader from seeing a confused jumble of text. Finally, the font defaults to dark blue, which, Boer says, “is more pleasant to read for dyslexics.”
So why am I so jazzed about this new font? Well, first, about 10% of the world’s people (including several I know and love) are dyslexic. Anything that helps ease their struggle with the written word is terrific. Second, I continue to be awed and amazed at how staggeringly important design is — how a change in the design of even an apparently small or ordinary thing (a font) can change people’s experience of the world, and improve the way they live and move through reality.
In this particular situation, design change also holds the promise of making our communication more inclusive: just as we know not to use the dreaded red, yellow, or green in our charts because 10% of our viewers are color-blind and can’t differentiate between those three colors, we may soon be promoting the use of the Dyslexie font to help those living with dyslexia read and understand more easily and quickly.
I will be actively watching and cheering research and development on this innovative and useful font (and associated efforts), in the hopes that a new design will go a long way toward solving an age-old problem.