Please Help! readability issue

faraqat's picture

Hello! I'm starting a project for the development of studying materials for children with learning disabilities, and I was wondering if any of you could direct me to (or has any knowledge of) studies on typography for these specific subject.
I was thinking that the most appropriate would be the use of a clear and simple "ductus" but I've never done anything like this and all the help you could give me would be great!
Thank you so much!

faraqat's picture

Thank you! *

gerry_leonidas's picture

Firstly, when you talk about printed material for children you need to be clear about the separation of typefaces to read in, and typefaces that may be used as models for writing from.
Secondly, there is a lot of research in this field. Start by looking up people like Rosemary Sassoon (has a number of books published, and a PhD, on related matters), Sue Walker's Kidstype project, the work of researchers like Myra Thiessen, Ann Bessemans, and others. There are also studies by designers developing specifically with writing system acquisition in mind (e.g. Hans Eduard Meier's Schulschrift). Florian Hardwig (with Rosemary's contributions) hs done interesting work on this side of things. This stuff is off the top of my head, there's much more around.

One more thing: I'd be very careful with any claims any designer makes about their typeface being better for readers with this need or that special condition. Typeface like Mencap, Teiresias, Read, Sylexiad (and others whose names escape me) make -- to different degrees -- all sorts of claims that they are research-based. Even if there is some research behind them (because some are just based on "designer's intuition") it is often pretty straightforward to see that the research is looking at the wrong thing, or making fundamental assumptions to facilitate the experiment which in reality invalidate the results. In most cases researchers investigate what is most accessible to measurement, rather than what is relevant. Very few at all look into the design of documents at the level of the spread, rather than the letter -- and even fewer combine research into typography and research into the language used.

Aaaanyways, opinions are like the proverbial, so what do I know? But do look into this seriously, there's a lot of material around.

Nick Shinn's picture

Gerry is right, the research that designers of faces for the reading-challenged do is really just product development. It's useful up to a point, but AFAIK, none of these faces have been tested against popular and well-established faces such as Futura, Frutiger, Verdana, Arial, Clearface, or Comic Sans. Yes, Comic Sans; I doubt any serious researcher, or typographer, would consider it a prime candidate for a "readability" face, on account of its name and reputation, and yet why not?--theoretically it checks off a lot of boxes for a readability face. Clearview has been the most rigorously tested of faces (for highway signage), but do those results translate for small text?

At least FS Me (for Mencap) has been designed by an established type designer (usually these faces are amateurish clunkers), and it's interesting that Jason Smith has given it a contemporary look -- not just for purposes of branding, but to facilitate readability "at the level of the spread".

Many of the typeface readability research results that are bandied about use the RSVP (Rapid Serial Visual Presentation) method. Ask yourself how much relevance that has to reading a book.

faraqat's picture

Dear Gerry and Mr. Shinn, thank you for your answers. The first text I read was that of Kevin Larson (from Microsoft I believe), and he talks about the "poor" importance of word shape recognition in comparison with serial letter and parallel letter recognition theories... then I found a number of papers about the subject but none seemed to me to be of great seriousness, that's why your references are important (if you don't know where to look, the web won't tell you... ). My job is to find a typeface that will be used to help children learn to read with exercises/games (there's no long text reading involved), children with learning disabilities, and as far as I've searched there is no real study on this, even for dyslexia experts seem to differ a bit too much on their studies.
My first thoughts are those of intuitiveness, but there are so many opinions about this that I can't find an answer... I'll "dig" into the names you've given me now and hope to see some light...
Thank you*

gerry_leonidas's picture

to help children learn to read with exercises/games (there's no long text reading involved)

I think that the design of the games and exercises is the most important thing, then the use of illustrations and non-representational elements (e.g. arrows) in combination with the layout. Typefaces are not that important in this context. For example, do your images show nouns, verbs, or abstracts? Do the children read the image before the text, and how much can they infer? And so on.

Apart from Myra's work, which is directly relevant, I am reminded of research done by Guille Noel in Edmonton and Parma on games to help recovering patients with aphasia.

Good luck!

faraqat's picture

Dear Mr. Gerry and Mr. Shinn, the project was finally presented and approved! I am very happy with it, but there is still a lot of work to do.
It consisted on packaging layout, mascots for each area being treated, designing the interiors (cards, game boards, etc.) and marketing products. Now we'll start developing the entire line of games.
We decided to go with Sassoon, it looks great and it's very versatile, and the psychologists liked it too! Thank you so much for your help, as soon as it is on market I'll show it here... :)

Best regards*

froo's picture

Have a look at the Comenia project.

faraqat's picture

Dear all,
After almost 2 years, this project finally saw the light of day... :)
Thank you for your help. Hope you enjoy it!

Nick Shinn's picture

Congratulations, it looks like a lot of fun to play.
My favorite character is the happy purple cloud, but the silly bunny has a Stimpy-ish appeal.
Will there be a digital version?

The exit strokes of letters like /u suggest writing.
I think they must activate the part of my brain that I use when writing.
I wonder if the children who see this will have the same experience.

faraqat's picture

Dear Mr. Shinn, thank you!
There is a story behind every character, and when you buy it you can read about it: The red heart is called MO (from eMOtional), she carries all the little emotions. The blue shutter box is called GU (from lanGUage), he can't stop talking. The orange bunny is called MI (from autonoMI), he's the tallest, oldest and most helpfull. The cloud is called CI (from soCIal), she's fluffy and warm and loves hugs.

There were a number of reasons for using Sassoon, just as an example it has the 7 (seven) with the horizontal bar in the middle and that's the way we write it... And those exit strokes you talked about are very close to the way our primary teachers write and teach to write! ohh and it looks great with different kerning adjustments!

For know there is no digital version, and it is only sold in Portugal and Spain. It would take a while to put it in other languages because this involves linguistics and reading/writing therapists...
The best seller is the Sound Safari... kids love animals... :)

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