Typeface for dyslexics

kosal's picture

I'm glad there's research and effort, but wonder if the brief could've translated into a more pleasing design, like how Frutiger handled OCR-B.

http://www.studiostudio.nl/en/project-dyslexie/

blank's picture

Ugh…they could have just made a few tweaks to News Gothic and got the same effect without making the font so damned hideous.

russellm's picture

oh cripes. The typographic answer to orthopedic shoes, but even uglier.

William Berkson's picture

Note there is no testing, just a bald claim. This kind of stuff seems to come out several times a year, with no testing or bogus testing. And none of them seem to have done their homework.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Hey, there was "testing." They found that dyslexics made fewer mistakes with this typeface than they did with Arial! OMG! :)

Of course, this is hardly surprising, and one actually expects that many, perhaps most typefaces would perform better than Arial in this regard.

It didn't improve reading speed, btw.

So there is no particular validated reason to choose this typeface over, say, any other humanist sans.

Cheers,

T

sevag's picture

Don't forget about Natascha Frensch - http://typophile.com/node/2527

Correct me if I'm wrong, I was told that Rosemary Sassoon's Sassoon was designed for dyslexics as well.

SB

Nick Shinn's picture

Speaking of fugly, here's something I developed back in the New Typography days, but never got around to publishing.
The premise was to design a typeface where every glyph was unique to the typeface.
(Yeah, I didn't get around to figuring out I and O.)
What a great theory for a dyslexic font!
Should I release it with the name Dyslexia?

phrostbyte64's picture

Being dyslexic, I can tell you from personal experience that there is no way to develop a font that will solve problems with reading. I don't know if dyslexic think in pictures or not. I thought everyone did that. I can tell you that one of the main components of the "condition" is that things get re-ordered in the short term memory. I can't see the shape of the letters making any difference. I found this font to be mostly just irritating.

James

Nick Shinn's picture

Sorry James, I was poking fun at the (no doubt well-meaning) makers of fonts-for-dyslexics, not at the readers.

Matthew Dixon's picture

I sit firmly on the fence in terms of the usefulness or otherwise of these – I'm not dyslexic – but surely a typeface with a purpose, no matter how misguided we think it may be, is far more valid than one that looks pretty. Sheesh ... there are plenty of those already.

Anyway, Dr Rob Hillier has done quite a lot of interesting research into this field, and designed a typeface for dyselics called Sylexiad. The less generous among us may say 'wow, this is hideous' but then, that's hardly the point ...

http://www.robsfonts.com/sylexhome.html
http://www.robsfonts.com/Resources/Ultrabold_21.pdf

William Berkson's picture

Matthew, thanks. I looked at and read a little about Sylexiad. I was surprised, given how often this idea is tried, that it actually seems to have something to recommend it.

Nick Shinn's picture

…that's hardly the point…

But it is.
It stigmatizes the abnormal with ugliness, to put it bluntly.
Furthermore, it assumes that there is no readability benefit in a professionally polished (which you deride as "pretty") execution.
And it privileges the idea that good intentions trump mere functionality—i.e. there may be many already existing typefaces, designed with other criteria than readability for dyslexics, that would perform just as well if not better, but the scientist with the funding to make a New Font For The Reading Challenged can conveniently ignore those.

Jason Smith has shown that it is possible to have the best of both worlds, with Fontsmith's Mencap typeface.

Matthew Dixon's picture

... stigmatizes the abnormal with ugliness ...

Not meaning to come over all 'form follows function', but our notions of what is ugly or beautiful shouldn't come into it if it helps someone to read (and perhaps, not being able to read effectively is more stigmatizing than being lumbered with an ugly typeface?).

Nick, you're right - the Mencap typeface is beautiful, but it addresses a completely different issue (learning disability vs dyslexia), and it does not address the 'needs' of a dyslexic readership (if we are to agree that a typeface can do this anyway).

It's not about designers ignoring the tried-and-tested (i.e. for non-dyslexic audiences) formula - the research suggests that there is a fundamental need for characters to not follow conventional lines - ruling out most typefaces already in existence.

I was being deliberately glib when I derided pretty execution, of course there's no reason why these shouldn't be professional and polished (and yes, even beautiful) typefaces. But we're all looking at them from a different perspective.

Nick Shinn's picture

- the research suggests that there is a fundamental need for characters to not follow conventional lines - ruling out most typefaces already in existence.

Not the research, the theory.
The theory argues against symmetrical and transformably-identical shapes in simple sans serifs.
But there are gazillions of typefaces which already follow that principle (it's inherent in the traditional chirographic, serifed oldstyle), which have not been researched or tested.
In the mass, already existing typefaces can hardly be called conventional. One would expect they follow a bell curve of conventionality. Quite apart from most typefaces in existence, there are a substantial number that might be appropriate.

If I was designing a typeface for this readership from scratch, I would experiment with clean shapes, then varying asymmetric distribution of weight, and with various arrangements of "some serifs" (e.g. as in TheMix).

But has anyone ever tested TheMix for readability?
No, they test Arial, and then take off on their own tangent.

As Thomas says, what about the humanist sans faces?
Compared with Arial, they are unconventional.

phrostbyte64's picture

Nick, no worries. I thought it was funny. Your Dyslexic font is interesting, by the way.

As to the theory, I wish them luck and hope it works, but I have my doubts.

James

Chris Dean's picture

For those who didn’t stumble across it by accident (as I did):

http://www.ilo.gw.utwente.nl/ilo/index.php?option=com_content&view=artic...

There is a link to his thesis at the bottom of the page.

Chris Dean's picture

Yet another example of typography as a science. Nor would I call it bogus.

Matthew Dixon's picture

The theory (backed up by research of varying degrees of trustworthiness) argues against symmetrical and transformably identical shapes in simple sans serifs...

Yes, but our understanding of what is transformably identical is limited to our own perception - how identical does identical have to be before it becomes problematic to that particular audience? Is stress enough?

All I'm saying is, I'm not (along with 90-95% of the rest of the world) the best person to comment on the readability of Dyslexie or Sylexiad. I'm simply not the target audience. And if the do help (and it's a big if), dismissing them as ugly seems a bit much...

DrDoc's picture

When we're putting it down as "ugly", though, we're also putting it down as ignoring some of the principles of typography that have been developed over centuries. I want to avoid a semantics argument, but it's my understanding that the primary concern of this typeface is legibility — the ability to distinguish between individual letterforms. The researchers who developed Dyslexie decided that the best way to do this is to emphasize the differences between characters, rather than make them follow the same rational construction. However, they accomplished this by applying the warp tool to a rationally constructed neo-grotesque

Many of the principles they "discovered" to aid legibility have been used by type designers for centuries, just more subtly. What we're arguing is that Dyslexie and other psychologist-developed typefaces do not accomplish their goals any better than many humanist typefaces do, and when a typeface has no sense of balance (as Dyslexie does not), then it loses readability — i.e. the ability to read it over long periods of time without experiencing eye fatigue.

Matthew Dixon's picture

It loses readability to me. But it's not for me, and it may or may not be highly readable to it's target audience. The principles of typography that have developed over centuries are not principles that have taken any dyslexic readership into account.

To my eyes, Dyslexie might be ugly, but (again) that's hardly the point ...

Chris Dean's picture

See also:

Klein, R.M. & McMullen, P. (1999). Converging Methods for Understanding Reading and Dyslexia. Cambridge: MIT Press

vilbel's picture

Why not just test a lot of different typefaces on dyslectics? Could've been very interesting, also as a possible starting point for developing a typeface especially suited for dyslectics.

quadibloc's picture

I do remember reading somewhere that there is no such thing as a dyslexic in China, because the Chinese characters are not designed with geometrical shapes that are used in upside-down and reversed forms.

Anyways, I am sure that stigmatizing does not come into this. Instead, no doubt, the makers of this typeface, who are safeguarding their intellectual property, are hoping that all school textbooks from now on will be printed in this new typeface. Think of the children!

Of course there may be existing typefaces with some of the properties of this one that would also be more readable by dyslexics. But they're probably display faces - whereas for this purpose one wishes to use an "infanta" design as the starting point.

For example, I doubt that schools would be willing to specify that textbook publishers use Fairy Tale from Comicraft to typeset their textbooks, even if it also meets the technical requirements.

EDIT: With the passage of time, Comicraft has rearranged their web site. Current link:

http://www.comicbookfonts.com/Fairy-Tale-p/cl329.htm

Jens Kutilek's picture

It loses readability to me. But it's not for me, and it may or may not be highly readable to it's target audience

It seems to be a common misconception that target readerships are separated groups (e.g. of non-dyslectics vs. dyslectics, visually impaired vs. normal vision people ...).

Unless you want to produce and use multiple versions of each sign, notice, book, etc. a typeface that performs better for a minority but worse for the majority is useless.

hrant's picture

Matthew, go get 'em.
Don't let the fashion-mongers slow you down.

hhp

quadibloc's picture

I may have been unfair - the emphasis on protecting intellectual property in this face may have been to prevent imitations which lack some of the important beneficial features of it, rather than an aim to get rich. But that is the impression created when this issue is placed front and center.

William Berkson's picture

There are different questions here. One is whether introducing more asymmetry produces a face that those with dyslexia like better. A second is whether the asymmetry actually helps dyslexics read better. A third is whether such an asymmetrical face has to be ugly. The answer to the first, with Sylexiad, seems to be "yes." I don't think the second, key question has a good answer. I'm pretty sure the answer to the third is "no".

russellm's picture

Do people with dyslexia have the same difficulties reading hand written texts as with printed ones?

phrostbyte64's picture

First of all, dyslexia is a diverse condition. Second, it can affect how the printed, written and spoken word is processed. I can't speak for all of those with dyslexia, but this has been my experience. Third, this theory is flawed. I don't care how much of the alphabet someone has behind their name, their theory is incomplete, at best. The determining factor is how a child is taught to read. That is the direction research should take. But, if we must make a font we think will help children with dyslexia learn how to cope with the printed word, please, let's make it one that has some aesthetic appeal. As dyslexics we have our wires crossed. We are not blind or stupid.

James

Did I mention that having dyslexia makes typing a pain? Left and right don't have a lot of meaning and spelling is troublesome.

gusnicklos's picture

I love the concept. I'm dyslexic and agree with some of the findings. I do see type 3 dimensionally. Things aren't that lumpy through my eyes though.

Rob Mientjes's picture

All I see is a severely tortured Arial, waiting for the killing blow.

With that amount of research, all they could do is mutilate Arial in a font editor? That's the lazy way out. Like many others in the thread, I think something can be made — for that group of dyslexics who suffer from the symptoms stated in the Twente University research — that is both more legible for dyslexics and more attractive as a design. As Nick says, "It stigmatizes the abnormal with ugliness, to put it bluntly." I think it can be done better.

(Note that I'm not throwing myself into the mix: I am a decorative designer, focused more on beauty as a function than legibility as the sole goal. I'm not a technical researcher. I like researching by throwing things out there and seeing what sticks.)

lukejonesme's picture

I severely doubt mainstream media is going to use that font in anything, so don't worry about it.

Sorry, I know I'm a buzz kill but there are so many terrible typefaces out there making bald claims, it's all just water under the bridge. As long as a client doesn't come along and ask me to use that, I'll survive.

hrant's picture

Ah, but if a client asks you to design for dyslexia, what do you do?

hhp

Chris Dean's picture

Depends on the context. Textbook = function trumps aesthetics = use a font that you personally might find “terrible” (subjective) but your audience may appreciate. And you never know, if asked to look at a specimen sheet, persons with dyslexia might find it “ugly” but after reading it for a few hours and noticing a significant difference in their performance they may start to like it. In it’s function lies it’s beauty.

russellm's picture

Function never trumps aesthetics. Aesthetics is about appropriate design. Not pretty design.

When it comes to type, literacy, readability and legibility, ugliness is very much a factor. What do we really mean by ugly anyhow? (Who even asks that question?) With type, it surely isn't just the opposite of "pretty". Good design stopped being about decorating functional things with flowery doodads a about a century ago.

Aesthetics have a real function. It isn't just about making things pretty. It is about making them work. There are things which, on a fundamental level, are either ugly or attractive which just about everyone in the world would agree are either ugly or attractive. What is the reason for that? I think it is something hard wired into the brain and is part of how we make sense of the world around us (in a similar way we use analogies like "Hardwired"). A tidy room is more attractive than a messy one because it works. You can find a place to sit down for starters. If you say you prefer messy rooms, that probably means you like the rooms you yourself have made messy because you understand the order things are in and they feel more like they belong to you after you've imposed you own "order".

If the disambiguation of characters in the font this thread is about is helpful to anyone, imagine how helpful it would be if it wasn't achieved in such a sloppy manner.

Where and for what would this font be used? And how often? Will there be some sort of literary ghetto for dyslexics where they all get to read like "normal people" thanks to science, but will unfortunately be even worse off when faced with the other 99.999% of printed matter that will still be set in traditional fonts because they will look strange to them? Or, will "normal people" have their reading abilities degraded by being forced to read only this stuff? Will packaging in Canada be printed in English, French and Dyslexic?

I think that 'science' as applied to typography is way off the mark 82% of the time. People expect to be able to design a magic bullet in the form of typeface to solve some problem that may in the end have nothing to do with typefaces per se. Seems to me that it's a matter of processing more than what's being processed. Perhaps some of the time it is a question of how children are taught to read. I can remember having a very difficult time telling the difference between 'b' and 'd'. (and this was equally true with my own hand writing (printing) as with my Dick and Jane readers, so right off the bat, I say the whole thing smells like BS) I was a kid with an active imagination. After giving up on trying to read an assignment, but still staring at the page to look busy, I'd start making up stories about the letters on the page. They really were characters. I saw that 'B' and 'b' face the same way but the the 'd' faces the opposite direction than "D", his "parent. Little 'd' was a rebel. Could pick him out in a crowd... And that's one little strategy I came up with. Certainly not anything ground breaking. It's just a personal anecdote about how I got over a hurdle. But, it is an example of a different approach to disambiguation that doesn't require such an ugly-arsed font. (It would seem I should have done very well indeed in grade school, what with all those mimeographed homework assignments. They must have been a breeze to read through.)

Maybe it is as simple as not using a font as devoid of character as Arial or Helvetica, as was suggested earlier, but we may never know. Why is it that folks with next to no knowledge of typography and design apparently prefer go out and invent new wheels that try and understand the ones that are already here.

So, I ask again... Can dyslexics read hand written (printed) text any better than Arial? It certainly doesn't suffer from the same lack of distinction between characters as Arial. Right?

russellm's picture

@Hrant, Ah, but if a client asks you to design for dyslexia, what do you do?

You could supply some good typography set in a half-ways decent humanist font. Or, you could sell some snake oil.

hrant's picture

To me those two choices would be the same. :-/

hhp

russellm's picture

Then you're the man for the job.:p

quadibloc's picture

@russelm:
Good design stopped being about decorating functional things with flowery doodads a about a century ago.

Yes, but that doesn't mean that aesthetics and functional design are one and the same.

A thing can look ugly because it was put together in a hurry and still work.

And something can look beautiful and not work - and that is changed not one whit because fashions have changed from rococo to Swedish Modern.

Aesthetics deals with what we see on the outside, and function has to do with what's doing the work on the inside. The inner workings of many mechanical devices do have a functional beauty, but for functional reasons - keeping dust out of the gears - they're still covered.

The typeface for dyslexics under discussion does indeed seem to have been thrown together quickly. A typeface could have its characteristics and still also look more like a conventional typeface - for example, there seems no reason to dispense with serifs. But the asymmetries that the function requires likely will compromise the attractiveness of a typeface somewhat, even so.

@russelm:
Or, will "normal people" have their reading abilities degraded by being forced to read only this stuff? Will packaging in Canada be printed in English, French and Dyslexic?

I suspect that the goal would be to have textbooks in the elementary grades all be printed in dyslexic-safe type, so that dyslexia would no longer compromise the process of learning to read for its victims.

Once they have learned to read well, then problems with the shapes of individual letters would no longer obtrude, since they would be reading whole words rather than making out one letter at a time to try to sound out what word they are seeing.

hrant's picture

> Then you're the man for the job.:p

I just wish I had a dyslexic alter ego. ;-)

hhp

russellm's picture

@quadibloc I suspect that the goal would be to have textbooks in the elementary grades all be printed in dyslexic-safe type, so that dyslexia would no longer compromise the process of learning to read for its victims.

Barking up the wrong tree. The fundamental geometry that makes it possible to confuse a 'b' with a 'd' (for example) remains the same. It's possible for a kid to confuse the two letters in his own hand writing. How is a font with some randomly generated irregularities any an improvement? Having been there, I don't believe there is any merit at all in this approach. Some paradigm shifting required.

I very much doubt that improvements in reading accuracy (if any in actuality) due to the disambiguation of letters has anything what soever to do with the ugliness of the font. That is just sloppiness, which comes across to me and, I hope to other people, if they take a second to think about it, as a sign of disrespect and condescension in the very same way that the well meaning people who supplied those appalling orthopedic shoes of days gone by figured "gimpy" kids are -- Well, they're "gimpy" and don't need attractive footwear. The same effect (of each letter being distinct from others) could have been achieved in a decently designed font - And largely it has been achieved in a very large number of existing fonts, including many of those in text books used to teach children to read (though now-a-days, that isn't always the case. Most of the text books and workbooks kids are given by their schools these days are absolute crap. That anyone could learn to read from them is remarkable. Children are exposed to so many appallingly badly designed and written text books and workbooks in schools that is a real shame on our generation.)

... "Victims"???

really?

Victims of sausage-mill like school systems perhaps, but so is everyone.

russellm's picture

I just wish I had a dyslexic alter ego. ;-)

Oh Dog, that's funny.

quadibloc's picture

@russelm:
How is a font with some randomly generated irregularities any an improvement?

Well, it is true that the irregularities would have to be the same in all reading material. So one typeface, or one family of typefaces, would presumably have to be used in all the textbooks used in the early grades, until students master reading.

The idea isn't simply "use Typeface X", it's "change the fundamental letterforms in the alphabet", so that the irregularities of the Dyslexie font are added to the definition of "what makes a b" and "what makes a d".

Since dyslexia isn't a problem where the Chinese writing system is used, a writing system reform for countries using the Latin alphabet would presumably be effective in eliminating dyslexia as a problem in those countries. Thus, I have to presume that writing system reform, at least in effect, and not simply an "orthopedic" typeface, is the goal here.

russellm's picture

Who says dyslexia isn't a problem with Chinese writing systems?

http://www.nature.com/nchina/2007/070131/full/nchina.2007.070131-4.html
http://www.tomspender.com/2011/03/dyslexia-in-china/
http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2591/is-it-possible-to-be-dysle...

Just a small difference in perception. In china they call it idiocy. Idiots are idiots. you can't help them, hence it's not a problem worthy of investigation.

Té Rowan's picture

Is it easier or harder to teach, say, kana to dyslexics than non-dyslexics? (Assuming that dyslexics are a uniform group...)

quadibloc's picture

@russelm:
The articles you cited, which do show that a condition analogous to dyslexia exists within the Chinese linguistic community, also note that that condition is distinct from what we know as dyslexia, because it involves a deficit in a different part of the brain.

The two conditions should not be given the same name; that is a violation of specific etiology, a useful rule for defining medical conditions, because the cure for a disease usually depends strongly upon its cause.

russellm's picture

You can't insist on an absolute adherence to a precise definition of a word in one breath and let words mean what ever you like with another

Dyslexia is not a disease any more than pregnancy is one.

nor is it a medical condition.

hrant's picture

Actually I know for a fact that you can get infected with dyslexia
if you reply to an email where the "b" and "d" have been swapped...

hhp

russellm's picture

yes, but don't tell that to quadibloc

:o)

phrostbyte64's picture

Dyslexia is not a disease any more than pregnancy is one.

nor is it a medical condition.

Thank you Russellm :)

Matthew Dixon's picture

It seems to be a common misconception that target readerships are separated groups (e.g. of non-dyslectics vs. dyslectics, visually impaired vs. normal vision people ...).

Unless you want to produce and use multiple versions of each sign, notice, book, etc. a typeface that performs better for a minority but worse for the majority is useless.

That logic is totally flawed. Why bother making wheelchair ramps if most people can walk up stairs? In fact, why bother making wheelchairs at all? Why bother doing anything if it only helps a minority? What about braille?

Function never trumps aesthetics. Aesthetics is about appropriate design. Not pretty design.

Function should trump everything - aesthetics included (and aesthetics is not about appropriate design from a functionality point of view) - otherwise we're just in the business of gilding lilies.

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