Legible type

Visualising your way through text

Text by Imogen Van Zaane

Your IQ is normal or higher, but you're frustrated by the extra time required to process written information, browsing online, tripping over words, struggling with books. Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects 5 to 15 per cent of the world. Further discoveries on how the mind works are beginning to unravel dyslexia and how it can be helped. In Project Dyslexie, Dutch graphic designer Christian Boer analysed the alphabet and conventional fonts to develop an improved typeface. Dyslexie is an open font with more individual letters, an altered baseline, elongated ascenders/descenders, tilted characters and emphatic punctuation. Initial tests with the University of Twente confirmed that dyslexie minimised reading errors. Can a typeface really make a difference? Recent studies suggest that dyslexia might be linked to an abnormality in the brain's left hemisphere, the language zone. It could be genetic. It seems a language's orthography and the choice of typography can greatly impair or improve one's reading ability. Limited statistics suggest that Germany has about half the number of Britain's dyslexics. Perhaps a language with strict phonetic rules such as their's is easier to read than English, a language with relatively irregular phonetics. China and Japan are also understood to have a lower percentage of dyslexics. Could our western alphabet be flawed? Complex Chinese and Japanese characters test better in comparison to a Roman alphabet with 26 similar looking characters, although studies remain sparse. Boer is not alone in his efforts. In 2003, Natascha Frensch, a graphic designer at the Royal College of Art, developed her read regular typeface which children's publisher Chrysalis has adopted. And Macmillan commissioned independent Type Foundry K-Type to develop two new additions to their existing lexia readable typeface. The dyslexie typeface has been adopted by schools, universities and speech therapists in the Netherlands and will soon be available for other countries. Research continues, and is just getting interesting.


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