January 29, 2019
Choosing the right font is an important element in good design. Designers study typography to learn the best practices for effective communication. Even non-designers regularly make judgments on whether a typeface communicates well. After all, anyone will know if a typeface is hard to read. But type’s ability to adapt to the communication goes far beyond serif vs. sans serif. Some type designers are thinking outside the box to create typefaces for specific, important functions. Below are a few of my favorite recent examples.
Louis Braille’s writing system revolutionized reading for the visually impaired. However, Braille is still less-than-mainstream, which can have the unintended affects of cutting off accessibility for the visually impaired while simultaneously contributing to mainstream ignorance of the disabled community. Several typographers have attempted to address this gap in communication by creating typefaces that combine Braille with other writing systems. In the case of Kosuke Takahashi’s Braille Neue, which he describes as “Braille for everyone,” English and Japanese characters are designed in a grid that allows the raised Braille dots to sit on top of the body of the typefaces. If all goes to plan, Braille Neue will have a world stage at the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo.
Many people without vision impairment still have difficulty with written words. In recent years, typographers have created several typefaces intended to aid people with dyslexia. One of the most well-regarded of the bunch is Dyslexie Font, created by Christian Boer, a graphic designer and dyslexic. Boer’s posed solutions, such as making the font bottom-heavy to combat letters turning upside-down, are an interesting case study in design solutions if nothing else. These typefaces are less proven (and even controversial) in their ability to help dyslexics than Braille is proven to work for the visually impaired, but the intentions are admirable.
Even in our increasingly digital world, there’s plenty of paper and ink going to waste on unnecessary or temporarily necessary printouts. It seems like common sense to find ways to cut back on these resources. In fact, sixth grader Suvir Mirchandan made headlines in 2011 with an experiment that supported the ink-saving virtues of the U.S. government switching to garamond from times new roman as an official font. This theory has been somewhat debunked, but the less-ink idea has legs with typographers. Robust, well-designed typefaces come in families that include thin weights. Several “sustainable” typefaces have debuted in the last few years, which combine design thinking with typographic elegance. My favorite, Ryman Eco, works well as a display font.
These examples are just the beginning when it comes to practical typographic innovations. Whether they prove successful in their function, they represent the truest intentions of designers to create work that communicates well.