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.


Té Rowan's picture

It has been said that design is at its best when you don't notice it.

Years ago, I was watching a bank teller doing some calculations on a Victor (I think) desk calculator when I noticed a strange ridge leaning over the numbers display on the machine. After a bit of thinking on my part, the penny dropped. It kept light from reflecting off the display into the user's eyes.

The tellers had never noticed this feature before.

Chris Dean's picture

It has been said that design is at its best when you don't notice it.

Beatrice Warde. The Crystal Goblet. In my opinion, one of the most important pieces on typographic philosophy ever written.

hrant's picture

... by a cheerleader.


quadibloc's picture

Dyslexia is something which is studied by medical researchers in order to find its cause and its treatment. It is currently believed that it may be a genetic disorder. It is recognized as a learning disability.

Thus, if treatment and cure were possible, they would be desirable. To find these, however, a specific cause is required, so specific etiology is applicable.

Of course, blindness is a disability, but it has many causes; if the term dyslexia is applied generally to all reading disorders, not merely to the best-known one, the one involving parity-reversals of glyphs, and there are many reading disorders, and there is a need for a general term, the point that it "is not a disease" has validity, and new terms would be needed for the different medical conditions that are lumped together under that term.

The purpose of language is to communicate data about the real world, so as to coordinate human activities effectively, whether medical research or hunting. Compromising that purpose in order to make people feel good is not a good idea.

Although, admittedly, social interaction is another ancient purpose for language.

quadibloc's picture

A news article about this typeface has finally appeared, from which I discover...

The font is being marketed to schools and businesses for between 145 and 1,900 euros.

russellm's picture

Jesus Murphy.

Chris Dean's picture

If this typeface looks “bad” or at least novel, perhaps it could end up supporting Diemand-Yauman et al. (2010) and his typographic disfluency hypothesis. If someone were to conduct a field study on the effects of implementing Dyslexie for reading materials, disfluency could pose a potential confound. An interesting problem.

russellm's picture

@ Matthew Dixon : "aesthetics."

You are completely missing the point, or perhaps you didn't read the second sentence you quoted? By my definition, function is not actually separate from aesthetics. A lovely looking beauty of a tractor that can't pull shyte is really only a beauty of a tractor if the point of the tractors design is something other than pulling shyte.

I am talking about aesthetics at a more basic & fundamental level than surface decoration. You or I may think a thing, i.e., a font, is ugly or attractive, but why do we think that? Why does your brain think that. What is going on in there from an evolutionary perspective. Yes, you live in a culture and therefore have acquired the tastes of that culture. However, broadly speaking, all people agree to a great extent on what is attracting and what is ugly (repellent). Why? If you can answer that question then I think you will have to agree, aesthetics are an aspect function and have a function to you as an organism and as a member of a society. If he function of a good hair-doo is to make you look sexy and the end result is that look and feel sexy, the the design is successful on all levels. It has a function. My definition and understanding includes the the fact that the lovely spinning gears in a machine are covered by safety guides... I used to be a welder. I actually made safety guards for truly magnificent and very rapidly spinning gears on industrial equipment that could rip a person's arm off if left exposed, so I appreciate better than most people here that taken as a whole safety guards improve the aesthetics of machines no matter how nice the inner Workings are.

I don't think anyone has any issues with designing things to improve the lives of people who need, or could benefit from special accommodations. That isn't the point either. Why agree to ramps that are the result of some vague good intention or the begrudging compliance to building codes when you can have something that actually improves life for some people without making it worse for others.

In the building some of my relatives live in, the management installed a prefabricated aluminum ramp down the steps from the front door to the lobby. It takes up half the width stairs and about a third of the floor space of the lobby. It may or may not conform to the letter of the building code (depending on where you put you measuring tape), but certainly not to the intent of it. There is built-in planter between the ramp's railing and the elevator, with the result that the gap between them is narrower than what the ADA says is needed for wheel chairs. Not to mention the added dangers to kids, the elderly and clumsy people from all the sharp metal angles on the structure, the loud discordant banging and clanging from kids playing on it and the affect the eyesore in the lobby will have on their property values. This so called solution to a problem has made life worse for everyone in the building, including those it was intended to help. The real solution would have been a built-in ramp. it would have cost more, but there is tax money for this kind of stuff, and it's amortized over the life of the building, so so what. Cost isn't an issue. Actual functionality is.

Putting shyte out there, well intended or otherwise, and declaring a problem solved is just disrespectful of process and end users and should not be defended or tolerated. In my very humble but generally correct opinion.

I am not anti-science by any stretch. There is, however simply too much shoddy science being done for anyone to just accept something like this simply because it's authors have letters behind their names. The main ingredient in any PhD is persistence. Not intelligence. Read the feckin papers for Christ sake. Scales will fall from your eyes.

I think the whole premise behind this font is wrong and that they proceeded without sufficient knowledge of typography, how reading works and common sense. It is very easy to simply (and even unintentionally) ask the wrong questions or to telegraph desired responses to participants, resulting in skewed results in favour of the outcome you were looking for. (I've seen it myself. I could not tell if it was deliberate at the time or not, but I suspect that there were particular interests at stake and consciously or otherwise, observations were skewed.)

phrostbyte64's picture

A news article about this typeface has finally appeared, from which I discover...

The font is being marketed to schools and businesses for between 145 and 1,900 euros.

Just goes to show that there are still suckers being born...

I would love to see the raw data on these studies. Find out what their test perameters are, their use of control groups, age groups involved, the margin of error, etc. They are still using too many terms like could, might, and possibly which suggests that their results are still within their margin of error and not conclusive.

I still don't believe it...

Kevin Larson's picture

The study report including a full description of the data can be found here:

I think the actual study and the conclusions from the study are reasonable. The study showed that dyslexic readers read Arial at 80 wpm with 1.7 errors and read Dyslexie at 79 wpm with 1.3 errors. Non-dyslexic readers read both fonts at 93 wpm with 0.7 errors with Arial and 1.0 errors with Dyslexie. Neither the speed difference nor error difference (nor interaction effect with non-dyslexic readers) was statistically reliable.

The interpretation of the study on the other hand has been quite unreasonable. I can’t imagine why a non-reliable 0.4 words per minute reduction in errors is being touted so strongly why a non-reliable 1 word per minute reduction in reading speed isn’t.~

Kevin Larson's picture

I have a serious question. What is the appropriate comparison if a future developer of a typeface for dyslexic readers wants to demonstrate the typeface’s effectiveness? Arial seems like a reasonable choice since, I believe, it is recommended by some dyslexic organizations. Although I am certain that Verdana would soundly beat Arial in most any reading performance test. I would propose Verdana as a comparison, though that is somewhat arbitrary based only on my knowledge that Verdana performs well on performance tests - other not-specifically-dyslexic typefaces may perform better than Verdana. Alternatively, such a typeface could be compared against the handful of other typefaces that were designed specifically for dyslexic readers? Thoughts?

hrant's picture

> I am certain that Verdana would soundly beat
> Arial in most any reading performance test.

I am certain of the opposite (once apparent size is factored in).
Verdana is very wide, unduly wasting retinal acuity.

The question of what font to compare to cannot be answered until
we can properly measure reading performance. We cannot properly
measure reading performance without a small army of people who
don't know they're being tested. Very hard. What we can do without
needing an army is figure out what letterform features help reading.
But test subject oblivion is still highly critical. Also critical is to have
tests designed by people unafraid of anecdotalism (using the non-
dismissive definition of that term).


phrostbyte64's picture

unecdotalism (using the non-dismissive definition of that term).

I pride myself on my vocabulary. Somehow I missed that term. Worse, Google doesn't like it. Could you put a definition to unecdotalism?

As far as testing and subjects is concerned, another issue is that the effects of dyslexia are a range. Each person is dyslexic to a different degree.

hrant's picture

Sorry, I meant anecdotalism! :-/


phrostbyte64's picture

Maybe I'm not the only person that is dyslexic here... ;)

quadibloc's picture

My inclination would be to suggest that Century Schoolbook should be used as the baseline for any comparison of how effective a typeface is for reading.

This, of course, comes from its use in the infamous Ginn and Company readers, which contained sentences like "See Spot run", which compared unfavorably with the contents of earlier readers such as the McGuffey readers in terms of vocabulary level.

Chris Dean's picture

@Larson: “…Verdana performs well on performance tests…”


Alternatively, such a typeface could be compared against the handful of other typefaces that were designed specifically for dyslexic readers? Thoughts?”

I would hazard that if we ran a few more fonts in the same study, any fonts, not just ones designed for readers with dyslexia, we would find that there is simply a natural variability in performance that can’t be attributed to the specifics of any one typeface.

Another observation regarding participant’s performance and subjective response, I could not determine from reading the paper if they were informed as to the nature of the study. In reading Appendix IV, I see participant responses stating “The experimental font…” and “The special font for dyslexics…”. If, prior to testing, they were informed that they were going to be reading a special font designed for readers with dyslexia it could easily contaminate their data. Certainly, in looking at it from a subjective point of view (Figure 7) they would “like” it more simply knowing that someone was trying to do something nice for them.

quadibloc's picture

Also, I have located some existing typefaces which would be suitable for use in school textbooks, and which address the needs of dyslexics. However, it might be advisable to replace the capital letters by those from a somewhat plainer typeface - although the lowercase, at least, is fully legible. The letters b and d are very distinct; the letters p and q are also distinct, but I admit I would have preferred a larger distinction.

Thus, for your consideration, two ATF typefaces: Tudor Black, and Washington Text.

For a matching uppercase that is more legible, Kingthings Petrock, for example, could be used. Or Final Roman, an obscure free font I ran into that looks very much like a Carolingian hand.

quadibloc's picture

Actually, although the difference between the p and q is reduced somewhat, I've found one that already has readable capital letters: Weiss-Rundgotisch, by Elsner and Flake. So we could have our children learning to read with textbooks set in this typeface.

quadibloc's picture

I have found a few more choices among existing typefaces. Some are a bit too exotic to really be considered for children's first-grade readers, even if they are readable:

Artistik and Lindsay are two examples of well-established typefaces in which the b and d, as well as the p and q, are strongly differentiated. Or even De Vinne.

But something far more conventional - admittedly, with a differentiation that perhaps is too subtle - exists.


Chris Dean's picture

I just spoke with the authour, Renske de Leeuw. She informed me that participants were informed about the special nature of the font after they were tested.

quadibloc's picture


I do remember an earlier post by you in which you said that Fraktur was more legible than Roman. I tend to disagree with this. However, I will admit that some typefaces related to the blackletter or classed as forms of blackletter are at least as legible as Roman. For example, Jenson's rotunda from his edition of the Summa Theologicum.

And so, if future generations of children see Spot run in a good rotunda in order to accommodate dyslexics, I shall not regard it as a tragedy. Of course, the letterforms need to be compatible with Roman, in order that they won't be hindered in reading (older) books in Roman type, at least during the transitional period - if the (Latin-alphabet) world did change over to rotundas gradually in general because this is what the new generation is used to.

Chris Dean's picture

@hrant: http://themicrofoundry.com/ss_trajic.html

The Trajic notRoman typeface consists of invented glyphs designed to leave an “impression” of the conventional Latin capitals; the decipherability of its various forms was put to the test in a real-world experiment at TypeCon98.

Do you have a description of this?

hrant's picture

It wasn't nearly as scientific as the above might indicate...
I basically flashed the glyphs during my presentation and for
each asked for a show of hands of who felt confident of knowing
what the letter was, and then asked those what letter they thought
it was. In my defense, I did take notes and refine my decisions
based on the feedback.


studiostudio's picture

Hello Everybody,

Sorry for my poor English. When I started the project dyslexie one of mine goals was that no matter how the font looked like as long as he worked. With the idea if a wheelchair is ugly, he may not be made ore used? I know that the font is restless irregularity for those without dyslexia, and he many rules of type design are violated. But I wanted function over esthetics. Viewed from a graphic design it's an ugly font. But if you even know how many people with dyslexia I have helped here in the Netherlands and Belgium, and gratitude I get from people who struggle daily with dyslexia it's definitely worth it.

The price you mention is for schools and not for individuals. I have sold to individuals for a time for a much lower price (below cost) but the businesses and schools took so much abuse that I have here in conjunction with Lexima stopped until we have found a solution for it.

As a graphic designer I find this a very interesting discussion I keep track.

William Berkson's picture

I don't have time to comment at length yet, but to begin to answer Kevin's question, I think that first of all if we are to distinguish what typefaces are better for dyslexics with some assurance, the testing must not be of two typefaces against one another, and only one test. The key here is to look for understanding of the cause of confusion of letters. And this will involve multiple tests involving a number of variables and variations.

For example, if the issue is differentiation, then any old style, such as Times New Roman, is more highly differentiated than a sans like Arial. For example, the b has its serif on the opposite side from the bowl, and the d the same side. The top of the b is weighted more heavily, and the bottom of the d. The bottom corner of the two letters formed differently, etc.

Also, if I have heard correctly, "dyslexia" is an umbrella term that refers to a variety of difficulties in reading, not all of which are the same. So again there needs to be more understanding and precision about what is being tested. For example, if I understood a brief account rightly, there is dyslexia among readers of Chinese, but it is less common, and apparently doesn't involve the difficulty in associating sounds and words that is a common difficulty for readers of alphabetic languages.

Nick Shinn's picture

But I wanted function over esthetics.

You are assuming that "esthetics" has no readability function for the majority of readers.
Your assumption both marginalizes and stigmatizes dyslexics unnecessarily, and derogates the function of a polished finish for fluent readers.

There is an elegance to an instrument that requires skill to master, which is what typefaces are.

But I wanted function over esthetics.

Why not have both? Your job is half-finished.

It's like hastily throwing together the first font for a writing system/language that never had one before, and saying sure, they are thrilled with what they have at last.

…if a wheelchair is ugly…


enne_son's picture

The tests in the paper Kevin referenced should show the benefits of the manipulations that were done. Kevin points out the statistical analysis was flawed so the tests don't actual reliably demonstrate benefits for the font, as compared to a font that doesn't have those manipulations.

The motivation for the manipulations seems to be loosely related to the Anne Sperling work on the etiology of dyslexia in deficits in perceptual noise exclusion, associated with the formation of suboptimal perceptual templates or representations in both the auditory (phonological processing) and visual domains.

The Spirling work is innovative, the theory attractive, and the involvement of Mark Seidenberg gives it some weight, but I'm not sure how the Sperling theory and the manipulations Renske makes address the error types Renske lists in Table 1:1.

Investigation of how the perceptual noise exclusion / suboptimal templates theory accounts for error types might be a prerequisite for intelligently deciding what comparator fonts to use.

Chris Dean's picture

@enne_son: “Kevin points out the statistical analysis was flawed…”

Where in this thread does Kevin speak about data analysis?

enne_son's picture

Christopher, Kevin address the data analysis in his 1st 1 August post.

William Berkson's picture

If I understand the post correctly, Kevin doesn't fault the statistical analysis, but the conclusions drawn from the results of that analysis. The rate of errors in reading was lower, but the reading rate slower, and neither result was big enough to achieve "statistical significance"—a measure usually taken to mean that variations are not simply random. Kevin was questioning how you conclude anything positive about the font from these results. It seems to me a pretty convincing case that the claims for this font are not warranted by the data.

enne_son's picture

You're right, my mistake.

Kevin Larson's picture

Correct, I don’t think there was anything wrong with the data analysis or much of anything in the study report. It’s clear from the report that they didn’t find reliable differences between the two tested fonts.

Christopher, some of the data that suggests that Verdana performs well on performance tests is unpublished. Data from Barbara Chaparro’s lab supports this:
1. http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/92/legibility.asp
2. Chaparro, B., Shaikh, A.D., Chaparro, A., & Merkle, E.C. (2010). Comparing the legibility of six ClearType typefaces to Verdana and Times New Roman. Information Design Journal, 18(1), 36-49.

Juliet Shen just pointed me to a good recent article in the New York Times about dyslexia:

enne_son's picture

If Anne Sperling and colleagues are correct, the auditory problem (“getting to the sounds of speech” — Sally Shaywitz in the NYT article) is only part of the deficit in developmental dyslexia. Perceptual noise exclusion in the visual domain and non-optimal visual perceptual templates probably are paired with the phonological awareness problem.

A long time MIT researcher on dyslexia, Gad Geiger has demonstrated that dyslexics recognized letters visually farther in the periphery and more diffusely near the center than typical readers did. Compared with typical readers dyslexics experienced greater crowding [noise?] in the typical Form Resolving Field, a rough equivalent to Denis Pelli’s uncrowded span. The reference is “Wide and diffuse perceptual modes characterize dyslexics in vision and audition” Perception, 2008, volume 37, pages 1745 – 1764, Gadi Geiger, Carmen Cattaneoô, Raffaella Galliô, Uberto Pozzoliô, Maria Luisa Lorussoô, Andrea Facoettiô½, Massimo Molteniô:

Remediation of the visual perceptual component comes by “a regimen of practice comprised of small-scale hand / eye coordination tasks and reading with a window mask” to narrow, and sharpen tuning in, the Form Resolving Field.

The question elicited by Renske de Leeuw’s manipulations is are they enough to address the dyslexic person’s deficits within the foveal field.

dberlow's picture

Kevlar: Arial seems like a reasonable choice since, I believe, it is recommended by some dyslexic organizations. Although I am certain that Verdana would soundly beat Arial...

A great question/assumption I guess is; if normal readers read a text face sized optically for smaller use (Verdana) better at most sizes than they do a font sized for larger text sizes (Helvetica//Arial), do dyslexics too?

quadibloc's picture

An alternative approach to addressing the issue, at least for the specific form of dyslexia related to reversed characters, would be to change the alphabet rather than use a specific typeface. This could be done by borrowing characters with similar phonetic values from other alphabets.

Here is an example, including a special bonus feature to commemorate the participant in these forums who inspired this strategy:

There are four lines in the illustration. To start with, the problem characters are all replaced with corresponding characters from the Armenian alphabet, in which all the issues noted are resolved. This is done in the first and second lines, as there are two possible choices in Armenian for the replacement for the letter "p".

But Armenian is quite unfamilar to most Latin-alphabet users. Thus, in the third line, I reduce the amount of adjustment required by replacing b, d, and p with their Cyrillic equivalents instead. That still leaves two letters to come from Armenian.

Finally, in the fourth line, I take the replacement for the letter q from Hebrew instead, so that only one letter needs to be replaced from Armenian. Which seems to integrate better with the Latin alphabet than, say, the Devanagari script.

Or, perhaps a bit more seriously:

William Berkson's picture

It would be interesting to know, since the Armenian alphabet has greater differentiation, whether this kind of dyslexia is equally or less common among Armenian children.

quadibloc's picture

This is true, because if this kind of dyslexia remains equally common - or is equally likely to cause problems (after all, normal small children learning the alphabet will draw any letter backwards, not merely those with reflected counterparts) - then increasing differentiation is not really a useful tactic.

In any case, starting from GFS Artemisia as a basis, here's a genuinely more serious version of the lowercase alphabet, more likely to be recognizable:

hrant's picture

You're heading straight towards the alphabet reform effort I made in the late 90s. :-)
And the point was to help everybody, not just a minority.


quadibloc's picture

Well, if it is possible to help everyone, not just a particular minority, so much the better!

However, I also do feel that any attempt at a script reform is likely to get nowhere. People are content, and see no reason to change. Of course, imperceptibly over time, some features of typefaces might change.

For example, Bodoni has quotation marks that are different from those of more traditional typefaces, and which are arguably more logical: the opening quote is a mirror-reflection of the closing quote and apostrophe. Had the designers of Helvetica and Optima and Stone, for example, all copied this, with the innovation then percolating over even into new serif typefaces like, say, Williams Caslon, perhaps in a few hundred years the new style of quotation mark might displace the old one.

The same sort of process might lead to the "a" and "g" changing to an infanta form, if fashions pulled in that direction.

Even those changes are unlikely, though, and that seems to represent the limit of the kind of change that's possible.

It took a while to hunt up some information about this, but I found one forum discussion in which there was a link, still functioning, to the shorter version of a discussion of these matters, and later I found a link to an image of your Mas Lucida typeface.

Earlier in my searches, I came to your MicroFoundry site, but I could not see a page there about this, or with that image on it. Perhaps I have a problem navigating the site; it seems to be a very small site with only a little content, and yet what I see suggests that there could or should be a lot there, but I'm just not navigating it properly.

Chris Dean's picture

Side note: You use of the phrase “…alphabet reform…” brought back a fond memory:

Herbert Bayer’s Architype Bayer (1927).

hrant's picture

John, thank you for looking it up!
I should and will give you a full reply, but it will be at least a week.


Diederik Corvers's picture

studiostudio: "I know that the font is restless irregularity for those without dyslexia, and he many rules of type design are violated. But I wanted function over esthetics."

In type design in general, and in this case in particular, esthetics ARE function, so there is no putting one over the other, they are equally important in creating a successful result and so should be considered likewise.

Chris Dean's picture

Function never trumps aesthetics.”

Figure 1: Can you make the logo bigger?

sevag's picture

Here is an old article from the Guardian, published in 2004 it's about how a person may be dyslexic in one language and read normally in another language.

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