Clear winner

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Dorothy Lepkowska reports on a new typeface designed to help readers with dyslexia

At first glance it appears to be like any other book. However, study the words on the page a little closer and you realise it doesn't quite look right. That is, of course, unless you are dyslexic.

The book uses a new typeface designed specifically for dyslexia sufferers, which simplifies the way characters are constructed. Created by Dutch designer Natascha Frensch, who has had a long-term battle with reading difficulties, it has been adopted by the publisher Chrysalis (stand PV76), for use in two-thirds of the 150 children's titles it brings out every year.

There are about two million dyslexic people in Britain, of whom 375,000 are children. While there has been growing innovation to combat dyslexia in the form of computer software, there has been little research into typography and type design.

However, Natascha, now 29, discovered the importance of clearer print while she was studying for a Masters degree in communication, arts and design at the Royal College of Arts four years ago, and has since carried out extensive research into the subject. "I had suffered all my school life with visual distortion when reading, which often made the words appear misaligned or gave the impression I was looking through a kaleidoscope with the words twirling around," she says.

The problem occurred because different type styles were designed to look neat and aesthetically pleasing to a reader, but that wasn't always helpful for people with reading difficulties. "I realised that the typefaces being used in books were too fussy. Printed letters had varied thicknesses and widths, and some were a mirror image of others, which is very confusing for dyslexics," she says. "I discovered that if dyslexics were to make sense of them, each letter would have to be completely different."

In 2002 the Audi Design Foundation awarded Natascha pound;15,000 to develop her idea for a new font for dyslexics. Her Read typeface treats each letter as an individual character, so it is distinguishable and can't be confused. For example, the circle in the centre of the b is more oval than that of the d, which is round. Similar distinctions are evident in p and q.

The serif features or "feet" at the bottom of letters such as r, l and n in some fonts have been removed to give each character straighter lines.

Ascenders, on letters such as b, d, f, h, k, l, and descenders on y, p, g, q, j, are elongated to increase their legibility, and the so-called "top-hat" on the letter a is written as it might be handwritten, with a large circle and curl at the bottom. Each letter is also printed in a uniform thickness, making it appear cleaner and less fussy.

"These changes removed the squiggly bits and extra details that come with different typefaces, which just add to the confusion for dyslexics," says Natascha. "We need things to be kept simple, otherwise we spend too much time deciphering letters rather than concentrating on understanding what is being written."

Ben Cameron, a spokesman for Chrysalis, says its editors first saw Natascha's work at the Royal Academy last year, and were very impressed.

"The typeface is not only good for dyslexics, but it makes reading simpler for everyone."

* Chrysalis Stand: PV76

Liverpool education authority has become the first in the UK to receive dyslexia-friendly status. The service is the first to be awarded the British Dyslexia Association Quality Mark for its commitment to developing good practice in school.

The authority met standards required in 30 criteria

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