Dyslexie is a typeface designed by Christian Boer to help dyslexics, using letterforms that are “more bold so that gravity turns the letters the right way up.” The idea that a font can correct something in the mind is an interesting one; we all know the effects of bad typography. What if what we’ve needed all this time to solve illiteracy and dyslexia is some kind of super-typeface? Dyslexie has yet to really sell the world on its literacy-enhancing powers. When it debuted in 2008, there was a quirky, illustrative video that heralded its qualities.
There hasn’t been a whole lot of coverage since then, although Medical Daily ran a brief article about Dyslexie this September with much of the same information since its debut.
My own dyslexia is not something that I think of as being in any way related to type. I first became aware of it in second grade, when I began carrying or borrowing numbers from the wrong side, among a lot of other errors that were clearly dyslexia revealing itself. But I had a lot of difficulty thinking of myself as dyslexic, because I read all the time. And while I limped academically in elementary and high school, college was a different story. I had a strong grade point average, received two scholarships, and worked as a writing tutor.
Dyslexie’s designer, Christian Boer has presented the typeface as something like a wheelchair for dyslexics, but other than one university study in the Netherlands, and some anecdotal evidence, Dyslexie doesn’t have much of a track record. Although dyslexic blogger Bradlee Quinn has adopted the font on his website, and in a video interview with Boer, he’s described himself as “living by it”.
But for me, reading Dyslexie is sort of like being drunk, and not in a good way. Boer’s claim that “most fonts have been designed from an aesthetic point of view, the letters look very similar” is a strange comment for a typographer to make. Aesthetic as opposed to what, exactly? And that idea about gravity turning the letters the right side up? Let’s be serious. Gravity isn’t a physical presence in the human mind.
Boer also claims that Dyslexie’s slight italicization makes “the letters slightly resemble hand-written text”. Even if Dyslexie did look like hand-written text, I’m not sure how that would help a dyslexic. I’ve struggled with handwriting plenty.
And then there’s his testing criteria. In an interview with Not Just Pretty Colors he’s asked:
NJPC: What kind of user testing did you do?
Christian: I primarily looked at how the reading experience was. So how to reduce reading errors and how much concentration was needed for reading.
Ordinarily I might have expected an answer that would detail who was tested and for how long, whether or not they were diagonosed with dyslexia or identified as having it, what kind of texts they read, what other fonts Dyslexie was compared to. You know: testing critera.
But it’s clear that Dyslexie and OpenDyslexic has a fan base among self-identifying dyslexicsm who either like how it looks or feel that it helps them. And in a case of the sincerest form of flattery, Dyslexie competes with a free font called OpenDyslexic which looks similar (although it is so bottom heavy, it makes Dyslexie look like Helvetica). The typeface’s creator was sent a cease and desist order by Boer, who had trademarked Dyslexie and is thusly legally obligated to defend it, but OpenDyslexic is still available to the public in search of a more bottom-heavy typeface.
In working with clients, graphic designers soon find that there is no such thing as just “good graphic design” that we can present to a client. It’s trial and error. Work gets rejected or accepted, and then the process starts over. And I think that’s the biggest reason to doubt the curative powers of a new typeface: who’s to say what good design is?