Access & The Infinite Font | Tyler Hawkins

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Ceramic is the first font shaped to each user’s unique visual impairments.

One billion people worldwide experience some form of low vision, categorized as sight between 20/40 and 20/200 and including cataracts, uncorrected visual distortions, visual pathway disease, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Low vision varies widely in cause and degree but often shares similar expressions: a variety of blurs in the visual field.

A number of typographic strategies have been used to aid low vision in several typefaces. So far, all have been static, unchangeable. The recent introduction of the variable font format, Opentype 1.8, allows near infinite end user control of purpose built font characteristics. Ceramic uses the variable font format with low vision typographic strategies to adjust to each users’ requirements.

Demonstration of letter variation.

Process

I chose to build a sans serif based on evidence suggesting that simplicity can aid legibility by reducing visual detail. A literature review by Thomas Bohm, titled Letter and Symbol Misrecognition in Highly Legible Typefaces was the primary source. It highlights several typographic strategies for low vision: increased punctuation size to clarify sentence structure; open shapes to minimize confusion by blurring (to differentiate between c and o for example); increased differentiation between similar characters (l and I, O and 0 etc…); and heightened stems in specific characters (b, d, h, etc…) to differentiate word shapes. These became the primary strategies.

Font

The project consists of four primary deliverables. The first is the master variable typeface built with a number of typographic strategies in a variety of expressions. Technically there are 200 trillion unique iterations of the typeface. Practically, there are likely hundreds of useful versions. I chose to name the project Ceramic for its reference to moldable materiality. AccessFont seemed too direct.

Nearly full alphabet of the Ceramic Font in medium weight, average low vision strategies.

Website

A website shapes the master typeface to individual users’ needs, producing a range of tailored font files (bolder weight headlines and book weight body text fonts). The program is based on a 20 questions/ binary tree model. Users click through a series of A/B comparisons of different versions of the font in varying lengths of similar passages, eliminating irrelevant sections of the design space. Legibility is complex and involves reading speed, comprehension, familiarity and preference. I was not interested in testing comprehension and so repetition was used to increase familiarity and a simple hourglass mechanism was included to encourage users to voluntarily time their reading.

Browser Extension

The browser extension sets the Internet in each user’s unique fonts and includes spacing controls. Websites used below to demonstrate include: AATB.ch/ Its Nice That; Mediated Matters, and Faber Futures.

Type Specimen

Finally, I designed a type specimen/ ‘reader’ to demonstrate Ceramic’s potential in print. Text Source: Wikipedia

Next Steps

Currently this project is a prototype. The master typeface is functionally complete and able to be tailored. The website and extension are designed for production, but not yet built.

Ceramic needs user testing. Given that the scope of the project was not insignificant and the target audience’s needs varied widely, it was decided early on that Ceramic would be based on established secondary research. The project needs improved spacing controls. It may also need to be renamed.

I want to thank The Shumka Centre and The Health Design Lab at Emily Carr for helping to explore options for production, testing, and release.

Tyler Hawkins

Tyler works with identity design often for health and outdoors companies. He also makes websites and motion graphics. He’s into adrenaline sports and piano driven rap. He’d like to thank Chris Hethrington for advising this project, and Quinn Keaveney for type and production guidance.

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