For the 285 million visually impaired people around the world, Braille allows them to read and write what they cannot see. But for those with sight, Braille looks like a coded language that isn’t easily deciphered. And that’s how it started for Japanese designer Kosuke Takahashi. He wondered how sighted people could learn to read Braille with their eyes rather than their hands.
“It all started from simple question, ‘How can I read braille?’ ‘Does it become a character if I connect the dots?’ Even though it’s the same letter, it felt incongruous that sighted people could not read it.”
Braille and print graphics are sometimes used in unison by placing the dots over or under text. However, Kosuke’s new typeface design called Braille Neue uses English and Japanese characters overlaid with their Braille equivalents. It’s completely legible to anyone with sight, but its skeleton is based upon the dots of braille. And as a result, it can be seen with your eyes or your hands.
Kosuke’s hope is that this will motivate more Braille to be included in public spaces; its inclusion is often limited due to space restrictions.
Derived from the popular Helvetica Neue font, Braille Neue comes in two styles—Braille Neue standard (English) and Braille Neue outline (English and Japanese). He also points out that by kerning Braille Neue outline, existing text could be overlaid in public spaces to make them more accessible to everyone. In fact, he’s hoping it will become a standard during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
And while he admits that he’s not the first to combine Braille with visible latin letters, its the first typeface to incorporates Japanese characters.
How Braille Neue was designed
To design the typeface, Kosuke began with the braille grid itself. Each morning before work, he spent 30 minutes brainstorming ideas and putting them in his notebook. He tried drawing Japanese characters by connecting the dots, but he couldn’t move the braille dots without destroying the legibility of braille. Instead, he had to be more creative with his letterforms themselves.
Since the arrangement seemed incompatible with the complicated letter shapes, he fell back to the more simplified Latin alphabet to prove the concept. This proved a lot easier to manage—even if he admits that his “I” and “V” text shapes are both still too hard to read.
After building some fluency with his technique, he returned to Japanese. He prototyped his idea and started collecting feedback from both sighted readers and the visually impaired. He then used that feedback to refine the typeface design, continually making improvements in its legibility and usability.
The results now speak for themselves, and Kosuke imagines that Braille Neue could usher in a more inclusive era for way-finding and other graphics in public spaces. To get your own copy and to learn more, click here.
Daniel is an Art Director and Graphic Designer with over a decade of experience in advertising and marketing in the Greater Toronto Area.