Creative Arts Book of the Week 22/02/16

This week I have chosen to have a look at I wonder what it’s like to be dyslexic? A typographic book on what its like to struggle with reading by UoP BA (Hons) Graphic Design graduate, Sam Barclay. Library staff were fortunate to have a presentation, Supporting Inclusivity, by Martyn Stahl from the Additional Support and Disability Advice Centre (ASDAC). Martyn provided an extremely useful introduction to how we can use simple formatting options in Microsoft packages and Google Docs so that our Word documents and PowerPoint presentations are clear for all of our readers, including those who use screen readers. But, I came away wanting to know more and hence my choice of book this week.

I suppose my job title – a librarian, announces “I love to read”. However, I understand that reading in not easy for everyone. Seeing the excellent design work of students, some I know have struggled with reading, has led me to the same conclusion as Einstein and Sam, “Everybody is a genius but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live it’s whole life believing it is stupid.” Sam uses the book to present typographic theories which he hopes will give the reader a completely different outlook on reading. He notes that everyone experiences reading in a different way, but for those of us who read with relative ease, he presents examples of text which make us struggle in the same way that those with reading difficulties do.

Sam highlights the importance of typography and type in ensuring the greatest level of clarity for processing the information fluently and easily.  He uses typography and type to illustrate to the reader ‘what its like to be dyslexic’ and what we can do to ensure clarity.

A story set in CAPITAL LETTERS quickly becomes difficult to read; this is because most of us learn to recognise a word as a complete unit – a whole form, rather than a series of letters. Text set in capital letters looses its shape and hence reading becomes slower and more difficult.

Insufficient spacing between letters and words also disrupts the word shape, making reading difficult. At the opposite end of the spectrum, too much space can slow down the reading, as the eye takes longer to travel over the text.

Serif or sans serif text is often a matter of personal taste, but sans serif fonts are believed to embody simplicity. Sam, with his graphic design understanding, suggests that it is important to choose an appropriate type face for the situation. Interestingly, he says that dyslexia fonts are not always the best choice for dyslexics as they create a reliance on a certain way of presenting text.

An exploration of missing parts of letters, demonstrates that a missing top half of a word is easier to read than a missing bottom half.  Some designers have experimented with devising fonts that combine the readable elements of the bottom or top half of the text to create something new, e.g. Phil Baines’s FF Can you read me?

Type and colour is explored and examples are presented with the most comfortable being with the type set at 80% black and the background at 15% black. The letters do not appear to move as they do on a totally white or black background – even for me.

Examples of texts in different languages illustrate how alien words can be for those who struggle with reading.

Sam explains that dyslexics often spell words how they are spoken, known as Truespel. Reading this text makes me struggle to understand the meaning. I am beginning to understand the struggle to read.

Some of the difficulties with reading are also experienced by those attempting to learn the English language, for example: homophones, flour and flower; homographs, object and object and synonyms, end and finish.

Typoglycemia is an entertaining example of how we can recognise words even when the middle letters of a word have been jumbled, even though we feel fatigued, we keep going.

Towards the end of the book the chapter, A Nuffy Pecker Story, gives an insight into the family story behind Sam’s journey and passion towards achieving a first class Honours degree in Graphic Design and the publication of this book.  You’ll have to read it yourself, to discover what a “Nuffy Pecker” is, so while you are there you will become hooked on the rest.  Enjoy!

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