MERGING SIGHT AND TOUCH - KOSUKE TAKAHASHI'S BRAILLE NEUE
Sometimes, good design can still be as simple as 1+1= 3 – killing two proverbial birds with one stone, and adding lots of extra value that makes the world a much better place to live. Combining typefaces that can as well be read by the sighted and the blind, the brand new Braille Neue by Japanese designer Kosuke Takahashi is a brilliant example.
Two major problems had to be solved. One: to any sighted person, braille looks like a language masked in encrypted code, totally indecipherable. By consequence, and that's the second problem. we rarely see braille implemented in the public space, since it takes additional space and sighted people cannot read it..Braille is merely seen as a companion to our visual language–an add-on for some situations, but not as a standard that the 285 million visually impaired people around the world can reliably expect to find next to any and all visual text. As a result, the use of braille itself is on the downturn.
It all started from simple question, ‘How can I read braille?'
‘Does it become a character if I connect the dots?'
Takahashi started from the idea that if more sighted people could read braille, maybe it would also become more common for those who really need it. He also wondered if braille might be turned into something that sighted people could learn to read 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?'“, Takahashi says, „ While we sometimes combine braille and print graphics–just by placing the dots over or under text–we largely don’t stack the two because we have no simple way to do so. Braille was designed with letters and numbers that have no 1:1 correlation with the shapes of our glyphs. Take the number two and the number three in braille. The number two is two dots, stacked vertically. The number three is two dots, sitting side-by-side. Neither looks like a “2” or “3” in any way.'”
Takahashi’s research led to several design experiments which culminated in Braille Neue, a typeface that is totally legible to anyone with sight, but with a skeleton that is based upon the bumps of braille, merging characters that you can see with braille that you can touch. Other designers tried this before, but all these projects limited themselves to combining braille with the latin alphabet, while Takahashi went for a more universal typeface, one that corresponds not only to latin alphabets but also to Japanese fonts. And he also put much more thinking in his efforts to see that typeset implemented.
To design the typeset, Takahashi began with the braille grid itself. He tried drawing Japanese characters by connecting the dots, but since he couldn’t move the braille dots, lest he destroy the legibility of braille, he had to be more creative with his letterforms themselves. “The lines were all messed up and had terrible shapes,” he says. The arrangement simply seemed incompatible with the complicated letter shapes. So he retreated, falling back to the more simplified Latin alphabet to prove the concept. That was a lot easier to manage–even if he admits that his “I” and “V” text shapes are both still too hard to read, and that he’ll adjust them in the future. After building some fluency with his technique, he returned to Japanese.
Takahashi says that his typesets might also lead to a more frequent use of braille in public spaces
Takahashi says that his typesets might also lead to a more frequent use of braille in public spaces: “The biggest benefit is that one sign can work for everyone anywhere. Additionally, this typeface does not require braille to take up additional sign space. Braille tends to be small and invisible, but with Braille Neue it has the possibility to expand spatially into public signages. I also conducted a research to see if large signage with braille was readable for blind people, and found out that as long as there is 6 dotted pattern, it is possible for them to read it regardless of its size.“ Braille Neue also has the advantage that it is easy to implement into the existing infrastructure, since it is also possible to overwrite existing signage in public space by adjusting the kerning.
The designer hopes to implement Braille Neue somewhere at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Contrary to what he claims, his typeface is not universal yet, since it doesn't merge all alphabets with braille, but it's a giant step in the good direction.
See also http://kosuke.tk/
All images are courtesy of Kosuke Takahashi.