Braille: Tactile Typography – Nicki Startek

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BRAILLE: TACTILE TYPOGRAPHY

Nicki Startek

Graphic design is a visual form of communication whether it’s a magazine ad, an online news article or sports logo, we interact with it using our vision. But graphic design isn’t just for the seeing, that would be like saying music isn’t for the hearing impaired. In fact, it is integral to those that are visually impaired. Designers have responsibility for communicating to all kinds of audiences and that means the inclusion of such individuals. One method of communication, braille, is a system of raised dots that can read by using the tips of your fingers or be read visually and it is used by designers for accessible communication. It is an essential form of tactile typography. Unfortunately Graphic Design: A New History doesn’t cover much on any aspect of accessible design. Information on the use of braille would greatly the textbook and bring readers a broader new look on inclusivity within graphic design.

Tactile sticker design for Netflix Accessibility, incorporating braille in the logo.
Tactile sticker design for Netflix Accessibility, incorporating braille in the logo.

In a highly digital communicative age, we can’t expect designers to consider braille if they aren’t aware of the history, the need and the possibilities of it. Designers are fully capable of working with braille, as it has always been a working typography for seeing and unseeing individuals (Conefrey).

Braille was designed in the early 1800s and was amplified by Louis Braille, who was blinded at an early age. He enrolled at the National Institute for the Blind in Paris, where he spent several years working on the braille system (History of Braille). Today his system still stands and assists many visually impaired in accessing books, music scores, paperwork, and even public signage.

Washroom sign with graphic, text and braille.
Washroom sign with graphic, text, and braille.

Working with braille has always been important on a graphic design level. For instance, a bathroom sign, we tend to only spare it a glance. For the visually impaired, communicating designated spaces (in this case a possible gender specification) is important. Braille is also a major part of public safety, as it is providing essential information to those who are unable to see a written warning, safety notice or hazard.

The word "love" is written in braille, the dots are substituted for heart shaped bumps.
Deon Staffelbach. The word “love” is written in braille, the dots are substituted for heart-shaped bumps.

Braille has also been a place for great exploration. Touch, like vision, can be interpreted in so many different ways. Alike other typography, designers have worked with new patternings and alphabet derivatives to change the messages and meanings. In one case, designer Deon Staffelbach, wrote the word “love” in braille but the dots were instead raised hearts providing a second level of information to both sighted and visually impaired individuals (Fontyou).

With this information considered, it would be hopeful that in the near future tactile typographies, like braille, will be discussed within graphic design history texts.

Works Cited

Conefrey, Ann M.  “Inclusive Tactile Graphic Design.” Braille Dots. May 19, 2019. https://brailledots.nl/en/projects/inclusive-tactile-graphic-design

Fontyou. “Braille and typography – past, present and future.” TNW. June 29, 2015. https://thenextweb.com/dd/2015/06/29/braille-and-typography-past-present-and-future/

“History of Braille.” Braille Works. 2020. https://brailleworks.com/braille-resources/history-of-braille/

 

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