Braille, the tactile writing system enabling blind people to read words, has been around for nearly 200 years. Invented in 1824 by French educator Louis Braille – who was partially sighted himself after an accident at the age of three – the series of raised dots became a universal code that would change the lives of people across the world.
The embossed writing system works through touching a series of bumps – those who have impaired vision learn which bumps represent different letters in the alphabet, and then ‘read’ it through feeling the page.
While braille is still in regular use, the code is not generally used on a public or large scale. For example, while underground metro systems feature wayfinding in multiple languages, they neglect to include the tactile system for those who cannot see.
Make public spaces “inclusive”
That is why Japanese graphic designer Kosuke Takahashi set about creating a version of braille that could be used in public spaces, while still being legible for those who had their sight – a typeface containing both letters and the raised dots, in a bid to make public spaces more “inclusive”.
Takahashi has developed two versions of his new typeface, Braille Neue: Braille Neue Standard, designed for the English alphabet, and Braille Neue Outline, which can be used for both Japanese and English alphabets. The idea is simple – an enlarged version of braille, with regular letterforms painted on top.
In combining regular lettering with braille, he hopes it will encourage more architects, designers and councils to implement braille into public spaces, adding the caveat that catering for the blind or partially sighted is often not a consideration made when designing spaces.
“I was inspired by a visit to the Japanese Ophthalmology Hospital, where I was amazed that people were reading braille at great speed,” he says. “I felt it was incongruous that sighted people could not read it, so I began making this typeface.”
“Sighted people do not consider braille important”
“We rarely see braille implemented in public spaces, since it takes up additional space and sighted people do not consider it important,” he adds. “Braille Neue makes braille easy to use for sighted people.”
Takahashi tested his concept with a partially sighted friend, who knows how to read braille, to check the legibility at a larger size. He found that it was legible but could not be read as quickly as small-size braille, so there is further development to be made on the optimum size of text when using it in public spaces.
The Japanese designer says he is working with other designers around the world currently testing similar projects, and wants to make the combination of braille and regular letters freely available to experiment with, so that “anyone can create and use typefaces that include braille”.
“I hope it becomes commonplace”
The hope is that more and more typefaces will be designed to incorporate the raised dots, enabling the bumpy code to become more widely used.
“I believe we can create an inclusive society where using braille becomes commonplace,” he says.
He hopes the new typeface will be implemented across Japan as a starting point, such as mounted onto lift buttons, escalator handrails, notice boards, as well as in children’s books and toys. The ultimate aim is for it to be used at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, across signage, tickets and visitor guides.
Takahashi is currently looking for partners to take on Braille Neue, and is hoping to start conversations with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee.