Christian Boer has suffered from dyslexia all his life, but it was while studying at Utrecht Art Academy in the Netherlands in 2008 that he began to keenly feel the impact of his condition. Reluctant to let the disorder – which affects approximately 3-7% of the world’s population – negatively affect his studies, he began investigating why dyslexia occurs in some people and not others.
“People with dyslexia make errors while reading by processing the information in a different way,” explains Christian, who is keen to dispel the common misconception that dyslexia sufferers have lower intelligence or poor eyesight. “They unconsciously switch and mirror letters.” This means that it takes those living with dyslexia up to five times more energy to read, often resulting in a negative relationship with reading for life.
As part of final thesis for his graphic design degree, Christian then began exploring whether he could create a typeface that would make it impossible for dyslexia sufferers to jumble letters around. He created a prototype based on his own condition and then invited others with dyslexia, ranging from mild to severe, to form part of a test group. “They gave me feedback and further insight in different severities, the process of reading and problem letters,” explains Christian, who found that by simply creating more of an emphasis on some letters or extending the tail of others meant that each letter is easier to distinguish. The result is Dyslexie font.
Following his graduation, Christian made the font available online at no cost, received positively among the dyslexic community. While he had been working on Dyslexie font alongside his career as a graphic designer, that all changed in 2011 when Christian won the prestigious Smart Future Minds Award. “Suddenly press from all over the world began to talk about Dyslexie font,” recalls Christian. “People began to share it on Facebook and I was even asked to do TED talks. From then on it was more than full time job.”
Each symbol or letter takes approximately 20 hours to make and is now available in languages from Turkish to Icelandic. However, Christian says the hardest part of this journey has been summoning the confidence to deliver presentations in English. “I have dyslexia, so my native language of Dutch is already poor so learning a foreign language is much harder for me than most,” admits Christian. “When I did my first TED talk in Dubai, I was by far more nervous than when I did my parachute jump.”
Christian now has a team working with him to help introduce Dyslexie font to a wider audience, with 80,000 to 100,000 people – ranging from home users, schools to companies (current users include Pixar Animation Studios, Nintendo and the Penguin Group) and publishers – using it each year. “We are trying to raise awareness of dyslexia and make it a subject that sufferers feel comfortable discussing,” says Christian, who admits to at one point hiding his own diagnosis. “Dyslexia literally effects everything, from your education, your employment, social life and self image.”
While the font is currently available to download to your Mac or PC, Christian hopes that his Kickstarter campaign will help further revolutionise the tool by including a PDF converter and an especially created web browser. To get involved, head here.