notes on learning, design, tools, & life

Designing for illiteracy

Last July, Lena Alfter gave a talk “Typografie für besseres Lesenlernen” at Creative Mornings Berlin about designing for illiteracy.

As part of her master’s thesis, Lena Alfter found that people with reading difficulties don’t need special fonts in their learning materials, but better typographic design.1

Sebastian Greger has helpfully provided notes in English about the talk:

With everybody under 16 in Germany legally obliged to attend school, it can be hard to grasp that 6 million people (12% of the adult population) are functional analphabets and over 16 million (almost 1/3 of adults) have at least some kind of deficit dealing with written text.

So, designing inclusively is not about “edge cases”, as it is often reduced to by ableist thinking. And the impact on social participation, not least on the functioning of a democracy, is massive.

Lena illustrated well how analphabets’ manifold coping strategies contribute to hiding this fact in daily life; some even manage to get a high school degree without ever acquiring full literacy.

  1. Translated from the original German: “Im Rahmen ihrer Masterarbeit hat Lena Alfter herausgefunden, dass die Unterrichtsmaterialien für Menschen mit Leseschwäche keine speziellen Schriften brauchen, sondern eine bessere typografische Gestaltung.”