In November 2017, the Facebook page “Feminist Info” shared a screenshot describing a font called “Dyslexie,” designed for people with dyslexia:
That screenshot read:
The Dyslexie font
Graphic designer Christian Boer has dyslexia himself and designed the font to improve his reading life. People with dyslexia often swap, rotate, and flip letters without noticing. The problem is that some letters are too similar to each other. Dyslexie font is designed so that every letter is unique in its own form. This counters the rotation, flipping and reversal of the letters. Sometimes they have a “crowding effect” (the apparent fusion of letters) because they are too close to each other. In addition, the font has extra distance between the letters (kerning) and between words (spaces). Dyslexic people may also overlook the beginning of a sentence and read two sentences as one. Therefore, the capital letters are bolder so the reader will easily identify the beginning of a new sentence.
In an accompanying post, the page advised that users could install Dyslexie on their “tablets, laptops and browers etc, so not only can you change things like documents into it, you can change websites into that font as well.” In the first comment, the page linked to a website for Dyslexie (there’s also a Facebook page.)
An “Our Story” section on DyslexieFont.com credits Boer as its creator, and it explains:
In 2008 Christian — who loves to learn but who has always been challenged when doing so — decided to turn his biggest point of frustration into something positive. Studying might have been a struggle, but designing is his biggest talent. He decided, as a graduate of graphic design, to research how the shape of letters could increase the readability for people with dyslexia …
… According to typography rules, letters should be shaped symmetrically; a rule that strongly works against people with dyslexia. Basic typography rules were ignored, instead Christian allowed the challenges of dyslexia to form his guidelines. Christian designed a font that prevents mirroring, turning, swapping and overcrowding: Dyslexie font, easily readable font for people with dyslexia.
As DyslexieFont.com notes, Boer began creating the font in 2008; it received “first prize at the Smart Urban Stage Awards in Amsterdam” in 2011. According to DyslexieFont.com, a “lifetime license” for a home user was $59.95.
In a broader 2014 examination of dyslexia and fonts, typography experts Kris Bigelow and Charles Holmes indicated that findings supporting the efficacy of fonts like Dyslexie’s were thin to nonexistent:
Fonts that purportedly ameliorate dyslexia have recently been featured in blogs and on-line news media: Slate (Nov. 10, 2014, with correction Nov. 12), NPR (Nov. 11, 2014), USA Today (Nov 12, 2014), The Guardian (Nov. 12, 2014), and an earlier post in Scientific American (October 26, 2011).
What is missing from these news reports is scientific evidence that special dyslexia fonts are actually better for dyslexic readers than commonly used fonts.
In preparing a literature review on dyslexia and typography for a major font vendor, I surveyed more than fifty scientific papers and books about dyslexia, paying special attention to those with typographic relevance. In the scientific literature, I found no evidence that special dyslexia fonts confer statistically significant improvements in reading speed compared to standard, run-of-the-mill fonts. Some studies found that for certain subsets of reading errors, special dyslexia fonts do reduce error rates for dyslexic readers, yet for other subsets of errors, special dyslexic fonts were no better, or in some cases worse; hence, the findings on reading errors are mixed.
A 2015 Gizmodo piece described the marketing as “flat out misleading” after talking with both Bigelow and Dyslexie’s representatives. The latter said:
It is true though that the result of the research are not the same. There are comparisons like they both have a conclusion telling that there is more research required to determine the benefits of our Dyslexie font. Good to know is that the both conclusions are telling us that there are no negative effects for dyslectics or non dyslectics using the font. So as long our current users are giving us the positive feedback we will be happy continue developing the font.
In April 2018, Annals of Dyslexia published results of testing involving the Dyslexie font in children diagnosed with dyslexia, substantiating the initial skepticism:
In two experiments, the claim was tested that the font “Dyslexie”, specifically designed for people with dyslexia, eases reading performance of children with (and without) dyslexia. Three questions were investigated. (1) Does the Dyslexie font lead to faster and/or more accurate reading? (2) Do children have a preference for the Dyslexie font? And, (3) is font preference related to reading performance? In Experiment 1, children with dyslexia (n = 170) did not read text written in Dyslexie font faster or more accurately than in Arial font. The majority preferred reading in Arial and preference was not related to reading performance. In Experiment 2, children with (n = 102) and without dyslexia (n = 45) read word lists in three different font types (Dyslexie, Arial, Times New Roman). Words written in Dyslexie font were not read faster or more accurately. Moreover, participants showed a preference for the fonts Arial and Times New Roman rather than Dyslexie, and again, preference was not related to reading performance. These experiments clearly justify the conclusion that the Dyslexie font neither benefits nor impedes the reading process of children with and without dyslexia.
Researchers also measured subject preference, including the popular fonts Arial and Times New Roman in the experiments:
In the group of children that read Arial first and Dyslexie second, a preference for Arial was shown by 44.7% of the participants, 37.6% preferred the font Dyslexie, and the remaining 17.6% did not have a preference. In the group of children that read Dyslexie first and Arial second, 61.9% had a preference for Arial, 20.2% had a preference for Dyslexie, and 17.9% had no preference.
Children with dyslexia read text written in font Dyslexie as fast as in font Arial and they made a comparable number of errors. Participants generally preferred Arial above Dyslexie and preference for either of the fonts was not related to better reading. Moreover, the second reading of the same text was indeed faster than the first time the text was read; the order in which the texts were read did not affect reading speed or reading accuracy.
Participants with and without dyslexia read as many words correctly during 1 min in the font Dyslexie as they did in Arial and Times New Roman. Neither of the groups showed a preference for the font Dyslexie; in fact more participants preferred Arial and Times New Roman above Dyslexie. Moreover, preference was not related to number of words read correctly. Finally, no effect of repeated reading occurred, which corroborates our assumption that the different order of words on the cards causes the cards to be similar but not identical.
That’s not to say fonts are totally irrelevant in terms of readability for people with dyslexia. Research published in 2013 [PDF] concluded:
The main conclusion is that font types have an impact on readability of people with dyslexia. Good fonts for people with dyslexia are Helvetica, Courier, Arial, Verdana and CMU, taking into consideration both, reading performance and subjective preferences. Also, sans serif, monospaced, and roman font types increased significantly the reading performance, while italic fonts decreased reading performance. In particular, Arial It. should be avoided since it significantly decreases readability.
The 2017 post from the “Feminist Info” page about the Dyslexie font was true, inasmuch as Boer did begin developing and ultimately marketing the typeface for people with dyslexia in 2008; it is available via the font’s website. Subsequent research has, however, not substantiated Dyslexie’s claims that the font makes reading easier for dyslexic people, and one study found that many children with dyslexia preferred the fonts Arial and Times New Roman, in addition to showing no reading improvements when reading Dyslexie.