INTERVIEW by REBEKAH ALLEN |PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of CHRISTIAN BOER
While you may not have heard his name yet, to countless people all over the world Christian Boer is something of a superhero. Christian is the creator of Dyslexie, a font for dyslexics that, for its readers, has had life-changing results. Starting out as a graphic designer with a desire to send a message, real-life experience brought Christian to discover Dyslexie, and now he’s about to take it worldwide. And while he’s won awards and gotten much recognition for his efforts, what Christian seems most proud of are the letters he’s received from the people who, because of him, can now read easy.
Where are you from?
I’m from Zeist, which is in the center of Holland.
How did growing up and dealing with dyslexia lead you to discover your typeface?
I always had dyslexia, and in the lower grades I got more problems with it, so I was always drawing. A couple of years ago at school, we had to choose our own project, and I got the idea because I got a very big book from my teacher over the Christmas holiday, and all the pages were badly copied and it was all English. She said, “Just read it in two weeks, then we’ll talk about it,” but I never got through it. It was too hard for me. Then I thought, something must be done to make reading easier for dyslexic people. She asked me to explain to her why it was so difficult for people with dyslexia to read text, so I made a little video clip, and after that I thought, “that’s a nice way to begin your final exam!” Then later, I was reading something — and what I already know is that dyslexics flip and change the letters, but while I was reading it, I saw the letters before me, turned them, and tied them down to the ground to shape them in my head.
How did you test your font with other dyslexics?
I asked my friends if they knew somebody with dyslexia, and they came with different people of different ages and backgrounds. I asked them to read the text in my typeface without telling them it was a special font. They all were immediately excited to read it. The people with light dyslexia and people with heavier dyslexia gave different feedback, so I tuned it a little bit to make it smaller, bigger, etc. After four versions of the typeface they gave me the same feedback, and I knew that I was ready.
Were your teachers encouraging?
Well, the problem was that my teachers were all nondyselxic, except the head chief of graphic design. Every teacher said, “What are you doing? This is against all rules of perfect type design, so don’t do this!” After that, I thought, maybe this is not only for myself and eight other dyslexics. Maybe I must go further with this than only my exam.
How did you come up with the design of your font?
Dyslexic people think in pictures. They treat the letters as pictures. If you look at the word “cat,” there are thirty-two different variations for dyslexics because they turn every letter. And they can’t stop that, they do it without thinking about it. It’s like if I asked you to stop thinking in words. It’s impossible. And that’s the reason why dyslexics have difficulty with letters. And if you treat letters as pictures — 3D objects — and tie them down, that’s what I have done in this typeface. Now the people say the letters don’t dance anymore and it’s quieter in their heads to read this. They don’t make a lot of mistakes anymore, and it’s much easier to read.
How have you been making your font available, and what are your plans for the future?
I’ve had it on my website for three years, and it’s available for purchase. Some schools use it, which is great because all the students can use it. The children don’t have to pay for it or arrange it, it’s just there for them. I also I sell the typeface privately in Holland and Belgium — where my primary market is — through my own business, and am planning to make it accessible everywhere. I want every dyslexic to be able to use it. I know what the struggle is in all the schools for them. Some people are really intelligent but must go a step lower because they don’t do well with reading text, and it’s really frustrating. I would like it to have a web browser so that every dyslexic can select it and then be able to read all the pages and all the mail in this typeface. Everybody would be able to use it.
What kind of feedback have you gotten now that it’s out there for people to see?
Basically all the rules for graphic design is to make it as uniform as possible. Everything must be the same, and that’s the reason why it’s difficult for dyslexic people to read. That’s the reason why I got so much negative feedback in school, and on graphic design typeface blogs or forums people. But then, of course, I get letters from dyslexics and they tell me, “Now I can read normally, and this is what I want!” So I think that’s more important to help these people than to say that fonts must be aesthetic and beautiful. Yeah, it’s against every rule, but for me it’s function above form.