What started as a visual rebranding of Braille Institute with design firm Applied Design Works back in 2019 resulted in the unexpected development of an award-winning font family for folks with visual impairment. Now, Atkinson Hyperlegible is accessible to the masses and available for free download on Google Fonts.
When Braille Institute initially embarked on its rebrand, an appropriate font choice quickly posed a problem. “As part of a visual identity project, you’re always trying to decide the right typeface for tone and manner,” explained Craig Dobie, founding creative director of Applied Design Works, to Fast Company back in 2019. Since Braille Institute explicitly serves the low-vision community, it became clear that to really do the rebrand right, they needed a whole new typeface for improved readability.
In the early stages of the creative process, with designer Elliott Scott at the helm, Braille Institute tested design samples on a swath of individuals facing varying degrees and forms of vision impairment to help inform their direction and make adjustments accordingly. The team combined elements from several font types and families to construct Atkinson Hyperlegible effectively, thus creating a Frankenstein font family that breaks a litany of typographic rules.
To truly prioritize readability and best serve the vision-impaired community, Atkinson Hyperlegible necessarily rejects letterform norms that valorize uniformity and embraces the opposite instead—letterform distinction. Letterform distinction is critical to increasing individual character recognition and, in turn, readability and comprehension.
While the font has a conventional grotesque sans-serif at its base, it strays from tradition otherwise by using unambiguous, distinctive elements and unexpected forms as low-vision readers typically struggle to distinguish certain characters. They incorporated specific design techniques to differentiate letters and numbers most commonly misinterpreted, including recognizable footprints so that character boundaries are clearly defined, exaggerating forms for better clarity, widening counter space, and adding angled spurs and unique tails.
The ubiquity of Google Fonts means Atkinson Hyperlegible will now have more of an impact, as it will now be available for use in Google Workspace apps like Docs and Slides. "Making Atkinson Hyperlegible available on Google Fonts means countless more people who can benefit from its accessibility will be able to use it,” said the president of the Braille Institute, Peter Mindnich, to in a press release. The font family also includes four weights—regular, italic, bold, and bold italic—and features the Adobe Latin 2 Character Set along with accent characters encompassing 27 languages and symbols.
"Losing your vision doesn't mean having to give up on doing the things you love," said Sandy Shin, vice president of marketing and communications at Braille Institute, in the same press release. "Finding an innovative way to make the written word easier to read is just one of the many things we do to help those we serve."