Tyler Hawkins’ Customizable Font for People with Low Vision Launches and is featured on BCBusiness
The font — part of an accessibility tool called Optical — allows users to shape letters to their own needs via their home computer. Optical then displays the Internet in the resulting tailored font.
“Our alphabet was designed for paper, not for screens,” Tyler tells Emily Carr‘s Perrin Grauer. “But there are no one-size-fits-all solutions in accessibility. Low vision varies significantly in both source and degree of impact, so different people benefit from different adjustments.”
Operating via web-browser extension, Optical provides fine-tuned control over a base font which is designed specifically for low vision. Users can adjust the font’s boldness, width, spacing, punctuation size, and letter styles.
In an interview with BC Business, Tyler emphasizes the importance of user input in the creation of Optical, which was designed, developed, and tested with accessibility in mind. “Initially, we focused on other font legibility techniques, and [a low-vision advocate in the Lower Mainland] was like, You really need to focus on boldness as well; it has a huge impact for me, and I can really see benefit from that. So we did.”
Optical began as an eight-month grad project during Tyler’s final year in the Communication Design program and was incubated through our Satellite Residency, through which the project received funding support from The Accessible Technology Program of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. A prototype helped Tyler find partners and support to continue work. The Disability Alliance of BC helped coordinate feedback sessions. The Health Design Lab provided guidance, support and a home for the project. The Shumka Centre for Creative Entrepreneurship at Emily Carr supported all of it. The development team includes font developer Mirko Velimirovic of Abyss Type Company, and Quinn Keaveney of Liiift Studio who runs web and extension development.