Braille and typography

Since almost 200 years, the Braille system is reigning on the visually-impaired people’s literacy. Braille is a tactile and writing (and printing) method for blind and visually-impaired people. Created by Louis Braille in the 1820’s after he lost his sight, the system is using embossed dots combinations to represent letters, numbers and punctuation (64 combinations made with 6 dots cells, spelling out every letter of a word, and more combinations representing contracted signs).
Today, technology tries to answer literacy’s decline through special displays, computer assistance, apps (like Braille Touch, on iTunes) screen readers and innovative printings.


A picture of the first-ever Little Prince Tactile Art Book, published by blind artist Claude Garrandes, with the support of the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation.

Discover “this collector’s book with drawings in relief and texts in English, French and Braille”. <

Braille as a communication tool and therefore as a design and formal reflections’ subject, is still not much considered. As a sighted people and/or a designer, you are not in front of many Braille daily (mainly pack, especially pharmaceutical, signage, but not much more). Some designers, like web designers, should be always taking Braille into serious consideration, in term of accessibility. Although it was created to fill a need from blind people, tactile typography may apply to other persons, as long as these people have hands ;). And even if it is used to talk  to non-sighted people, Braille can convey an universal message.

The video shows how Wimpy, an American burger chain, used sesame seeds to tell blind people that they produced a Braille menu. The seeds are placed on the bun to form a sentence in Braille.

Coca Cola Braille Bottles

Coca Cola edited bottles with Braille labels for the Argentina National Soccer Team for the Blind. Every soccer player received a bottle with his name on it written in Braille. Everybody can share a coke. And every message can be shared in Braille. More about this cool and coke initiative here.

Braille is a field to explore in many ways. Here are some designers’ experimentations and projects around Braille and tactile readable type systems, trying to erase the limits between sighted and non-sighted writing (and reading and printing).

A type to learn Braille

Simone Fahrenhorst, Integrated Design student at Köln International School of Design, wanted to find a solution to a social reality: the loss of sight of elderly people. To help these people be prepared for a possible blindness, she created an alphabetic system mixing Braille and Latin signs, and “a new typography that can be seen as a point of intersection between Braille and normal print”, where Latin and Braille letters are designed on the same grid. Educational, reassuring and readable by both sighted and visually-impaired people, the Learning Braille Type is a very relevant graphic project, both in form and substance.

Learning Braille Type by SimoneFahrenhorst

Words are composed with letters in Latin and Braille. Sighted people can then read and understand the signs in Braille by deduction.


Learning Braille Type by SimoneFahrenhorst

Simone Fahrenhorst drew a type mixing Latin letters and letters in Braille in the same sign. Latin letters are created by adding lines on Braille letters, signs of this new font are made with lines and dots.


Susan Jolly is the curator of, a website dedicated to “demystifying Braille”. In the 70’s, her father came with the idea of a Braille analog system called the Kobigraphs. He developed Kobigraphs “as a simple way of writing Braille in inkprint–much simpler [by hand] than dots”. Based on a Braille cell, Kobigraphs are drawn by joining the dots of a Braille combination. A way to make a “type” created for non-sighted people readable and writable by sighted people. A way to increase Braille literacy by giving everyone the possibility to share the same (paper) “language”.
In 2014, Greg Bland, a young graphic designer, “became curious about the idea of this typographic ‘bridge’ between embossed Braille for the blind and visual letterforms for sighted persons to read Braille more easily”. In order to encourage sighted people to learn Braille, he designed a personal and contemporary Kobigraphs’ alphabet. The result is gorgeous, accessible and highlights on Braille analogs.

Kobigraphs by Greg Bland

From A to Z, Greg Bland’s Kobigraphs are drawn by joining the dots of Braille combinations with a single line for each sign, in a dynamic way. To draw a Kobigraph by hand, no need to remove the pen from the paper!

Why only dots?

Dots have not be chosen to write Braille just for fun. Convenience, efficacy and accessibility were selection criteria too ;)! However, Deon Staffelbach, an American designer, ask himself if other shapes than standard dots could add “an additional level of information” to Braille. He designed 3 “Braille fonts”: Constellation (dots= stars), Love (dots= hearts) and Pyramid (dots= pyramids), each of them having 3 heights of embossment for light, regular and bold. Although these fonts may be difficult to read for long texts (In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust with little hearts, really makes you want to went to bed early for a long time), it may be an interesting aesthetic alternative, depending on the (short) message conveyed, understandable for both sighted and non-sighted people.

Love Braille by Deon

A lovely card on which is written the word “love”, in Braille, every dot is replaced by a heart.

A tool to read everything but Braille

The Fluid Interfaces is a research group of students and alumni at MIT’s Media Laboratory. Their goal is “to design and develop interfaces that are a more natural extension of our minds, bodies and behavior”. The researchers recently created a tool that can detect and read out loud any printed text. The FingerReader is a prototype ring that allows “wearers (to) scan a text line with their finger and receive an audio feedback of the words and a haptic feedback of the layout”. This awesome tool will perhaps lead to the death of Braille, but before that it will allow every visually-impaired people to read any written support. Respect.

Finger Reader Reading Kindle

The FingerReader is functional with printed text or screen display. Every books are readable, from an old grimoire to electronics.


Introductory video to the FingerReader, “a wearable device to explore printed text on the go”.


Textscape is a 3D printing technology project by the Chinese artist and designer Hongtao Zhou. The 3D typographic documents offer a double and even a triple reading: letters can be read by both sight and touch, and can also form, thanks to volume and the different heights of signs, an image or a new text to decipher. “These documents make reading process interactive for general audience or blind people to read as knowledge as well as art”.

Textape by Hongtao Zhou

A 3D document representing an embossed text about New York City. Some letters, taller than the other, become the buildings of the city. Seen or touched from above, the document is a text to read, viewed or touched from the side, it offers a typographical architecture of New York. ©Hongtao Zhou

ELIA FRAMES® tactile font: an alternative to Braille

According to its CEO, “ELIA is a company founded on the belief that change is not only possible, but inevitable”. The ELIA team of engineers and designers recently developed a font that may change the world, and especially the future of Braille’s world. ELIA FRAMES is a tactile font whose design and construction are very different to Braille. Only shapes in relief and reading by touch remained. The ELIA FRAMES’ alphabet is divided into several groups of framed letters.

ELIA FRAMES Bookmark Index

Latin, ELIA FRAMES and Braille alphabetical similarities.

Letters of each group have a common shape, for example letters from the first group (from A to D) are designed with open circular frames while the second group of letters (from E to N) have squared shapes. Numbers have house shape frames. These shapes and divisions aim to facilitate the learning of the writing language by both visually-impaired and sighted people.


As Braille, ELIA FRAMES is readable by moving hands (index fingers) from left to right along lines.

ELIA FRAMES is very intuitive and faster to learn than Braille, which should encourage more people to embrace it. The font can be downloaded for free from ELIA’s website. And to print your embossed tactile font, ELIA team also worked on ELIA Touch Printer (more here about this impressive tool)! Follow the evolution of this awesome project which promises to get itself talked about, by following ELIA on Twitter!

Despite the large decline of use, Braille remains today the only effective method of writing and reading adapted to blind and visually-impaired people. It can not disappear until it has found a better built substitute, which is not for tomorrow. No, tomorrow, designers and researchers will continue to experiment around this unique form. They will keep questioning readability, like with this “Rubiks Cube for blind persons“, designed by Konstantin Datz (a totally white Rubiks Cube where colors are written in Braille). Tomorrow, they will keep going where no one has gone yet, trying to give visually-impaired people access to more and more (tactile) experiences and (cultural) discoveries. This is what Philipp Meyer did with the creation of the first “tactile comic for blind people”. And after tomorrow, June 19th, a new kind of book will be released at the Paris headquarters of Unesco: a guide for blind yoga students using a “tactile printing system (…) developed at IIT-Delhi”.
Questioning Braille as a design subject is questioning the design as accessibility, open-mindedness, furtherance… Thinking design, graphic or type, with all senses, may be the key to an always richer and innovative creativity!