FS Me, A Type Family Designed For People With Learning Disabilities

In April 2008 Mencap, the UK’s leading charity and voice for those with learning disabilities, unveiled a new look as part of plans to move the organisation forward, making Mencap a more modern and dynamic organisation. Amongst the changes that usually occur in this kind of operation – a new logo, new colours, a new strapline, … – the new visual identity included a new typeface called FS Mencap. It was the first accessible typeface to be designed through work with people with a learning disability. Over a three-month period, Mencap looked at various styles of sans-serif and handwritten fonts. Throughout the development the learning disability group tested the type designs, deciding which iterations were the easiest to read and the clearest to see. They considered how letter spacing, width, shape and style affected readability. They developed a unique typeface of 260 characters, stylish and easy to read. It was expanded by the Fontsmith team of Mitja Miklavčič, Philip Garnham, Jason Smith, Emanuela Conidi and Fernando Mello in 2011 to a feature-rich OpenType Pro family in four weights and matching italics, with 1048 glyphs per font, which was eventually renamed to FS Me. Mencap receives a donation for each font license purchased, and FontShop is very proud to be exclusive reseller for this type family.

Jason Smith working with the learning disability group.

How was this project initiated?

Jason Smith | “Back in March 2008 Mencap approached us to pitch to create a typeface for them for their new identity.
Mencap provide services, advice and support to meet people’s needs and choices throughout their lives, as well as fighting for equal rights, campaigning for greater opportunities and challenging attitudes and prejudices. They needed a bespoke font to reflect this, as well as having the opportunity to create a ‘benchmark’ in terms of design and legibility.”

Typeface comparisons during legibility research for FS Mencap.

What was the brief?

Jason Smith | “Fontsmith undertook a lengthy consultative process with a diverse research group of stakeholders to help produce a unique, modern typeface for the client in line with the new brand identity created by Rare Corporate.”

Were specific learning disabilities considered in the design?

Jason Smith | “Learning disability ranges are quite wide and different people have different levels of difficulty. You have to remember that this typeface was about making something easier and more beautiful and inclusive to read. Of course difficulties such as dyslexia and partially sighted were considered as well.”

FS Me lowercase with alternate a & g.

How did you create this specific design?

Jason Smith | “Different styles of serif, sans serif and handwritten fonts were examined to get a sense of what the research group preferred, both aesthetically and in readability terms. Having narrowed the choice down to a cleaner and more crisp letterform, which avoided the pitfalls of being too childlike and patronising, Fontsmith refined the design to aid legibility and maximise accessibility.

A great deal of care was taken with the positive/negative space of the letter forms and how much leading was used in text. Larger, more open letter forms were assessed as well as denser, more fitted designs, which were more modern and visually pleasing, to achieve a clean, clear design by creating something distinctly contemporary.

Having sought instinctive responses to width, weight and spacing, paid attention to details such as the length of ascenders and descenders and customised each letter to make it stand out and increase recognition, Fontsmith have produced FS Me – a unique typeface which represents a first in font design for this particular client group.

FS Me is not quirky or odd looking, doesn’t resemble the childlike design of fridge magnets or early learning tools and is set to challenge Arial as a new standard in legibility. This is a first by a designer in crafting and care which stands up as a typeface in its own right, as a benchmark in accessibility and is available for people to use as an everyday tool to assist in the Mencap vision of a world where people with a learning disability are valued equally, listened to and included.”

Would you consider this to be more a “custom type design” or a “general type design” project in how you had to approach it?

Jason Smith | “Whilst it was always going to be used as a corporate typeface there was always the intent to set a standard for everyone to use the typeface. The idea being that anyone can use the typeface, whether you are a multi-national insurance company or a small local charity. The font works for all.”

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