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Fonts and Readability

As I discussed in my previous post, I am on a quest to design Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides in a way that they are more engaging, readable, and easy to consume. As part of this, I looked at an update that Kindle books made a few years ago that changed how I read. Before I dive in, I highly suggest you take a listen/look at the How to Spot Dyslexia episode of the Cult of Pedagogy Podcast. I was at roughly the same time that this episode came out that I gave Kindle books another shot.

I’ve been a fan of Kindle and ebooks in general ever since I got my first Kindle Fire. The biggest advantage of ebooks over a traditional book for me is the simple fact that I can change the size of the font, line spacing, and margins. As someone who has a lot of trouble reading small font and/or close lines, it was a total game-changer for me. No longer was I stuck to the design decision that the publisher made for the book, I could control some of it. I found that my reading speed increased, my retention went up, and my overall joy of reading drastically increased. Previously, I would read the same line ten times before training my eyes to move to the next line. Now, that wasn’t an issue at all.

Fast forward to the inclusion of OpenDyslexic font in Kindle books. Again, another game-changer. Instead of just controlling the size, spacing, and margins, OpenDyslexi also puts different weights on each letter starting thin towards the top and getting heavier as it goes down. It provides a natural path for your eyes to follow and each letter has a totally unique weight which makes it easier to spot, read, and understand.

According to the site:

OpenDyslexic is created to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. Letters have heavy weighted bottoms to indicate direction. You are able to quickly figure out which part of the letter is down which aids in recognizing the correct letter, and sometimes helps to keep your brain from rotating them around. Consistently weighted bottoms can also help reinforce the line of text. The unique shapes of each letter can help prevent confusion through flipping and swapping.

From the about page on OpenDyslexic
OpenDyslexic compared to other fonts.

Now I’ve installed OpenDyslexic on all of my computers, tablets, and phones to help me out and it has. Unfortunately, this font is not currently in the Google Fonts selection. So I started looking for a new font to use for my students to address any readability issues that may be present in the things I create.

Luckily I found Lexend. A font designed for to address the things I wanted to fix in my work.

Lexend fonts are intended to reduce visual stress and so improve reading performance. Initially they were designed with dyslexia and struggling readers in mind, but Bonnie Shaver-Troup, creator of the Lexend project, soon found out that these fonts are also great for everyone else.

From the about section on Lexend’s page on Google Fonts

Bingo. This is what I’m looking for. So I added it to my font selection on Google-based items (how to do so can be found here) and plan on using it on all new docs, sheets, and slides, and converting existing ones to use the font. Lexend also has its own dedicated page but requires an email address from you to be able to access the fonts. There are lots and lots and lots of studies out there about web fonts and readability, but most do not look at it through a learning lens. Both Lexend and OpenDyslexic has research on their sites, take it for what you will.

Now that hopefully have some basic readability solutions down, it’s time to address the other design problems that come with creating items for learners. More about that later.

Nathan Nagele

I'm a husband, father, and technology education teacher. I have a passion for creating videos and instructional materials that help students highly achieve.

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