An area of a stone carving of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs chiselled with great care and precision. The symbols shown are presented in two rows separated by a line. Some symbols are within a rounded-off box as if for emphasis.
An area of a stone carving of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs chiselled with great care and precision. The symbols shown are presented in two rows separated by a line. Some symbols are within a rounded-off box as if for emphasis.

Writing and, by extension, reading are humanity’s greatest cultural achievement which happened approximately 5,000 to 5,500 years ago. From what we know today, it originated in ancient Egypt with the invention of hieroglyphics. Some believe Cuneiform, (the writing system of ancient Babylonia and Assyria), came first. But the earliest records date back “only” about 4,500 years. Either way, this article’s purpose is not to debate which came first but to explain the different concepts of writing systems.

Four basic types

When we speak of writing systems we mean the act of making marks, graphic symbols, on a surface using any…


Overhead image of a induction hob. The surface is reflective black and shows the faint marking for five rings and the control dials to regulate the cooking rings.
Overhead image of a induction hob. The surface is reflective black and shows the faint marking for five rings and the control dials to regulate the cooking rings.

I have always been a fan of gas hobs because once the pan is hot, temperature regulation is instant and easily controllable. I also like that you can put a wok on the largest ring and have the heat go on the sides of the pan rather than just the bottom, and this allows me to cook different foods at different times whilst keeping the already processed bits warm in the center. The gas hob also has decent sized knobs that you can grab and turn for temperature regulation. It’s tactile, it’s intuitive; the numbers on the knob are large…


A simple illustration showing the back of the eye with a red dot in the center for the fovea, radiating out into the macula in pink and the retina in blue. To the right of the macula is the blind spot, shown in white.

The visual system — a brief guide to anatomy and physiology in the context of typography

The vast majority of people would classify reading as a visual activity but it can also be a tactile experience such as Braille script or touch-sign language. This article focuses on the visual system and with an understanding of the visual system it may be easier to lower the accessibility barriers some people may experience.

The visual system can broadly be divided into two parts: ophthalmic and neurological. The ophthalmic part affects everything that is in the eyes, including the connection to the optic nerve. Any impairment or defect to the eye will have an effect on the quality of…


Much has been said recently about the rebrand of Standard Life Aberdeen to ‘abrdn’, and much of it not very flattering. The comments mostly seem concerned with the dropping of the vowels and how it can now be misread and misinterpreted. To me, all this is a bit far fetched.

The dropping of vowels is nothing new, even for us who use an alphabetic writing system; we do so regularly in text messages and yet nobody seems to complain about it. I personally find it annoying when I receive such a message but so far it has never led me…


Typographic accessibility in more detail

The three pillars of accessibility - emotional, functional and technical - can be applied to any output whether that is a product or a service. Each industry and sector will have its own specific definitions relevant to their output. The following paragraphs describe each accessibility pillar in the context of typography and typefaces.

Using symbols that visualize language the purpose of writing is to communicate thought, across geography and time. Typography is a formalised and mechanised means of writing and still serves the purpose of transmitting an author’s thought to others without distraction to the reader. The typeface is the…


This title image shows a few letters and symbols tumbling down from the top. It has no meaning and serves a decorative function only.
This title image shows a few letters and symbols tumbling down from the top. It has no meaning and serves a decorative function only.

Functional accessibility in typography includes legibility and readability among other things, and often the two terms are applied interchangeably. It is important to have a clear definition of what each does to be able to identify a potential accessibility hurdle. A great variety of factors can of course affect the legibility of a typeface and the readability of a typographic setting. For avoidance of misunderstanding, the below descriptions of legibility and readability are based on neuroscientific definitions and are used for objective testing.

Legibility is the definition of how quickly and accurately a reader can recognise a character in any…


The three pillars of accessibility

Accessibility means different things to different people but accessibility is not just a single thing. We can broadly divide it into three pillars: emotional, functional and technical. Each pillar must be accessible in itself but all must be considered together. We also have to accept that accessibility can never be perfect but it can be optimal.

The principle of the three pillars of accessibility can be applied to any type of work and is not limited to a specific industry. This is a guide to better understand the role of each:
Emotional accessibility is the first impression a person experiences when…


“For our members, by our members” is the driver of the changes that the board of ATypI has started to set in motion. We are working to transform the Association so that it is more relevant to aspiring and practising designers in all matters relating to type and typography. We want ATypI to facilitate students and professionals to exchange information, teach skills and transfer knowledge to each other, irrespective of where our members live. Some first steps have already been announced at the most recent ATypI conference in Antwerp: we have introduced a flat $15 annual membership fee; we have…

Bruno Maag

Bruno Maag is an expert typographer with over forty years of expertise in his field. He founded Dalton Maag Ltd, the world’s leading studio for typeface design.

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