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- Typography , Print & Production

TacTiles – every letter a riddle solved

At the start of her master's project, Nóra Kaszanyi posed herself the ­question: To what extent can graphic design give something to those ­people who are not able to process visual content. »I have always been interested in things that are designed not just for the eyes but which work at a spatial level and appeal to other senses as well,« explains Kaszanyi. Also this Hungarian designer wanted to make an impact with her ­dissertation and so she immersed herself in the world of blind children and developed tacTiles, a system for helping primary school children learn the Braille alphabet through play.

Awaken easy-to-understand associations

How did you approach your project?

Since it is a very special field indeed, it was obvious that I would need help from an expert. I contacted the Primary School for the Blind where I got to know the teacher of the blind primary school students. During my visits to the school, she gave me some advice and shared her background knowledge with me. In addition I did a considerable amount of research in the topic, and I also wrote my thesis on tactile writing systems.

In which way was it different to design for somebody who cannot see?

In my previous works visual communication and designing visual content took centre stage. Consequently, adjusting to the new situation posed an ­enormous challenge. As blind people navigate the world with the help of ­hearing and touching things, one of their main sensors are their fingers. Thus, the question arises: Can a graphic designer even achieve an impact in such a situ­ation?
Looking back at the design process, I had to apply those very tools of visual communication which I would be in need of when designing a logo, only I had to optimize them for touching. To a certain degree, I had to put aside my ­pursuit of beauty, for the primary considerations in this instance were vastly different from those of a usual graphic assignment.


What was the biggest challenge of this project?

I started out by designing an experimental ABC booklet, which included ­tact­ile content too. The objective was to create a tool that could facilitate the process of learning Braille characters for children. I wanted to assign a ­different material, that is a material which feels different when touched, to every single letter, however, due to the fragility of the materials I had to choose an­­other way. A technique that could be used in the long run. That is why I ­opted for 3D printing.
As you would usually find it in an ABC booklet, I assigned various ­concepts to the letters of the ABC. I used concepts which mean the same thing to a blind child too, and are easily accessible. I also received help from the school, as to what kind of concepts I should put on the disks and where the ­children’s ­limits are in terms of processing through the somatosensory system. Therefore, I tried to pick words that possess a strong and unique characteristic with regard to their shapes, even when stylised. 

»TacTiles was very well received«

Did you test your design with the children and what were the reactions?

I was a bit worried about how easily children would be able to recognize the shapes by touching them, but tacTiles was well-received. The children were excited to hold the disks in their hands, and regarded every letter as a ­riddle of its own, what is more, the moments of finding the right solution were always accompanied by huge outcries of joy. Suddenly, a new shared activ­ity emerged out of the blue, where children not only had the opportunity to refine their tactile and associational skills but also got to practice the characters of the Braille alphabet. Has working on this project changed your perspective?I learned an awful lot during the design process. This was a vastly different situation in terms of designing, for the »client« can process visual content only through the somatosensory system. Hence, I had to assume the role of a designer (instead of a graphic designer) which entailed taking even more ­criteria into account.


TacTiles was your MA graduation project. Why did you choose this topic?
It was my first time delving into a topic like this. At the beginning, I would never have thought that my thesis was going to centre so much around a social issue, simply because I had no relevant experience in the field.
I started out by thinking about the nature of graphic design as a genre, and also about how I could design for people unable to process visual content—being a graphic designer who creates visual content exclusively.
I have always been attracted to graphic design products that do not appeal to the eyes, that are not limited to the plane of a screen or a sheet of paper but expand into 3-dimensional space and involve other modes of sensation too.  I was trying to achieve something along these lines in my thesis, but parallel to that, I started thinking about the fact whether it is possible to add something more to it, and if it could serve a greater purpose. This is how I got into contact with blindness, and it was already at the initial phase of my work that I realized I wanted to choose blind people as my target audience, and thus address a group of people who make sense of our world with the help of these very secondary modes of sensory processing.

»Was kann Design bewirken?¡

TacTiles is designed as an open source project with downloadable files for 3d printing. What is the idea behind this?
As it has already been mentioned, I would have wanted to assign a different material to each and every letter (e.g.: wood for “w”, paper for “p”, rubber for “r”, etc.), however, I also had to take durability into account, and the fragility of these materials made them unsuitable for long-term use.
After the resulting conceptual adjustment, injection moulding seemed to be the most obvious option, however, it would have been rather costly in the case of a one-copy kit, thus I turned towards 3D printing; a method already widely available and even more cost-efficient.  Since in this particular case a single file will suffice to produce a physical item (small “tiles” in this instance), the question arose: Why not make these 3D-printing-ready files publicly accessible? This way, everyone could use it, though, arranging production would remain the responsibility of the users themselves.
Is tacTiles actually in use or are there plans to use it as an educational tool?
Unfortunately, due to my other ongoing assignments, I had to put the project aside but I would definitely want to make it openly accessible in the future. As the current tool was designed for the Hungarian alphabet, the first step would be to adapt it to English. The project was based upon 3D printing and open access to resources; therefore, commercialisation would require the publication of the 3D-printing-ready files, and by downloading them anyone could give them a physical shape anywhere they want to.



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