New Typeface Makes Surveys More Accessible

The accessibility of Panorama’s surveys is an essential part of collecting accurate data for educators. I’m on the design team at Panorama, and recently we changed the typeface in our print and online surveys to improve readability. We switched to a new font called Castledown that’s designed especially for young readers and meant to be dyslexia-friendly. We are excited to share more about what makes a font more accessible to young readers, and about the design process at Panorama.

Panorama’s surveys are designed based on research, giving schools and districts the ability to administer surveys knowing they can effectively measure different topics. Each topic (e.g. grit, school safety, sense of belonging, and so on) has a handful of questions that, together, serve to measure the underlying concept. But, there’s a balance. Too many questions wouldn’t be good as it would lengthen the survey and ask too much of the student

Visual design, which is what I do at Panorama, can play a vital role in making our surveys easier to take for everyone. Picking a great typeface is part of it, but other considerations like spacing, negative space (keeping the survey from feeling cluttered), proper color contrast (which is also an accessibility concern), and more can help improve the data and survey taking experience.

While we are making improvements to the design as a whole, the font change was especially interesting to write about as it applies to a large segment of people who take our surveys: students.

What makes letter forms easier for children to read?

Thankfully, there were already a couple typographers (designers who make fonts) that were focused on the subject of making letter forms that are easier for children to read. The following examples illustrate some of those features.

Key elements of typeface

 

The single-storey variation above is consistent with the the hand written form. the double-story variation can be confusing for children who are learning to read and write.

Letters like “u” and “n” are the height of the “x-height”. Letters like “f” and “y” extend above and below which are called “ascenders” and “descenders”. It is easier to read multiple lines of text when the height of ascenders and descenders are less in proportion to the x-height.

 

Highlighted in blue are the counters, or negative space within the letterforms. The larger these counters are the easier it is to quickly and accurately read a word or sentence.

Researching typefaces led us to a couple options for our surveys. One font family, called Castledown, stood out from the rest. It was originally commissioned by a primary school in the United Kingdom to unify typography throughout the school. Castledown comes in a variety of weights like regular, bold and italic and it supports Latin languages which is imperative for our surveys. These features allowed us more flexibility in our design applications than other typefaces on the market. It is also specifically designed for children as illustrated in the three examples above. For more examples, “Typography for Children” goes more in depth.

While the design team is primarily focused on developing new features in Panorama’s analytics platform, this project was a fun and quick change that improved the accessibility and experience for students. Changing the typeface in Panorama’s surveys is subtle; most students won’t even consciously notice it. But if changing the typeface helps students read and understand their surveys more easily so that they can give better feedback to teachers and schools, we see it as a worthy investment of time.

Our online surveys

Online surveys

Our print surveys

 

Print surveys

Surveys that are easier to read support gathering more accurate results. When making decisions at Panorama we often ask ourselves: is this in the best interest of the student? At the end of the day, we hold ourselves accountable to improving student outcomes, and their learning environment. It’s so rewarding to work with this team of people on our way to achieve this goal.


This post is also published on Medium.

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