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The New Face of Mencap


Posted by Gavin Lucas, 28 May 2008, 12:40    Permalink    Comments (13)

FS Me type sample

The UK’s leading charity for people with learning disabilities, Mencap, has just unveiled a new identity, created by Rare Corporate Design. The new logo for the organisation appears in a round speech bubble with an emphasis on the first two letters of the name, me. The rebrand also includes a new corporate typeface called Me that has been specially crafted by typography firm Fontsmith in consult­ation with members of Mencap to ensure the end product is of genuine benefit to an audience with learning disabilities.

Mencap logo
Mencap's new logo, created by Rare Corporate Design, places emphasis on the word 'me'

“Mencap’s been around for 60 years and I suppose people perceive it as not the trendiest of charities or a bit old-fashioned,” says Mencap’s creative manager Nina Clarke, who managed the rebrand project. “Yet actually a lot of the work we do is quite innovative and the way Mencap looked wasn’t a good fit with that. With this rebrand, we wanted to position ourselves as more of a leader of the learning disability commun­ity. We include people with learning disability in the organisation and so want to promote that more – which is really how we ended up with this emphasis on the word Me. Mencap is people with learning disability and they are the voice of the organisation. We also wanted more personality in our identity and picking a standard font off the shelf just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.”

After much discussion between Mencap’s design team and Rare Corporate Design, the idea of designing a bespoke typeface was mooted. “Lee Smith at Rare suggested that having our own typeface, rather than fitting some other face into our new personality, would be a really good thing to do,” recalls Clarke, “and it would also give us that chance to actually consult people with learning disability to create something which is all about moving forward and being inclusive.”

Fontsmith was brought in at this stage and worked directly with Clarke at Mencap along with the charity’s design team, a consultation group and also Mencap’s accessibility unit – the main function of which is to look at communications and ensure that documents are easy to read and understand. “The unit works with people and companies externally to Mencap too,” explains Clarke, “local governments and organisations like British Gas, the BBC, all sorts of peole, helping them make their documents easy to read. A lot of that is about using plain English and looking at the way that a document is worded – but also using images to support text and considering font legibility.”

Mencap / Fontsmith consultation group
Jason Smith of Font­smith gets down to the nitty gritty of what makes a type­face legible and accessible in a consultation group consisting of Mencap staff members that together represented a broad range of mild learning dis­abilities. “A lot of care went into this project,” says Smith. “There have been other type­faces that have been created to supposedly improve legi­bility and accessibility such as Tiresius or Read Regular – but a lot of them are drawn so badly. This is the first time that a project has been started from scratch with proper research and consultation behind it, working with the UK’s leading charity in this particular area”

The consultation group that Fontsmith liased with to develop the new typeface consisted of Clarke and seven other Mencap employees who represented a range of mild learning disabilities. “In the first consultation session we set a couple of test words and sentences in a variety of fonts,” explains Fontsmith’s Jason Smith of the initial design process. “Serif and sans serif, script, rounded, harder, different weights – to try and get a sense for what was preferred visually, aesthetically by the group. We got some feedback from that but then did the same thing but thinking about what’s easier to read – what appears more legible. Then we went through various different processes look­ing at how we could narrow things down. For example, sans serif faces were easier to read but it was also felt that something like Comic Sans was actually a bit more fun – it had more personality. So we started to look at rounded font shapes – stuff with a bit of movement in the letter forms. And something that came very strongly out of this exploration of different existing fonts was the fact that faces like Schoolbook or vag Rounded, where you’ve got very rounded terminals, were deemed to be childlike and rather patronising. We didn’t want to go down that road so we took note. We wanted to create something that was grown-up and engaging and beautiful on various different levels.”

Work in progress

Armed with information and preferences for different types of letter forms, Fontsmith drew up a second round of documents to get feedback from. “Next we wanted to go into more detail about letter forms and shapes and think about what design of ‘a’ or ‘g’ worked better, what should the letters ‘i’, ‘j’ and ‘k’ look like? The definition of these key characters would give us a clear direction with the develop­ment of the typeface,” says Smith.

Work in progress

“One of the discussions we had was about the lower case ‘a’. I really wanted to do a Roman ‘a’ – a tiered ‘a’. Between Nina and I we couldn’t come to an agreement about what was best so we put it out in one of the research documents and while I’d thought the Roman would be easier to read, the research group swayed it the other way – so the research was valid. I don’t have a learning disability so there’s no way I should have made that decision on my own.”

on screen work in progress

work in progress 'h'

Work in progress

on screen numerals

“It wasn’t design-by-committee,” Smith is quick to point out of the design process. “Rather we [at Fontsmith] were able to create the characteristics of the typeface by reacting to this feedback and making informed, educated judgements in our design of the new font.” “To have our own typeface that’s properly crafted not to mention beautiful is amazing,” adds Clarke. “Being able to say we’ve included people with learning disability in the design process is absolutely vital for our staff to buy into it, to be engaged by it, to be proud of it.”

FS Me will be available to buy through the Fontsmith website:


Really like the typeface, really hate the logo.
2008-05-28 17:48:25

That type-face is great.
2008-05-28 22:05:39

FYI we now have "FS Me" typeface available to purchase and download directly from the website

Thanks for the comments, it really was a rewarding experience working with everyone at Mencap.
Jason Smith - Creative Director - Fontsmith
Jason Smith
2008-05-29 16:08:39

Its hard to see the difference between this and FS Albert; why make a custom font, when a retail one could have done the job?
2008-06-01 08:55:16

Was a new typeface really the best way of spending charity funds? It's not as thought there aren't exceptionally legible faces already available.
2008-06-04 00:51:08

Fontsmith should make this FS Me font free to download. I want it badly but don't wanna fork out loads of money for something I might remove.
2009-02-25 20:44:00

Available to buy????

Most organizations that would purchase this typeface would be charities without a budget for this.

If this is a typeface for accessibility for those with a learning disability, I believe it should be not be something that is to be sold for profit, but given as an aid for those in need, or else we are just tooting our own horns aren't we?
2010-05-17 03:09:00

That looks like it was a nice piece of consultative work to design the typeface, but I'm with Marcus & Bob: why not make the fonts free? I work for a charity & am trying hard to make information accessible so I'd like to use a font that's got a good research base. Can Mencap not negotiate with Fontsmith to make the fonts free? The Disability Rights Commission worked with the British Standards Institute to make PAS78 "guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites" freely available; why not Mencap & Fontsmith?
Alex Stuart
2011-02-17 12:12:44

Charity means giving...not selling!

I do hope that Mr. Smith made his services a charitable donation to this very worthy cause, although I greatly doubt it.

The font, while highly legible, is like so many others freely available.

The consultancy who recommended that valuable charity funds and time should be applied to creating an unnecessary new this was the best solution they could think of to give the charity more personality...should be ashamed of themselves.
2011-02-17 13:03:30

This is really sad to see that they are not leaving this typeface open and free to the public that needs it! What a shame.
2011-07-26 22:42:12

People should really stop questioning this so much. It's not the first time and it won't be the last time that a charity has paid for the creation of a typeface. Look at mcmillan cancer. And the beauty of theirs is that it has three different characters for each character. So it always looks hand drawn!
This is just another way to stand out, FS me Bold is beautiful. (opinion)
The only let down is the logo. There're a few things that definitely need tidying up... But it shows off their lovely new typeface.
2011-08-01 21:15:40

Also, they can sell it and essentially make money from it. (Can they???)
2011-08-01 21:16:49

I too work for a charity and it would have been nice to be able to ue this FOC but hey ho so goes the world and it's back to good old Arial and Arial Narrow
ian b
2011-12-20 11:59:32

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