The UK’s leading charity for people with learning disabilities, Mencap, has just unveiled a new identity, created by Rare Corporate Design. 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’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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
“It wasn’t design-by-committee,” Smith is quick to point out. “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.”