Good Design | Castledown Font

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“We kind of think of this as the Jamie’s Dinners of school fonts”

Anthony Sheret – Colophon

London foundry Colophon has commercially released its Castledown Type Family, which has been shortlisted for the Design Museum’s Design of the Year Award 2014.

Castledown is a ‘dyslexic friendly typeface’ designed by Colophon founders Anthony Sheret and Edd Harrington and is intended to help young children read and write. It’s available in eight cuts from regular to heavyweight and comes with additional cursive and dotted versions to help pupils practice their handwriting.

Castledown was born after Sheret and Harrigton received an email from Caroline Roberts, Editor of Grafik Magazine, at the beginning of 2012, forwarding them an inquiry from Neil Small, headmaster at Castledown Primary School in Hastings, Sussex. Neil being a young and forward thinking head teacher had seen a press profile of their work and was interested in comissioning a bespoke typeface.

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“Neil wanted something that was clear and legible but still friendly, and had secondary options [such as bold versions] that the school could use in any situation,” he adds.

While Comic Sans is widely used in many UK schools, it comes with it’s own set of problems: letters are crooked and it’s not suitable for use in serious contexts, such as letters about bad behaviour or sensitive issues. Alternative fonts often also have a double storey ‘a’.

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Castledown, however, uses a single story ‘a’ and has been designed with how children are taught to write in mind. Cleverly, the  letters have also been slightly weighted at the bottom, which aids children with dyslexia and other reading issues by canceling out the brain’s ability to reverse letters.

Conducting primary research whilst designing the typeface, Sheret and Harrington held a series of co-design workshops with Castledown pupils to gauge their opinions on various fonts and letterforms. This then informed the final design of the typeface by eliminating elements that were likely to confuse or hinder the pupils writing.

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“Conducting research within an institution, particularly an educational one was different to how we normally work,” he adds. “The process was also in two-parts — when working on our standard commercial releases, they are slow burners that are split tasks, but because this family would be implemented into schools we first worked on the proportional side of the family, and [then] the cursive.”

The first versions of Castledown were released last summer and the typeface has since been implemented throughout the school with a positive response from pupils and staff. Sheret and Harrington now plan to release a Castledown handwriting app and wooden stencils.

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“It’d be nice to see it take off in other schools too. We’d like to offer a complete educational package [with wooden letters and an app]. We kind of think of this as the Jamie’s Dinners of school fonts,” says Sheret.

Castledown is currently on display at the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year exhibition and Colophon has released a limited edition specimen book to celebrate its release.