Comic books and visual novels are difficult to translate into Braille; Usually, they’re novelised or retold in audio formats. But is it possible to tell a visual story using tactile means alone? A Berlin-based interaction design student named Philipp Meyer thinks so.
Working with a blind collaborator named Michael and NOTA, a Copenhagen-based institute for the blind, Meyer spent six months prototyping and testing a tactile graphic novel that’s completely without text. “I saw it as a challenge and a chance to fathom the possibilities of tactile storytelling,” he explains. “My goal was to create a story that is equally explorable for people with and without eyesight.”
Meyer’s book is called Life, and it tells the (heart-crushingly) simple story of, well, life. Using a Braille printer and a system of geometric shapes, the book tells the tale of the birth, life, and death of its hero in a few short pages. It’s a simple project, but it took months to refine the concept with the help of a handful of blind readers and the technical assistance of NOTA. And Meyer is quick to note that he doesn't see Life as an alternative to Braille—it’s an experiment, plain and simple. “I want to point out that I don't know if this is the best or only way to create a tactile comic and if this comic works for every blind reader,” he explains. “It's an experiment inspired by the interviews with Michael and the feedback I got from him and the other readers.”
It’s fairly rare that design students and challenged to think about how their work could be leveraged by disabled users—but as we’ve seen with smartphones, the effects can be life-changing. We might not see many more tactile comic books around—but as an exercise in design for all, Life is invaluable. [Philipp Meyer]