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.