So apparently the word dyslexia comes from the Greek language. Dys meaning difficulty and Lexic meaning with words. If that’s the case, after hanging out with some of the countries most accomplished dyslexic designers, I’m starting to think Plevrikístochastés!* Is a more appropriate name for my ‘condition!’ Let’s face it, it’s no less difficult to spell!
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A week or so ago I found myself recounting my days blogging assignment with a friend in the pub, it went something like this, “An English man, an Icelandic and a lady in African dress were gathered at the side of a canal.” As I rattled through my story, a look of awkward anticipation spread across my friends face. But rather than the slightly racist joke my friend was bracing for, he soon realised I was describing the breath and scope of designers that will be exhibiting at this month celebration of dyslexic ingenuity, Dyslexic Design.
Dyslexic Design is the result of a collaboration between designer Jim Rokos and the organisers of Design Junction; Design Junction is an exhibition that forms part of the larger week long London Design Festival.
Director of Design Junction Debra Spenser, herself a proud Plevrikístochastés, feels that for far too long the media, education and even pop culture has tended to focus on the negative aspects of dyslexia and less on the positive aspects it brings to the table. “It’s absolutely defined me as a person. If I had to turn back time and somebody said to me, ‘Do you wish you could change it’, I absolutely would not.” Dyslexic Design seems to be part of a shift in thinking about dyslexia and neurodiversity as a whole. Stars like Jennifer Aniston, Steven Spielberg and Lewis Hamilton have recently opened up about being dyslexic. Companies like the BBC, Microsoft and GCHQ have started to realise the positive attributes that dyslexic, dyspraxic and autistic individuals can bring to their business’ and bottom-line.
Despite this new positive outlook on dyslexia, there are still huge swaths of the general public and employers that still have mixed attitudes to dyslexia and it’s ‘sufferers.’ This lingering remanence of a 50’s and 60’s perception, where dyslexia (or word blindness as it was known) is a bi-word for someone that’s a bit thick, slow or unable to read, is exactly what Industrial designer Jim Roko, wanted to address when he pitched the idea for Dyslexic Design. “I discovered that dyslexia is still a little bit stigmatized in some areas, and it really upset me. I just thought, for me dyslexia is incredibly helpful, I couldn’t do what I’m doing if I wasn’t dyslexic. This is an intuition I have, and this intuition extends to other designers…I decided to make an exhibition of designers who are dyslexic, so that everyone can see how positive and useful it is.”
Dyslexic Design showcases the work of ten dyslexic designers, many that have found ingenious solutions to everyday problems. From a wine decanter that gets drunk with its drinkers to the wonderful machine embroidery of Tina Crawford, the ability to think in a 3D manor or ‘see the bigger picture’ is an attribute that many dyslexics see as a positive.
Jim believes Rohan Chhabra’s hunting jackets, which highlight the plight of endangered species, perfectly highlight this ability. Jim explains, “these incredible jackets transform from a jacket, like a transforming robot, into the form of the animal, which it’s for hunting. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do, to make this same piece of fabric transform, unzip, re-button into the shape of the animal is very, very, difficult 3D thinking.
As with most things you can’t have the rough without the smooth and across the board, school has tended to be a difficult time for all the designers I spoke to. Interior designer AB Rogers confessed, “I still can’t spell architecture, and I write it ten times a day” AB is the son of architect Richard Rogers, “I took my O levels twice and I got two, once each time. I managed to fail pottery twice which is really exceptional. Now I’m really quite a good potter, I can say proudly.” The issues with reading and writing that many dyslexics struggle with can be difficult but they are not something we ‘suffer’. The coping strategies, tenacity and diligence we develop to get over the difficulties are part of our dyslexic USP. In my opinion what dyslexics do suffer are the attitudes of people that still see dyslexics as thick, deny that dyslexia exists or refuse to allow us to implement our coping strategies, for which the knock-on effect is low self-esteem and shattered confidence. Ab recounts, “I learnt confidence from a few brilliant teachers and from my mum and to ignore the standard system I suppose… I think more, it was probably in my early twenties when I realized I could talk, through trying to raise money for an exhibition, that I started really to understand where I did have strengths and weaknesses. It’s the ability to talk which keeps me alive really.”
It’s this kind of confidence that the organisers of Dyslexic Design are hoping to instil in dyslexic and non-dyslexic visitors alike. Debra assured me “You don’t need to be dyslexic to be a good designer but if you are it can really enhance the way you design and the way you think…actually it can be such a positive thing for people to be able to talk about.”
Dyslexic Design runs from Thursday 22 September to Sunday 25 September at 1 Granary Square in King’s Cross. To find out how to get tickets, click here.
*Plevrikístochastés – Greek for lateral thinkers
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