Can you tell us a bit about your graduation project and how it came about?
I have dyslexia myself and during my time at primary school, this has been a big problem for me. It was not a great time for me and I always went to school with a stomach ache. Even though I worked hard and got extra tutoring after school, I still felt stupid and insecure. And it turns out I was not the only one: about 80 percent of dyslexic children experience insecurities during their school career. That is something I wanted to change with my graduation project.
So I started researching what dyslexia is exactly. Our current educational system regards dyslexia as a learning disadvantage, giving it a strong negative connotation. The entire system is based on reading and writing, putting emphasis on the things dyslexic children have difficulties with. But there are positive sides to dyslexia as well, sides that are only recognised by three percent of dyslexics see as something other than a disadvantage. Scientists claim that dyslexics have important traits related to creativity, inventiveness and seeing the bigger picture. This led me to see dyslexia as much more than just language delay. It is a different way of thinking, which also brings out a lot of positive side effects.
One positive aspect that fascinated me the most, was that dyslexic people process letters as objects. The letters b, d, p and q, are very similar, for example. When we look at a chair from different angles, we still recognise it as a chair. But with letters, this can get tricky. Looking at dyslexia from this angle, suddenly makes it very easy to imagine what it must feel like to read or write for a dyslexic person. I decided to take this as a starting point for my project.
I designed a toolbox called ‘Different Shapes of Dyslexia’. The aim of the toolbox is to emphasize the positive aspects of dyslexia, and to improve the stigma surrounding the topic. It allows non-dyslexic children and parents to experience what it is like to have dyslexia. The box contains a book, blocks and educational material in the form of cards. Using the building blocks and guided by the books, children can ‘build’ letters and words. It also offers dyslexic children a different way to come into contact with language, but in a more playful and on their own terms.
Which themes or societal concerns are you addressing in your work, and how?
During my research I identified three main problems surrounding this topic. The first has to do with the current (regular) education that makes dyslexics feel stupid, because it does not recognize the positive sides of dyslexia and only focuses on its limitations. Moreover, the positive qualities of dyslexia are considered less important within our current education system, while they can be of great value to our society. Secondly, the definition of dyslexia is monotonous and outdated, again, focusing only on the negative side. This results in a distorted image of dyslexia, regarding it as a disorder instead of a different way of thinking. The third problem is that it is difficult for non-dyslexic people to imagine what it is like to have dyslexia, which leads to misconceptions that are then translated in our educational system and in the guidance offered to dyslexic children.
As I mentioned before, the toolbox allows non-dyslexic people to experience what it must feel like to have dyslexia. But besides that, it also allows dyslexic children to experiment with language. What I noticed when testing the product in collaboration with Villa Zebra (a museum for children in Rotterdam), is that while using the tools, dyslexic children actually spelled better than their non-dyslexic peers. This gave them a real confidence boost!
What will you be working on in the near future? What are your next steps?
In September, my product was put into use at a primary school in The Hague. Currently, I am working on a collaboration with a library in Schiedam for the development of a workshop. I am looking into ways to offer the product as teaching material that can be used both at schools and by individuals. Villa Zebra has shown interest in selling the product in their museum shop. I am also working on a website for the product.
The next step would be to further develop the product and adjust it based on the feedback from the schools that are testing the toolbox and from the workshops I am giving in the coming period. I am also looking for a company that could produce the product on a larger scale so that I can start selling it.
Shortly after I graduated, Different Shapes of Dyslexia was selected by BNO (the Association of Dutch Designers) as one of the twenty-one best graduation works of 2021. This means my project will be featured in their annual design yearbook, which will be published in December this year.
To read more about Tessel’s work, pay a visit to her Graduation Catalogue Page. Furthermore, her journey can be followed on Instagram and her Website. The winner of the Threshold Award Social Practices will be announced during a festive ceremony as part of the Graduation Show. Keep an eye on our Graduation Show page for more information.