Typeface Customized for beginning readers: Open Sans Schoolbook

Open Sans Schoolbook lowercase alphabet
In Learn with Homer, we use the Roman and italic variants in two weights of Open Sans Schoolbook. Here, we have the lowercase alphabet in both weights.
Modified glyphs from Open Sans to make Open Sans Schoolbook
Five letterforms were edited across the variants of Open Sans. Note that the italic variant of Open Sans already uses a simplified letterform for the ‘a’ glyph. This is one of many subtleties to the original design of Open Sans that make it quite a sophisticated typeface—one of the many reasons I appreciate it.
Open Sans and Open Sans Schoolbook with sample text
Open Sans and Open Sans Schoolbook with sample text that uses all of the modified glyphs. While the simplified glyphs might seem less sophisticated to adults, they are much simpler for young children to read, since these are the letter shapes that they are taught to write by hand.
Open Sans Schoolbook with sample text in all four variants
Open Sans Schoolbook with sample text in all four variants used in the Learn with Homer app. Note how the tail of the ‘q’ mirrors the tail of the lowercase ‘j.’ Wherever possible, I borrowed characteristics of existing letters when I modified glyphs so that the font family would remain visually cohesive.
Sample of the I, a, and g in a First Reader
A sample of the letters I, a, and g as found in ‘first readers.’ Note: these first readers have double spaces between words to make it easier for children to distinguish words in their first stories. Learning to read is hard, so we do everything we can to break down barriers for kids while they are still learning.
Sample of the a, y, and g in a First Reader
A sample of the letters a, y, and g in a first reader.
Sample of the letter q while a word is sounded out
A sample of the letter q in reading practice. The highlight slides across the letters as the word is sounded out.

'Project' => 'Find or create a typeface that meets HomerLearning’s keen sense of design and its strict pedagogical needs. Ensure that typeface can be licensed for app use at a reasonable price.',

'Challenges' => 'When children learn to read, they are often confused by type, because certain letters don’t match what they are taught to write on paper. In particular, lowercase a, g, y and q; and uppercase I frequently do not match the simplified letter form that children first learn. Very few sophisticated typefaces match what children learn in school as they are learning to read. Most typefaces that do are ‘handwriting’ fonts that are designed exclusively to teach how letterforms are drawn. These typefaces have poor kerning, awkward letter forms, and fall very far short of Homer’s design standards. Lastly, at the time when Homer was developing its app for iPad, finding font licensing for apps was still relatively new territory, with very limited options at our disposal. Most fonts did not have standard app licenses; these had to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. For example, when we approached one font foundry (which had a huge library of web-licensed fonts), we were quoted thousands of dollars—far too much for a startup making its very first product.',

'Solutions' => 'After trying out several options, I elected to modify a Google Web Font, Open Sans, to create what I have come to call ‘Open Sans Schoolbook.’ Although many typefaces cannot be legally modified due to strict licensing, the Google Web Font project has changed the market by creating a home for open source typefaces, which can be modified and/or used commercially for free. I chose Open Sans as our typeface because it is a simple, but very well-designed font: it has many variants, flows nicely on the page, good kerning, and has nicely formed letters. Additionally, its tall x-height makes it easy to read at small sizes, making it ideal for body copy. I modified five of the letterforms in Open Sans’ Roman variants, and three in italic variants. As I did so, I aimed to stay true to the existing font family, to truly create a ‘schoolbook’ set of variants that still feel like Open Sans—just with letterforms that are simpler for a child who is just learning to read. Modifications included creating simplified versions of the ‘a’ and ‘g’ letterforms to match the letter shapes that children are taught in a typical kindergarten classroom, adding top and bottom bars to the uppercase ‘I’ so that children do not confuse it with the lowercase ‘l,’ (mostly) straightening the tail of the ‘y,’ and adding a bend to the tail of the lowercase ‘q,’ so that children do not confuse it with ‘d,’ ‘a,’ or a rotated ‘b.’ At the same time that I made these modifications, I also adjusted kerning tables as needed so that the new letterforms look as natural as their predecessors. The result: Open Sans Schoolbook.'