Comics, by nature, depend on visual storytelling. Philipp Meyer, an interaction design student at Potsdam’s University of Applied Sciences, wanted to introduce an entirely new way to enjoy the medium—with your fingertips instead of with your eyes. "I’ve always been interested in how differences in perception increase the other senses. I saw this as a challenge and a chance to fathom the possibilities of tactile storytelling. And I liked the social aspect about the idea—getting in contact with people, talking, experimenting, learning," he tells Co.Design.
During a comic-centric course he took while studying at Mälmo University in Sweden, Meyer set out to conceive a way to make the familiar panel format resemble more of a Braille-like experience. He found the ideal ally in Nota, an organization well-versed in creating unique alternatives for the vision impaired, including producing audio comics similar to this version of Daredevil by Marvel. His proposition, however, was unprecedented. "Everybody I spoke to said it was impossible—and that motivated me even more," he tells Co.Design.
Meyer teamed up with proofreader Michael Drud, who offered invaluable insights into the realities of someone living without sight. Tactile illustrations might be interesting to those who acquired sight loss later in life, as the person would be able to make the connection to what he or she remembered seeing—but would hold little interest for those born blind (as Drud had been). Other lessons revolved around the relative size of the representations—too big and they’re difficult to understand as a whole, too small and they’re tough to parse—and the need to eliminate all "clutter" from the scene.
Before coming up with a narrative, Meyer started to experiment. He endured a handful of misfires before coming up with Life, a concept based on simple forms that tell a universal tale of birth, love, procreation, and death. The 24 frames pack a surprising emotional punch; see if you can make it to the final blank page without getting weepy.
"These shapes I use now are absolutely the same for sighted and visually impaired; there is no information hidden or more information for either reader," Meyer says. "When I gave the prototype to Michael he said, ‘I can feel circles.’ And I said that is the only thing that I see. The moment when he read the comic for the very first time was honestly one of the greatest moments in my life."
(h/t It’s Nice That)