Dyslexia, which affects around 4% of the world’s population, is often thought of as a learning disability. Jim Rokos thinks that’s absurd. The London designer believes dyslexia is just a different type of brain structure, whichm yes, makes those who have it worse at reading and spelling than most people–but also primes them for a life of creativity.
His new exhibition, the aptly titled Dyslexic Design, aims to prove it. Taking place in September during the London Design Festival, the exhibition gathers out-of-the-box designs from eight dyslexic designers in an attempt to show the creativity that can arise from a common disability.
Rokos was inspired to put together the Dyslexic Design exhibition after hearing a report on the radio that the U.K.’s largest sperm bank was turning away dyslexic donors (a decision many listeners called in to support). “I was so angry and shocked,” Rokos says. “If you’re not good at drawing, no one thinks anything’s wrong with you, but if you’re bad at spelling and great at drawing, you’re somehow disabled? I think Einstein said it best: Judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, and it’ll spend its whole life believing it is stupid.”
Rokos perceives Dyslexic Design as a corrective. Each item on display has been chosen to highlight the skills Rokos believes are more common in dyslexics than non-dyslexics, such as excellent spatial thinking and nontraditional problem solving.
Take Sebastian Bergne’s Egg, a handblown wine decanter in the shape of an oval. “Most designers wouldn’t dare think of making a decanter in this shape, because they’d be terrified it would fall over, but Sebastian has some kind of 3D computer in his head that allows him to figure out how to make that shape stable, without ever even testing it as a prototype,” Rokos says. Another example: a hunting jacket, by Rohan Chhabra, which can actually be unfolded (“like a Transformer robot,” says Rokos) and reassembled to actually disguise the hunter as his prey.
In Rokos’s telling, designers with dyslexia are especially good at solving problems in unconventional ways. Consider Vitamin’s Knot Pendant Lamp. It’s a glass lamp shade that takes a unique–but obvious when you think about it–approach to keeping the shade on the cord: a simple knot tied on the existing cable. There’s also Jim Rokos’s own Gauge vase, which has a completely rounded glass bottom but doesn’t tip over, since it relies upon the water in the vase to keep it upright.
But is Rokos right that people with dyslexia exhibit a unique form of creativity? On that, the science is surprisingly thin. While anecdotally many psychologists and dyslexia researchers believe there is a link between dyslexia and certain creative skills, there haven’t been many empirical studies setting out to prove it. However, in 1999, a team of researchers from the University of Surrey successfully found a link between dyslexia and more innovative thinking and problem solving–although they didn’t draw any conclusions about whether this was a matter of nature (dyslexics were born more creative) or nurture (dyslexics are forced to be more creative to cope with a world that isn’t designed with their strengths in mind).
Whatever the story, Dyslexic Design highlights the undeniable talent of many dyslexic designers. If you’re in London this fall, it will be running from September 22 through September 25 at Designjunction.