Master Project – Braille book of “Message” by Fernando Pessoa


Since September / 2012, I’ve been working with ACAPO (Portuguese Association for the Blind and Partially Sighted) with the aim to gather the main guidelines of my master’s project: producing a special edition of a poetry book for visual impaired people.

This personalized book indicates, through a graphic design perspective, a path to explore the aesthetics of Braille book covers, making a symbolic connection between the book and the reader. Therefore, working together with visual impaired, makes it possible to connect the visual reality with the tactile interactions, establishing a bridge with the concepts of Inclusive Design.

Moreover, the project gains a higher dimension by revealing the importance of Braille books for blind people, promoting the discussion on the use of the new technological devices, such as audio books and Braille displays, and concepts of Education and Literacy.

The choice to work with the “Message” – Mensagem – by Fernando Pessoa is related to the fact that is one of the masterpieces of the Portuguese literature and poetry, which is also included on the Educational System. However, there are other interesting aspects that can be juxtaposed with the master research.

The Message was released in 1934 (the only book published in living by Fernando Pessoa) and in a first line tells the story of Portugal and its countrymen through their great achievements in the past. However, according to the ideology behind the Message analyzed by Onésimo Teotónio (Seabra 1993), the book was more than a nostalgia exercise, Fernando Pessoa used his poetry to recover the heroes from the Golden Age of the discoveries, to “wake up” the readers from the lethargic mood where society was submerged, mobilizing each individual to a more dynamic and positive attitude. Pessoa dreamed an idyllic society where ideas, culture and soul were represented, a society rebuilt through poetry and knowledge in its abstract form.

Moreover, this desire of changing through intellectual stimulus is also represented on the name of the book (Seabra, 1993). Among other meanings, the title in portuguese “Mensagem” resulted from the decomposition of the latin expression “MENS AGIT MOLEM”, (Virgil’s citation on Aenead) which means the mind moves the mass; or even the mind moves the masses.

Therefore taking into consideration all the symbolic aspects underlying in the Message, Richard Zenith (2008) concludes on its prelude, that apart of the “viscerally Portuguese” approach, the message of Message has also a Universal meaning.

“Pessoa, in his Message, passionately addressed himself to Portugal, but it was not only the Portugal of 1934 nor only the Portugal bordered by Spain and by Atlantic Ocean. The ultimate message of Message is that it’s always the Hour, now as then, for Portugal and for everyone – countries and people – to be attentive to the symbols and signs of Destiny, to pay heed to the lessons of their entire lived history and, armed with those resources, to do what they can and to be everything they are.”

Thus, contextualising the Message with the research done, some parallel aspects might be interesting to highlight. In the same way that the Message is more than a nostalgia exercise over the Portuguese past, my research prject goes beyond the graphic design approach, exploring the aesthetics of Braille book covers. It raises questions regarding disabilities, specifically, the importance of Braille books among visual impaired people in particular the role on its independency and education.

Furthermore, Pessoa’s aspiration to change the country into “a better tomorrow” can be associated to the social revolution aimed by Schroeder to accomplish a more inclusive society (n.d). In the same way that Message embodies a path for changing through intellectual stimulus, Braille is in its basic form a channel for literacy and knowledge (Rex, 1989; Ryles, 1996; Schroeder, 1989). 

Therefore, connecting both on the project represents the democratisation of information and the hope for social change regarding disabilities, emphasizing the importance of Braille books.

Furthermore, the research opens a possible path to explore the aesthetics of Braille book covers. This approach, through a multidisciplinary convergency between ceramics and artistic books restoration, may inspire the world of visual impairments in the same way it may challenge the tridimensionality and the tactile interaction in graphic design.


Seabra, José Augusto (1993): Mensagem – Poemas Esotéricos / Fernando Pessoa. Madrid: Marco Gráfico, S.L, 231, 329-336

Ryles, Ruby (1996): The Impact Of Braille Reading Skills On Employment, Income, Education And Reading Habits. In: Journal of visual impairment and blindness 90/1996, 219-226

Schroeder, Fredric (1989): Literacy: The Key To Opportunity. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. 83/1989, 290-93.

Schroeder, Fredric (n.d.): Braille: A Revolution. [Online] Available from:àInternazionali/inter/revolution.html [Accessed n.d].

Zenith, Richard (2008): Message. Lisbon: Oficina do Livro, Sociedade Editorial Lda


ACAPO – Focus Group 25/01/13

A three hours meeting allowed us to share plenty of ideas and to define the next developments on the project. After contacting the print production department from ACAPO, it was suggested that the size of the book should have 170mm x 220mm, with approximately 175 pages (110 in Braille and 65 in visual text). With these dimensions it is expected an easy interaction with the book.

Concerning the book configuration, it was decided to use the rounded spine on the book. This choice was made in consensus, by the fact that round edges are more tactile enjoyable than straight edges.


Nevertheless, the layouts and the composition raised more concerns . For instance the layout that has Braille and visual text engraved, followed by curly reliefs with the small wooden dot, had a very good tactile reaction and interpretation. However, having all these elements together made a messy visual unbalance. It was interesting to perceive that what is considered a “white space” by graphic design, means little to someone who “sees” through the hands. The concept of “less is more” does not apply.

Therefore, a stimulating discussing started with the aim to find a democratic solution. Reducing the size of the tactile image could be an option, however this wouldn’t change the main problem. On the other hand, removing the author in Braille or the tactile reliefs was not negotiable. Thus, since the book spine is always visible, it was suggested to remove the visual text from the ceramic box and keep it just on the book cover in cork. This way, Braille gained immediately more relevance on the general layout. At the end it was achieved a general agreement regarding the layout used for the book.

Moreover, it was also suggested to create a tactile relief on the book cover in paper-cork, like trees or roots, something related with the soil.

Overall, it was a very productive meeting.


Third prototypes ready to be presented – 25th of January

Prototypes were ready today to be presented on the next focus group at ACAPO – Portuguese association for the blind and partially sighted (today 2.30 pm). The meeting will be useful to have feedback on the following subjects:

– Define the final layout for the cover (reliefs, materials, redistribute the information);
– What ceramic glaze is more appropriate for visual and tactile interaction;
– Define the right size of the book;
– Define the number of pages for Braille and visual text;
– Choose between a rounded spine or straight spine;


Thanks for the support

As the new year is coming I’d would like to thank the support provided by all the people involved in the project ACAPO ( Graça Gerardo e António Nunes) for the time and interest they have shown from the beginning.

A special thank to the ateliers coordinators Sofia Magalhães, Joana Simão e Cátia Pessoa from Caulino atelier (ceramics) and for Vasco Antunes from Traça Pombalina atelier (books conservation and restoration). Thank you all for the help, support and knowledge that you have been sharing with me.

Caulino atelier


Traça Pombalina



ACAPO – Focus Group 07/12/12

The second focus group allowed us to discuss the best approach to use on the front side of the ceramic box. It was very interesting to testify that the users could relate both wave patterns with the sea and with the content of the book. In this way, it is possible now, to make secure choices related to what reliefs should be developed. Moreover this exercise initiated an engaging conversation about the symbolic meaning of the tactile images.

Once more, it was suggested that experiences with Braille, that change the standard way to represent the dots, are difficult to be accepted and well perceived. Something that might be interesting to visual contact may not be pleasant to touch.


Furthermore, a second material was defined… the paper cork used on the book was well accepted, giving a contrasting interaction between the cold feeling of ceramics and the warm and enjoyable sensation of the paper cork.

Leather appears to be another good solution to emboss Braille dots, which is going to be tested together with paper cork in the next prototypes.

Overall the last meeting represented a big advance on the main project. Many useful tips and suggestions were taken with the aim of narrowing more and more the final shape of the book, the right materials and the layouts for the covers.


Second ceramic prototypes ready to be presented

The prototypes for the box layouts were ready today and I’m going to present it on the next focus group at ACAPO (Portuguese Association for the Blind and Partially Sighted), on the 7th of December, next Friday. The final result was ok, however in some pieces the glazing effect was not totally homogeneous, which is related to the amount applied during the process. Something to have in mind next time. Nevertheless the tactile feeling seems to be very smooth and enjoyable.

Seeing all the prototypes together, the option without reliefs started to be the preferred one, which is something to discuss on the focus group as well. Moreover the Braille dots have apparently a good legibility and the connection between the ceramics and the book have a good visual and tactile balance. The cold and smooth feeling of ceramics contrasts with the warm and grainy feeling of cork.


Presenting these prototypes on the focus group will help me to have feedback on the following subjects:

– Start a dialogue between tactile images (reliefs) and symbolic perception;
– What is the best tactile interpretation concerning the content of the book.
– Understand the different feelings between the interaction with cork and ceramics;
– Define the final approach for the covers (ceramic box and the cover of the book);


First prototypes: Braille on materials

As was made on the ceramic workshop, at this moment I need to understand what is the best technique to produce Braille on materials. Using some bookbinding techniques these are the first examples to be tested on the next focus group.

After some experiences the best material to emboss Braille seems to be leather.




First books ready to be presented

The bookbinding workshop allowed me to create two prototypes of books with different spines and different materials. These examples will be used on the next focus group.

Book with rounded spine (cover in cork paper)

Book with straight spine (cover in leather)


Bookbinding workshops

Bringing the project to another level… on the 3rd of November I’ve started with the Bookbinding workshops. This will be crucial for the next phase of the project, the “Book”.

At this moment I’m getting in touch with the essentials of the bookbinding, with the aim to use it on the project. The next step is to understand how to use the Braille dots on the cover creating a tactile layout with different materials.

The next developments can be followed on the blog.


ACAPO – Focus Group 12/10/12

The first focus group was very important to step forward into the next stage of the project. It was very interesting to watch everyone excited and interacting with the prototypes, showing their ideas and thoughts about the covers of Braille books…”The covers on the books never had my attention because was nothing there…”, or “With this approach we can imagine what content can be inside the book…”

Moreover the Braille samples were all legible and we found the best one to use with ceramics. We also discussed the best size to develop the book, which is going to be between A5 and A4, therefore more user friendly, lightweight and portable if needed.

Another idea discussed was the relevance of having visual text, thus having the concept of Inclusive Design on the design process will allow more people to be involved with Braille books.

Overall the feedback was positive. In this way the next step is to start to develop different layouts for the cover and also to star with the book binding process.


First prototypes ready to be presented

The box and the Braille samples are going to be used in the focus group at ACAPO next Thursday 11th of October. Albeit the fact that some improvements should be taken into consideration, today I was very happy with the final outcome.

Presenting these prototypes on the focus group will help me to get different answers:

– The feeling to read Braille on ceramics;
– What Braille samples have the best legibility?;
– The measure and the weight of the box;
– Observe the users interacting with the ceramic box and the book;
– What might be the best size of the book A4 or A5;
– What reliefs or more information should be on the ceramic box;


Dive into ceramics

On the 10th of September I started to attend to a ceramic course with the aim to develop the book cover prototypes.

All the processes and project evolution can be followed on the next link


After some meetings with ACAPO (Portuguese association for the blind and partially sighted), there is a manifested interest to do some experiences with a focus group, with the aim to give continuity to the work already done.

Therefore, the book should have the same characteristics than before, a poetry book with the cover made in different materials (ex: clay, porcelain, leather, velvet…. ) In this case abandoning the previous idea of the box, which had too many technical issues to overtake.

The next prototype will start from the following idea:



Looking at Porcelain Boxes

Meanwhile I found on the web all the process to create this beautiful boxes:

1- The process begins with the creation of a mould. This is made of plaster and shapes the model of the object..

2- The porcelain paste is then poured into the moulds, and while drying, takes the shape of the intended object. The two parts of the box (body and lid) are then dried and fired in a kiln.

3- The next step is to glaze the porcelain and to fire it for a second time. During these steps the object loses some of its volume, which explains why two identical pieces are not exactly the same size.

4- Once ready, the parts are meticulously hand painted. One Limoges box may undergo several stages of hand painting until completed.

5- The two painted parts of the box are now assembled, hinged, welded with a bronze band and complemented with an appropriate latch. The setting of the boxes is done by means of very simple tools such as wooden mallets.

From :


Looking at Poetry Book Covers


Five issues  that must be solved

The previous prototype allowed me to define five issues that I must solve:

– What are the best hinges to fix in the porcelain?
– How am I going to bind the book?
– How to print different sizes of Braille (Bold Braille for the titles and Regular Braille for the poems)?
– How to emboss Braille in porcelain and metal?
– How is going to be the tactile layout of the cover?


Poetry Book – Prototyping ( phase 03 )

In the last Monday, 13th of February I started to prototype the book cover in the wood workshop. The first goal, before starting to work with porcelain, was to use other materials (easier to work) to build the first mockup. This will allow me to start visualizing, in a tridimensional way, all the possibilities and constrains about the book.

Moreover, it helps me to show the idea to the people who will help me in future, such as the ones in the jewelry department and the ceramic workshop.


Poetry Book – Master Project Outcome

With the aim to achieve the last developments the project outcome will be to produce a poetry book. To accomplish this I will be working together with a visual impaired person, a Braille reader who love to read poetry rather to listening it from an audio book.

This personalized book will engage the aesthetics of a “special edition” book, using different materials as porcelain, metal and velvet, to develop the cover layout. The content will be designed with the aim to achieve the best reading, concerning the print guidelines of Braille documents.


Master Project driven to explore the aesthetics of covers in Braille Books

Since the beginning of the Master my aim was to understand the role of graphic designers when the visual contact is not possible to achieve. In this way I started to look to Braille as a vehicle of information, as a code and as a symbol with the aim to explore it in the same way that graphic designers explore visual text; changing the 2D visual reality to a tri-dimensional world, using the sensibility of a finger to invoke distinctive feelings and experiences.

Furthermore, this project gained relevance by the fact that audio books and other current technological devices started to have a significant space on the blind people’s life. These developments were responsible to discourage the reading practices and to underestimate the importance of Braille books in the blind society.

Thus, connecting all the feedback and research done in the field, the project will engage a graphic design approach to explore the aesthetics of Braille books. Therefore it will be possible to achieve the previous aims of the master project:

– Transpose the graphic design knowledge to this field, using different materials in the covers to create tactile layouts and enrich the experience of reading a book;

– Highlight the importance of Braille books in opposition of audio books;

– Contribute with a graphic designer  perspective to this subject.


Setting up in the new Master Studio


Interview with a Braille reader

On the 20th of September I went to the Dundee Blind and Partially Sighted Society to test the prototypes. I had an interview with a Braille reader and the feedback was very rich to perceive in which way the concepts to work typography may help to promote the tactile alphabet.

The visual impaired person has 43 years old and he is totally blind. He has used Braille for many years however, nowadays he prefers audio books, as they are cheaper and easier to download from the Internet. He made clear the problems related with Braille, like the size and the weight of the books. In his life Braille is important to have access to small information like products identification.

When testing the prototypes, the reader was able to recognize the different sizes of Braille, even when the dots had a prominent scale. Some of the materials and textures on the prototypes, made Braille illegible, by the fact that they were disturbing the dots perception. However he was able to understand the smoothest materials identifying them as better surfaces to read.

Moreover, in the reading process he doesn’t recognize any benefit to have Braille in different sizes to emulate typography concepts like light, regular and bold, or even to have the tactile alphabet in distinctive materials to achieve the idea of Braille types. He said that the material where Braille is embossed doesn’t represent any connection with the content. To the reader, Braille embossed in wood represents the same perception if Braille was printed in plastic or metal.

On the other hand he suggested that these concepts might be useful to create different layouts for book covers, but not to be transposed into the main text. Furthermore he reminded that this approach could be also used to involve visual impaired persons when they are learning Braille, with the aim to help and motivate the interaction with the tactile alphabet.

At the end he concluded that the ideas under the research project might help to raise awareness about Braille and accessibility.


Prototyping – Phase 02

I started to write Braille in different materials (plastic, acrylic, wood, cardboard) using the laser cutter machine to achieve different sizes for the dots with the aim to create distinctive “Brailletypes”. I realized that this couldn’t be the best way to write Braille, by the fact that is difficult to achieve a perfect rounded dot. However it was the quickest method to get involved with different materials and to produce some prototypes to facilitate the debate in workshops and interviews.


Prototyping – Phase 01

Some ideas of my brainstorming!


… and get into action…


… the final result.

This prototype has the purpose to raise discussion around the importance of Braille for blind people.

Should the use of different materials and textures in Braille increases the reading motivation? Is it possible to make the reading process more exciting and appealing?

At the moment these are the questions that I am looking for answers.


Killer Image


DBPSS Interview

On the 16th of February I interviewed Ms Doreen McNab from the Dundee Blind and Partially Partially Sighted Society.

She works on the Rehabilitation Center team. Their goal is to keep safe blind and partially sighted persons in the community.


Knowledge Swatches

As you can see, I am trying to immerge myself into the Braille and tactile experiences. This is a picture of my note books. Where I collect all the gathered information


Books for the next weeks, mounts… or even years!



Studio Base



… more updates coming soon!

Task02- Desk



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