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Saturday, August 04, 2007

The world (or is it the word) is getting smaller


This article from the International Herald Tribune is the perfect Saturday morning read. It is funny about how it ageing and failing eyesight makes everyday tasks a major battle. It is serious about the way that suppliers of everything from mobile phones to packaging live in a world where everybody has 20/20 vision.

This statement sums it up – this is the point where you know you are living in a world that is not designed for you.
When Masello, 54, goes out to restaurants with friends, especially places with lighting that is easy on wrinkles but hard on vision, "it looks like an all-night study group," said Masello, a novelist from Santa Monica, "We're taking off our glasses and rubbing our eyes, hunching over the menus with puzzled expressions, signaling the waiter for flashlights and candles."
A couple of other interesting snippets that illustrate the business/marketing issues of making products useable for older people.
Cellphones are a particular problem. On most mobile phones, the text on the screen is not merely small; it is set against a busy background with a dull contrast. "My guess is they're thinking about teenagers who buy these things and use them a lot more than we do," said Paul Nini, a visual design specialist at Ohio State University. "Marketing considerations tend to outweigh user considerations."
This bang on. Make mobile phones useable by all ages and it causes product design problems in satisfying the insatiable desire to stuff more functionality into the handset to capture the young market. With one or two exceptions (e.g. Vodafone) mobile handset makers haven’t started to tackle this problem.
"There's a fight between bureaucracy's desire to put more information on the container and the size of type required to get it on," said Charles Bigelow, a professor of typography at the Rochester Institute of Technology. For example, the type size on a bottle of Aleve pain reliever, for instance, is 4.5 point.
Packaging is becoming littered with ‘warnings’ written in legalese, ‘ingredients’, requiring a doctorate in organic chemistry to understand and marketing messages in half a dozen languages. As a means of communicating with large numbers of consumers it fails.

Make sure you put ageing eyes on the agenda of your next marketing meeting. Dick Stroud

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