Thursday, January 29, 2009

Getting small

As I get older (old-ER...not old), I've noticed that the typefaces around me seem to get smaller. One might logically conclude that my eyes are getting worse, but a trip to the optometrist revealed that it was only marginally so.

The problem is rooted in 20-something-year-old graphic artists designing packaging for baby boomers' eyes.

I have before me a can of what my beloved cousin Nancy calls "magic powder" -- it's an anti-aging dietary supplement aimed at boosting energy, giving skin a youthful glow, improving digestion, and generally peeling years off one's naturally-deteriorating body. Putting aside whether there is a credible proposition to this product (Nancy is enthused, so I'll be enthused with her), one might assume that its makers mean to appeal to an over-40 crowd, to be generous. Why, then, would the directions, disclaimers and other package information appear in 6-point type? Reverse-type, no less.

I see the same trend in restaurant menus. The more exclusive the restaurant -- with an older and more affluent customer -- the smaller the type. And the more likely that the small typeface will be some silly script designed to look like handwriting with excessive flourishes. Look around: at that table over there, the woman is gripping the menu and stretching her arms across the table, attempting to bring it into focus. Over there, the man is trying not to burn his fingers as he holds the votive candle up to the page, hoping a little more light will make the words legible.

Now I'll name names. I needed the ESN number (whatever that is) from my Blackberry; it's conveniently located on the original box and inside the battery case. So small -- in both places -- it was impossible to discern a "B" from an "8". I literally used a magnifying glass, being lucky enough to actually have one. Anyone who has registered a new iPod knows that the unit number is positively miniscule. It's so small, in fact, that it's difficult to even find it on the unit.

Walk into any pharmacy, and try to imagine what it would -- will -- be like to read the packaging on over-the-counter medicine with 80-year-old eyes. I wonder about the possible legal issues that could evolve: do manufacturers have an obligation to provide dosage or interaction information that is at least reasonably legible?

The problem is pervasive...anywhere the printed word appears, more often than not, it appears small. Packaged goods (good luck with ingredient or nutritional information), newspapers, printed advertising, even cookbooks. I have little appreciation for tiny instructions floating in a sea of white space while juggling a searing skillet.

As the headlines tell of war and financial collapse and issues of great importance, small typefaces seem hardly worth mentioning. But this, this is a problem we can solve. Yes we can.


  1. So we're left asking...are things getting smaller, or are you getting older? Is the 20-something coup happening right before your weakening eyes? And is there something you can do about it? Would you want to?

  2. Yuck it up, funny girl. You just wait.

  3. A serious issue, no doubt, but easily addressed. Take all the graphic artists who design children's books and swap them with those who design menus and drug labels. Large typefaces, like youth, are wasted on the young.

  4. Eniko Ilyes-DeMarcoFebruary 26, 2009 at 7:52 PM

    This article will give my boss a little more ammunition when going up against our designers. It's and ongoing war ...