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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Adventures in Luggage Land

Earlier this week, I forked over $15 to Delta Airlines for the privilege of checking a bag. Frequent travelers on Delta are evidently well aware of this new charge: there was clearly an even greater number of passengers going the carry-on route, and a higher percentage of carry-ons stuffed so full, it was impossible to cram them into the overhead bin.

What ensued:

After about two-thirds of the passengers had boarded, there was no longer any room in the overhead bins. Let the gate-checking begin. (Did those passengers pay the $15, I wonder?)

Although the overhead bins were closed, the tail-end of the passenger line felt compelled to open every bin all the way down the length of the plane, then turn around and try to jostle their way back upstream to gate-check the bag.

Some passengers, finding that their overstuffed bags could NOT be crammed into the overhead bins, began unpacking their luggage in the aisle, to remove items and shove stuff under the seat, while the line behind them came to a screeching halt.

It was chaos.

Is this the law of unintended consequences? Is it possible that Delta did not foresee that by charging to check a bag, they'd force passengers to try to carry it all on? Did they think they'd encourage passengers to travel with fewer clothes? If not, and if the gross weight of the baggage remains the same, whether it is checked or carried on, what's the economic advantage to Delta? And if it's simply a new revenue stream, why not "up" the ticket by $15 in the first place?

This one, I don't get. But I do know this: no good can ever come of creating a bigger hassle for your customers. Competitors, take note.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Big Chair

Euphemistically speaking, I am "between engagements." While there is little to recommend not working full-time, I have used the break to catch up in the brave new world of social and professional networking, something I was always going to get to as my busy schedule allowed.

And thus I become a blogger.

If I am to share thoughts and observations here, it would have to be called Kim's Big Chair. There is an actual Big Chair in my house. It serves as my life headquarters -- part office, part sanctuary, part think-tank. It has begun to fade and fray, but I can't fathom parting with it. It's the furniture version of a pair of old slippers.

I'll get to the thoughts-and-observations on another day. But for now, the Big Chair will enjoy its Internet debut.