Monday, August 13, 2007

Aging Eyes

I certainly sympathized with the New York Times article by Katie Hafner on the fading vision of the baby boomer generation. By the time we turn forty, our eyes no longer take in as much light as they did before, and the lens loses its flexibility. These two changes lead to blurred vision. By the time we turn fifty, many of us are turning to reading glasses for help deciphering menus, labels on medicine bottles, maps, schedules, etc. There is now a growing market for reading glasses, with an especially great demand for the chic variety (not the kind you find in CVS!) to coordinate with your other designer gear.

The bane of many boomers' existence is cell phones, which, according to Professor Paul Nini of Ohio State University, a student of typefaces, are designed for people in their teens or twenties. "On most mobile phones, the text on the screen is not merely small; it is set against a busy background with a dull contrast." This is not a problem for the young, but can be a real impediment to the rest of the population.

Katie Hafner's articles are always well researched. This one is no exception. She quotes Professor Charles Bigelow of the Rochester Institute of Technology, whose specialty is typography. Professor Bigelow states that "small print is not a new problem." "'The shapes of the letters in fonts such as Times Roman all derive from a set of complaints lodged by 14th-century scholars who wanted to read late in life...It is reasonable to say the failing vision of the great Renaissance writers Petrarch and Boccaccio, and their followers, are what led to the shapes of our modern typefaces.'" Professor Bigelow has also observed that cheaper clothing, usually bought by younger customers, usually has labels with tiny type, whereas more expensive clothing, usually bought by more mature, and, presumably, more affluent customers, tends to have labels with larger type.

Large-print books are also changing to meet the demands of the baby boomers. Instead of the format to which we are accustomed, large-print books are starting to resemble regular books. They now have opaque ultrathin pages, making them less bulky, and a lot of the stigma attached to reading large-print books is disappearing as the book becomes more attractive as an object.

Thanks to Alice Pidgeon, Head of Technical Services at Pace Law Library, for pointing out this article to me. Alice's son is a student at Rochester Institute of Technology.


Betsy McKenzie said...

What a terrific topic! I have my computer set to large fonts, and still wish the type on OOTJ were larger and serifed.

Betsy McKenzie said...

IN the same Sunday magazine, there was an article on replacing the aging highway signs with signs using a new, more readable font, and examining the qualities of reflective paint, for an aging population of drivers! At least there is some benefit to being part of a huge cohort of aging boomers!

Betsy McKenzie said...

One more comment from an enthusiastic, but aging colleague: Whoever designed our business cards here has young eyes -- the font is way too tiny!