Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fine Print: Form over Function

Lily Interiors
I was an early aficionado of Trading Spaces  – and its British counterpart, Changing Rooms.  Like most British imports, the original was better (and less time-consuming) than its American counterpart (and for the record, I loved Lawrence).  One thing I hated about the shows was that design often trumped function.  People would ooh and ah over a room even if the TV had been located behind the couch (yes, that did happen).  I always admired the home owners that were willing to take the risk of ending up with an awful living space – particularly given that the overall budgets for each room were not all that ample.  I wonder how those rooms – slapped together in a 48-hour period – have held up over the years? Another place where form often trumps function is the magazine business.  Now that I have an iPad (and its precursor, a Kindle), I usually only pick up a magazine or two at the airport to get me through take off and landing.  My favorites are National Geographic Traveler, People (guilty pleasure), and Conde Nast Traveler.  All great magazines with content that I’m interested in reading if only…

On the Tarmac
If only what, you ask?  Well, if only I could read the fine print.  I won't bore you with the details of what happens to our eyes as we age -- just suffice it to say that many of us will need an assistive device (aka reading glasses) to read and that as we age, the strength of magnification that we need will likely increase.  According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA) print material should be with serif and 12 point font or greater.  Lots of white space is good and designers should create contrast.  All sound advice and the NIA has more tips for designers -- and for writers -- on its Website.

It seems odd to me that a magazine like Conde Nast Traveler (and its counterpart Travel and Leisure) would have such small type given that the majority of articles target the well-heeled traveler and not the 20-something on her backpacking tour of South America.  Anyone who has eaten out with me at a restaurant with soft lighting and brown italic type beige paper has heard me grumble about this very same thing.  What good is a menu if I can’t read it without pulling out a flashlight?  Mercifully, there is now an app for that if you have a smartphone and all sorts of tiny flashlights on the market if you don’t.  Funny that the likes of Chili’s and Applebee’s have menus with big type (and photos of the food!) while most fine dining restaurants do not.

As for the magazines, I don’t think it really matters to the publishers whether or not their readers can actually read the content.  What matters more is that the page looks good – form over function – and that ad page sales remain strong.  That is until older readers vote with their pocketbooks and discontinue subscriptions (I have) and stop purchasing magazines from the newsstand (I’m going to).  Having said that, I am on the lookout for electronic only subscriptions to a few magazines -- I switched to that for the NY Times and have not looked back.  

Of course, online subscriptions won't solve my "what to read" during landing and take off problem.    I am thinking I could use that time for a nap or to contemplate my naval (aka think deep thoughts).  Or maybe I’ll go back to carrying a good old-fashioned paperback – albeit the large print edition – of a favorite novel.

A Disclaimer
I know that this blog is not particularly well set up for older eyes -- I think I've violated every rule there is.  I've fiddled around with different designs and may convert to something with more contrast one of these days.  Perhaps when I can no longer read the published posts myself?  

A couple of Lytro camera living pictures to finish off the post.  I had thought that pay phones were completely disappearing from the streets of NYC until I got my Lytro and began to play with it -- NYC phone kiosks present one of the more interesting opportunities for living pictures (just missing Clark Kent).  Herewith two.....

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