Print design is failing the elderly and hard of sight

All inclusive communication design is a top priority for any designer.
Or it should be.
Studies of drug packaging1 and software interfaces2 prove that this isn’t always the case. More recently Dr Katie Cornish concluded in a study that print design is the worst of the design sectors when it comes to designing for accessibility. With the designers surveyed saying they only considered accessibility in just 52% of projects3.

We’ve all seen the effects of inaccessible print design, from the morning train ride where commuters hold their papers up close or having to finally don a pair of glasses with age.

What is visual accessibility?

Visual accessibility is determined by how easy it is for someone to look at and interpret each design element. This includes everything from image choice, typography, colour palette and foreground-background contrast.4

What affects visual accessibility?

When researching visual accessibility, it can quickly become very term heavy. With terms like Deuteranopia (red-gree colour blindness) and Presbyopia (when the eye ages it becomes more difficult to focus on things up close) used frequently. If you’d like to read about the science of colour blindness this article is highly recommended.

With this in mind, we can skip the science lesson and instead focus on the design principles of accessibility, making it easier to integrate them into future work.
The main accessibility points effects print can be broken down into three main elements;

Want to know more about how to design for accessibility? Here's a guide to designing for colour blindness and visual accessibility.

Why is accessibility important?

We are responsible for designing materials and systems that are accessible to everyone. Keeping in mind how people can be afflicted by sign loss, from those born with disabilities to ailments that develop with the age.

15% of the world population is affected by a disability that restricts their sight, hearing, movement or cognitive abilities6. As it stands, that is a staggering 1 billion 68 million 750 thousand people worldwide.

In the UK, there are approximately 2 million people with some sort of sight loss. With an estimated 20.6 million American adults affected5.

As a designer if we don’t design with accessibilities in mind then we are not only failing our clients, but we are failing people as well.

Design for accessibility the elderly and hard of sight. Women reading

Image credit: Jasondenys under Flickr CC licence

The over 60’s is the fastest growing population sector7. The natural ageing process called Presbyopia affects 62% of over 40s8, reducing the ability to see smaller design elements, smaller type and certain colour contrasts. We’ve all experienced the effects, whether it is getting new glasses or having to hold a paper slightly closer to get a clearer read. One of the hardest colour combinations for this group to perceive is blue and grey9. Given the world’s love of the colour blue and it’s domination of both web and interface design this presents an interesting design problem.

Why is print design failing?

Print faces a constant struggle over content quantity and the costs associated with printing. This combined with it’s rich tradition for smaller typesetting has seen type shrink since the Renaissance period10. Carlson suggests, communication problems inherent in the design process between a print designer and their client compound the issue.
Once a designer sends a design to the printers both the designer’s influence and user patterns are well… set in ink.

Once a designer sends a design to the printers both the designer’s influence and user patterns are well… set in ink.

Wired magazine

Image credit: Jer Thorp under Flickr CC licence

Mis-communication in the design process

Cornish suggests that the biggest reason for a lack of accessibility in print design is due to miscommunication between the designer and the client in the design process.
The study surveyed designers working exclusively in print and found that:

  • clients don’t request a need for accessibility
  • but, they assume it is a key design consideration

Clients are wanting accessibility, even if they don’t directly ask for it.

The problem arises when a designer doesn’t consider accessibility. Compounded by budget and time restraints, or by a lack of understanding in the area.


Statistics showing how designers approach accessibility

Of those surveyed a designer recommended visual accessibility in just 52% of projects, with a worrying 18% were not aware of any formal tools or methods available to them to assist in the design for and assessment of accessibility12. Which leads to our next reason for lack of accessibility:

The lack of tools for testing print design

In it’s very nature print is more difficult to user test than digital. Email has litmus testing, web and UI has a wide range of previewing tools at their fingers like Nocoffee Chrome plugin. With print the majority of designers resort to user observation (73%) or complex design guidelines (67%)13 like the Clear Print Guide and The European Blind Union.

InDesign doesn’t even have preview profiles to help assess design choices for different types of colour blindness within the software. This is only offered in Photoshop and Illustrator and even then it only covers Protanopia and Deuteranopia-type colourblindness. Which, when you are designing a magazine or a book is of little use. A print designer’s other option is to use physical testing equipment, which at huge costs isn’t high on a publishing houses purchasing list.

Read the visual accessibility case study of the New York Time Magazine redesign

Lack of user adaptability

Lack of user adaptability restricts accessibility to a design. Given its physical nature it lacks adaptations that make it easier to read, from the read out loud tool for the hard of sight or the quick screen pinch to increase body size.

Print's history and traditions

Print has evolved over many hundred of years, bringing with it a rich tradition and expectations of the form.

The average type size used in print is 10-12pt, with some dropping as small as 8pt. Compare to an ample 15-25px on screen

The average type size used in print is 10-12pt, with some dropping as small as 8pt. Compare this to an ample 15-25px for screen11 it isn’t hard to see why older users and those with restrictive sight can’t read print as easily. Practical typography states that the tradition for smaller typefaces is from the days of the typewriter and it’s printed aesthetic.
Newer design mediums are able to set their own norms for typesetting, in an arena where the user is central to design decisions it results in a more accessible experience.

Print isn’t dead. It is rebuking the claim that is it in decline, with circulations of some sectors increasing dramatically. Conversely, we have also seen key publishers like the Independent close their print division and concentrate on their digital output instead.

Times are changing, readers are changing, and importantly the expectations for accessibility are changing. Clients are wanting it, even if they don’t directly ask for it. It is our jobs as designers to ask, include and design for it. The demand for accessible is only going to increase, and it will be interesting if print takes influence from its digital cousin. Will it change its traditions and start to design with larger text, more contrast and put less dependency on colour as a communication device?


References

  1. Swayne, T. Information design for patient safety. 2005.

  2. Keates, S. Clarkson, J. Robinson, P. Developing a practical inclusive interface design approach 2002.

  3. Cornish, K. Goodman-Deane, J. Ruggeri, K. Clarkson, J. Visual accessibility in graphic design: A client-designer communication failure 2015

  4. Legge, G. Rubin, G. Pelli, D. Schleske, M. Psychophysics of Reading in Normal and Low Vision. 1985

  5. American Foundation for the Blind Statistical Snapshots from the American Foundation for the Blind 2015

  6. World Health Organisation Report 2011

  7. World Economic Forum Global Population Ageing: Peril or Promise? 2012

  8. Patel, I. West, SPresbyopia: prevalence, impact, and interventions 2007

  9. Gabriel-Petit, P. Ensuring Accessibility for People With Color-Deficient Vision 2007

  10. Bigelow. Holmes. Why The New york Times Magazine’s redesign is probably not more legible than its previous design

  11. 2015
  12. Butterick. Practical Typography, http://practicaltypography.com/point-size.html

  13. Bigelow. Holmes. Why The New york Times Magazine’s redesign is probably not more legible than its previous design

  14. 2015
  15. Butterick. Practical Typography, http://practicaltypography.com/point-size.html

  16. Cornish, K. Goodman-Deane, J. Ruggeri, K. Clarkson, J. Visual accessibility in graphic design: A client-designer communication failure 2015

  17. Cornish, K. Goodman-Deane, J. Ruggeri, K. Clarkson, J. Visual accessibility in graphic design: A client-designer communication failure 2015

Cover image credit: Libert Schmidt under Flickr CC licence

Form for thought - A blog about design psychology and design thinking for graphic designers, web designers, ui designers, ux and illustrators. Looking into the psychology of colour, user behaviour and advertising psychology.