I Can’t See You!

Visiting an old high school friend in Colorado last spring, we discussed our rapid approach (or have we already arrived?) into middle age.

“Did it come on fast with you?”

“Yeah, it just seemed to happen overnight. All of a sudden, I can’t see!”

I’ve been extremely nearsighted most of my life. Now, to my intense irritation, I am also farsighted: I can’t read small text.

I refuse – so far – to get reading glasses. I already have one pair of glasses on my face all day, having to hassle with two different ones”¦ well, let’s put that off as long as we can. (No, I don’t want bifocals – that would force me back to the great big lenses that were so popular in the 1970s and look so incredibly stupid now – I like my sleek little designer frames, thank you).

This new handicap has made me acutely aware of a fundamental problem in web design: it’s all apparently done by 25-year-olds who have no notion that everyone in the world isn’t exactly like them. Many sites, blog templates, etc. use small type, because the designer thinks it looks cool. Well, it does, except that I can’t READ it. If you have a message to convey via text, it’s passing me right by.

Where there’s text that I definitely want to read, my salvation is Ctrl + – the standard browser shortcut to increase text size.


Some sites disable text size changes, apparently because the designer insists that I should read at whatever type size he finds comfortable.

On some sites text doesn’t exist as text – it’s a graphic embedded in a super-cool Flash image that cannot be resized (this is a particularly Italian sin – Italian designers love Flash way too much).

On some sites you can use Ctrl +, but parts of the page become unusable – lines of text run underneath other page elements and can’t be read, text in menus spills off the edge.

When a site uses fixed-size popup windows, text becomes impossible to read, and form lose their buttons – the window can’t be resized, and you can’t reach the button to Submit or Send unless you remember to Ctrl – (minus) to get the page size back down to what the designer planned for. This unnecessary extra step is off-putting enough that I’m not going to bother completing your damned form.

So, my advice to all you young web designers: someday you, too will be middle-aged and that 8-point type will become a blur to you. Start designing for that now, and you will find a grateful audience among those of us who are already there.


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