Why not an all-text boldface option for the Kindle, related apps, and the Fire—to help older people and others with contrast sensitivity issues?
Among the more likely reasons could be sheer arrogance on the part of Jeff Bezos and his Kindle design team. Something work for them? Great. Never mind the rest of the planet. So thousands of Kindle users must suffer the contrast challenges that boldface could help mitigate—the same problem that Clive Thompson mentioned or at least hinted at in Book Riot.
But there is another possible explanation as well, the lemminglike tendencies of some designers to unthinkingly pick up b.s. from head-in-the-sand “experts.” Here’s the start of Kevin Marks’ excellent Backchannel post titled How the Web Became Unreadable: I thought my eyesight was beginning to go. It turns out, I’m suffering from design. Some influential designers have launched a war against decent text-to-screen contrast—while oblivious to the widely varying needs of users. This is not exactly the same crime as the one committed by Amazon’s Kindle side, but it’s in the same territory.
It’s been getting harder for me to read things on my phone and my laptop. I’ve caught myself squinting and holding the screen closer to my face. I’ve worried that my eyesight is starting to go.
These hurdles have made me grumpier over time, but what pushed me over the edge was when Google’s App Engine console — a page that, as a developer, I use daily — changed its text from legible to illegible. Text that was once crisp and dark was suddenly lightened to a pallid gray. Though age has indeed taken its toll on my eyesight, it turns out that I was suffering from a design trend.
There’s a widespread movement in design circles to reduce the contrast between text and background, making type harder to read. Apple is guilty. Google is, too. So is Twitter.
Typography may not seem like a crucial design element, but it is. One of the reasons the web has become the default way that we access information is that it makes that information broadly available to everyone. “The power of the Web is in its universality,” wrote Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web consortium. “Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
But if the web is relayed through text that’s difficult to read, it curtails that open access by excluding large swaths of people, such as the elderly, the visually impaired, or those retrieving websites through low-quality screens. And, as we rely on computers not only to retrieve information but also to access and build services that are crucial to our lives, making sure that everyone can see what’s happening becomes increasingly important.
Mind you, the Kindle people have been ignoring my boldface-related complaints for years, well before the low-contrast fad hit the Web. Still, if nothing else, cluelessness among designers just might be be one reason why the problem continues.
Related: Contrast Rebellion site.The domain goes back to 2011. So while the problem is not as old as the Kindle, it isn’t as if it suddenly happened. Meanwhile do keep in mind that the Kindle’s E Ink tech is inherently low-contrast. That’s why so many older people need all-text bold to compensate.