Contempt for Visually Impaired and Older Readers

As a middle-aged man, I have eyes that match my age, perhaps even a bit older. I have worn glasses since I was in my early twenties, and have worn reading glasses for a long time as well. I also only see out of one eye, having amblyopia (the other eye sees just a blur.) Since my work is done on a computer, I use special computer glasses – with lenses adapted for the precise distance between my eyes and the computer screen – so I don’t squint or tire myself out.

I have long railed against designers and developers who don’t offer font size choices in their apps. I recall a recent information-gathering app that I tried in beta. I launched the app, saw the tiny font, found no option to change the font size, and promptly deleted it. On the Mac, you can still zoom the screen (System Preferences > Accessibility > Zoom), but on an iOS device, you don’t have that option. So whenever I try a new iOS app and see that the twenty-something designers didn’t correctly estimate their audience, I let them know. In some cases, this gets fixed – a couple of Twitter clients, for example – but in most, it is ignored.

I saw the most contemptible example of this yesterday. The Guardian newspaper recently did a redesign, altering the format of the paper (they went from a broadsheet to a tabloid), and slightly changing the layout on their website. As such, they released a new version of their iOS app. When I looked at it, I saw no way to change the font size. But I found this:


In other words, if you are visually impaired, you will have to pay to be able to read this app. This is an incredibly evil thing to do, and certainly immoral. How can a newspaper think that an adjustable text size is not a standard feature, but expect people to pay extra for it?

Guardian, I won’t pay you for that, and I think what you are doing is misguided, and, perhaps, illegal. But to all designers out there: don’t think that your eyes are the same as those of your users. The number of people who need glasses to read is much higher than you probably imagine, if you’re a millennial with 20/20 vision. Be careful; if you alienate your users like this, it could be very costly.

Update: interestingly, since the time I looked at the app and took the above screenshot (January 17, 5pm UK time), the Guardian has updated their app. There are now font size settings, and the premium tier makes no mention of font sizes. I’m glad they changed this so quickly, and wish all developers would make this sort of change.