Posts Tagged ‘Inclusive design’

Amazon’s Kindle: A case for accessible design

May 17th, 2009

Image of Amazon Kindle

Image of Kindle courtesy of

Accessible design (also known as universal or inclusive design), is all about designing your products and services so they can be accessed and used by as wide an audience as possible, regardless of age, disability, or other limiting factors. It’s not about designing for a specific disability group, rather it is about making sure that mainstream products can still reach the growing number of people without perfect vision, hearing, mobility, or cognition.

Accessible design is more than just a social phenomenon – as the balance of the population continues to tip towards the elderly, it is increasingly being seen as a commercial opportunity.  Those at the older end of the population pyramid often do not have the same levels of dexterity or eyesight as their younger counterparts, although they do have considerably more disposable income. Products that are designed to also meet the needs of this rapidly growing user group therefore have the potential to appeal to a considerably larger market.

An interesting yet unexpected example of this came to light recently, when discussions on an Amazon forum led to the revelation that over 50% of Amazon Kindle owners are 50+, and nearly 70% are 40+. So why does the Kindle appeal so much to this older audience? Take a look at this quote from a Publishers Lunch report based on the same forum:

“So many users said they like Kindle because they suffer from some form of arthritis that multiple posters indicate that they do or do not have arthritis as a matter of course. A variety of other impairments, from weakening eyes and carpal-tunnel-like syndromes to more exotic disabilities dominate the purchase rationales of these posters.”

For those with arthritic hands, the form factor of the Kindle makes it easier to hold and easier to page through than heavy hardcovers and flimsy paperbacks. The display also offers several advantages. It uses an electronic ink that is similar to print, so it is crisp and clear. For those with ageing eyes, the text size is also customizable – providing obvious advantages over paper equivalents (this is also an important feature for those with dyslexia). As one legally blind Kindle owner explains, the text-to-speech functionality is also a very important accessibility feature – while the computerized voices are no competition for audio books, they are still progress towards making text more generally available to the visually impaired.

Of course, the Kindle doesn’t have it all figured out (for example, see some additional accessibility requests from Russ Stinehour). But it certainly is a great example of how taking an inclusive approach to the design of a mainstream product can benefit your users and customers in unexpected ways, and how it can also help you to reach a much broader and more lucrative market.

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