If Print Is Dead, Somebody Better Tell My Aspirin Bottle

As many of you already know, I have been working for several months on service offerings in the area of content accessibility and consumer engagement. The following paragraphs provide a high-level walkthrough of my journey. In the next few days, I will be publishing  more about this endeavor in subsequent blogs.

Getting There

Some time ago, I began mulling over consumer-accessibility issues related to packaged goods. My background is in print publishing and I have worked in the creation and delivery of digital content since the mid 1990’s. I have long had a hard time accepting that so much of the content I get my hands on is so damn hard to read. (We can put a man on the moon, and watch the moon-landing on a phone 40 years later, but we can’t….)

The original problem that I set out to solve was related to my own (and millions of others’) inability to read small type on packaging. It’s increasingly difficult for me to read dosage levels, ingredients, allergens, etc on over-the-counter and prescription drug packaging. It’s impossible for others. As I started to ponder the problem, I realized how large an issue this was for millions of consumers.

So, I set out to find a solution (using pre-existing technology) that would promote accessibility among visually-challenged and also for consumers facing language barriers.

Some of my goals for the solution were that it would not place a heavy financial burden on consumers (I termed this the “Best Buy Test”), nor would the solution disrupt the content-creation, or QA processes of a packaged goods manufacturer, or retailers of such goods.

In short, I did it. At least from the conceptual level. I also realized that I could do more than address accessibility issues, but that there was potential for unprecedented opportunities for  consumer engagement and measurement of print readership. Gravy AND a bag of chips!

An Exceedingly  Large Market

In pursuit of reality checking, I tapped out a few thoughts in a blog and a few months later, I shared them with some former colleagues of mine, in Grand Rapids and Chicago. Frankly, I was stunned by the enthusiasm for some of my ideas. Also, I was astounded when I eventually realized how large the potential market of under-served consumers was.

Consider this example:


Image of Product Label of Store-Brand Pain Reliever

Product Label of Pain Reliever

While you may be able to read the dosage levels, ingredients, etc., think for a moment about those who may not be able to do so:

  • 78 million baby boomers (ages 46 to 64 in 2010, that is a lot of progressive lenses)
  • 40 million citizens who are over the age of 65
  • 60 million residents whose native language is something other than English
  • 12 million users are classified as having blindness or low vision

This “super-demographic” has buying power in Trillions of dollars. It doesn’t make business sense for manufactures, retailers, publishers, etc. to take these consumers for granted.

More Reality Checks

I sought further input and received additional validation from subject-matter experts in these areas:

  • Blindness and low-vision researchers
  • Content strategists and localization experts
  • Management consultants
  • Numerous key  figures from marketing and promotions sector
  • Retail strategists
  • Experts in the area of “extended packaging” (which I learned is what I was trying to  accomplish
  • Just about everybody else that I knew, or met

At the suggestion of some of the folks mentioned above, I looked into different ways to move forward with this endeavor, suggestions included venture capital and government grants. Along the journey, I made a decision that focus would be on  providing services rather than to set out to build  (and distribute, maintain) products. Services orientation allows for more flexibility in serving individual customer needs; the solution won’t be bound to specific devices, or server-side platforms.

Focus on services also affords me the flexibility to take a more open, and collaborative approach to such an endeavor. As I mentioned above, I have discussed these ideas with many, many people, and intend to keep doing so. My prime motivation for mapping out this solution was this (and only this): to provide users with the means to better  comprehend contents of package labels (or other print vehicles). This “open sourcing” of my ideas allows me to carry them with me to other contexts (for example, a full-time employer) this wouldn’t be possible with a product-development approach.

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