In my past life as a fund-raiser, before e-mail, before WYSIWYG, I remember writing a butt-load of solicitation and acknowledgement letters in DOS every year. It was the top-of-the-line technology — and in a few years, we might be able to move donor records from index cards to ADIS! Fear not, visitor from the future: we still licked all the tasty stamp glue we could eat.
Dark ink against light-colored paper is one of the purest visual technologies of all time. Have you ever read a whole book on a Sony or Kindle portable book reading device? I have, and I missed good old light refraction by the fifth chapter (and I missed a coherent plot-line, and a set of consistent characterizations, but that’s another post for another day…). The light source in the readers is coming from behind the text, and light from outside the device can inhibit readability with glare.
Where does biology meet fund-raising technology and methodology? In the simplest terms, it means that the font on your Powerpoint presentation is large enough to be seen from the back of the room by middle-aged eyes. It means that your board meeting food spread includes low-fat protein options for the South Beach dieters and caffeine-free tea for the jittery mortgage brokers in the room.
In more expensive terms, it means real attention to the human-computer interface. Of particular concern to me is the increasing default to a solicitation/networking format like those in use by almost every illness-based charity in the U.S. The standard interface of some of the most market-pervasive social networking solicitation products is filled with small-font text-filled boxes and links that are hard to distinguish from the color fill around them. The contact import function is more text-driven than graphically designed. Often, one must re-enter the edit pages by re-entering a password, or by going through the entire process of starting from the homepage (stepout.diabetes.org Convio site, I’m looking at you…).
As a demographic litmus, I have created the “Can Jan Scan” test. My mom Janet, a smart cookie in her 70s, is afraid of her shiny new laptop computer. She received the laptop as a gift my one of my sisters for Christmas 2007, and she has used it about 35 times. I have to sneak out of her house to trick her into putting her computer in stand-by mode by herself. It is unlikely that she will navigate screens and send solicitation e-mails to her friends when all of the screen options are so overwhelming. So I interviewed her as she took a social networking software test-drive.*
Jana: Mom, how does this page look to you?
Jan: I don’t like the colors, but you know I don’t like primary colors.
Jana: You could change the colors.
Jan: Oh, then it’s just fine.
Jana: By ‘just fine,’ do you mean you would create a page and send an e-mail message to your friends to ask them to give?
Jan: Oh no. I think the colors could be prettier, and that’s fine. The other colors glared at me.
Jana: Glare from the colors and light reflection on the screen, or colors that assume anthropomorphic glaring abilities? To whom would you send a message about this page?
Jan: Jana, don’t be a smartaleck.** I’d send it to people for whom I have an e-mail address — would you write the addresses down for me so I can type them in (my hands are really tired, though, so could you type them)? But I wouldn’t send it to [names didacted because Mom is a really polite person] because they will turn around and ask me to give right back to something for one of their kids. I don’t want to owe them anything. You didn’t ask them to give did you? You’ve got to tell me about these giving things so I don’t ignore them when I get them.
Jana: When was the last time you checked your e-mail to see if you’ve been asked to give?
Jan: About 2 months ago, when you fixed the computer after the screen went blank.
Jana: For God’s sake mom, you have a better laptop than I do! How can you not use it for 2 months? It’s such a waste.
Jan: Tell me about it. I wanted a dual-power stove-oven so I can have a cooktop with gas and an oven with electric. Do you think I should put hard-wood floors all the way into the kitchen?
My whiz-bang tech brain said yes to the wood floor. But the Can Jan Scan test failed the basic interface presented. I’ve heard the research — the older crowd is adopting web use faster than any other age group. Sure, but these folks have physical challenges that will limit their interest and their patience as they try to use high detail density interfaces.
* I may or may not have spiked her iced green tea to loosen her up, a sort of a grandma truth serum if you will…
** She didn’t say ‘smartaleck,’ if you know what I mean…