Is text so ugly it needs to be hidden?

Part of a cafe menu with small light font.Why do some designers make text so faint or small? Surely all fonts aren’t that ugly. Low vision is just one function that deteriorates as we age. In a nicely written article Don Norman laments the lack of thought about including older people in their designs. Using his own experience as an 83 year old, he discusses how many devices are needlessly ugly – shouting out “I’m old and can’t function!” Norman used to work for Apple, and his article also critiques their designs.

His article on the FastCo website is titled, I wrote the book on user friendly design – what I see today horrifies me. Here is an excerpt.

“Despite our increasing numbers the world seems to be designed against the elderly. Everyday household goods require knives and pliers to open. Containers with screw tops require more strength than my wife or I can muster. (We solve this by using a plumber’s wrench to turn the caps.) Companies insist on printing critical instructions in tiny fonts with very low contrast. Labels cannot be read without flashlights and magnifying lenses. And when companies do design things specifically for the elderly, they tend to be ugly devices that shout out to the world “I’m old and can’t function!” We can do better.”