Freedom Scientific

Low Vision Solutions

Design Research, Product Brand Language, Technology-Based Innovation, Engineering Analysis & Optimization

Freedom Scientific’s assistive technology empowers people with low vision to blindness to live independently.

Our research findings drove a friendly, new brand language and usability improvements for a family of video magnifiers users call “life-saving.”


Ethnographic research uncovered many opportunities to improve everyday life for the visually impaired through Freedom’s family of video magnifiers.

Freedom came to us with a legacy product that helped people a great deal by facilitating their ability to read, but the company had become aware of additional needs that could be alleviated with a redesign.

We created improved desktop and portable versions of the original TOPAZ magnifier by reconsidering its workflow and eliminating “non-friendly” user interface elements for increased versatility and improved usability. The client was also searching for a new approachable look for the product line to appeal to the aesthetic sense of the people who are buying it – their children and caregivers. 

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We traveled to Florida – Freedom Scientific’s home base – to partner with the company in conducting in-home ethnographic research. They set us up with different types of users (from heavy book readers to those who use a magnifier less frequently, for tasks like reading labels and looking up phone numbers). While observing people in context, we began to understand the nuances of their daily challenges and of the legacy magnifier’s strengths and weaknesses.

Topaz II

Our observations, informed by Freedom Scientific’s firm grasp on their market and on our own product design and human factors expertise and additional research, drove a crop of new features in the TOPAZ II:

Research Insight: Users struggled to read labels on cylindrical items (cans or pill bottles), because the item would often slip out of focus.
Feature Fix: A slot in the table to secure a round bottle in a fixed position.

Research Insight: People tended to arrange their settings once and never change them again.
Feature Fix: Instead of leaving all the physical controls front and center, we divided them into basic (frequently used, such as brightness and zooming) and secondary (those they set and forget), and placed the latter beneath the device. 

This makes the former easier to find and lessens the chance of accidentally changing desired settings.

Research Insight: Users had to lean in too closely to the screen to read, sustaining ergonomically risky postures.
Feature Fix: Improved screen adjustability, including moving the monitor closer so the user can read while still enabling full extension of her hands and arms beneath the desk.

Research Insight: If an item slid off the table or was accidentally bumped out of position, which happened often, users easily lost their place.
Feature Fix: The Freeze Frame feature, enabled by a prominent Freeze Frame button, locks an image in place.

The “toyish” look of the TOPAZ II’s control panel is driven by users’ cognitive strengths – many low-vision users differentiate color more easily than shapes. We also refined the controls’ tactile profiles so each feels differently from the rest, making them easier to differentiate for color-blind users.

When we surveyed the users’ children and caretakers, they indicated the desire for a new look and feel. Competitive products were sleek, black, and silver, resembling consumer electronics. Along with our client, we felt the TOPAZ line would differentiate itself with a softer, approachable, and more playful look while providing significantly improved functionality and usability through its crop of new features.


Topaz Portable PhD Video Magnifier

During ethnographic research, we had identified a mobile user – the student who totes her reading along with her to different locations throughout the day; and the business traveler – whose needs were going unmet. Aware of novel battery and LCD display technologies to make a compact, fully featured video magnifier possible, Freedom later asked us to help develop this new product category.

The resulting TOPAZ Portable PhD is a lightweight (10 lbs) magnifier that sets up easily in less than a minute and folds away just as easily, like a laptop. It benefits from all of TOPAZ II’s functionality and usability improvements. The Portable PhD launched in 2014 at a substantially lower cost than competing devices at its scale and with comparable features, offering further freedom and independence to this often overlooked user. It took home a Gold in Appliance Design’s 2015 Excellence in Design Awards.

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