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