Freedom Scientific’s assistive technology empowers people with low vision to live independently.
Freedom‘s legacy product, the original TOPAZ video magnifier, helped people a great deal by facilitating reading, but the company knew there was potential to do even better.
Ethnographic research uncovered opportunities to improve workflow, add new features to solve common frustrations, and design more intuitive controls for increased ease of use. It also revealed the need for a portable version, TOPAZ Portable PHD, that we developed for the business traveler and student on the go.
ONYX Portable HD, Bresslergroup’s latest collaboration with Freedom, is another product for the mobile user. The high-resolution, 3-in-1 portable magnifier shown in the animation above, assists students who need to switch their focus from desk-bound notes to the whiteboard at the front of the lecture hall. A series of inventive technical solutions made this versatile, transportable product possible at a high quality and competitive price point.
When we first started working with Freedom Scientific, we traveled to Florida – the company’s home base – to partner with them 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 strengths and weaknesses of the legacy product. Our observations, informed by Freedom Scientific’s firm grasp on its market and on our own product design and human factors expertise and additional research, drove a crop of new features:
The Challenge: Users struggle to read labels on cans or pill bottles, because cylindrical items often slip out of focus.
Feature Fix: A slot in the table secures a round bottle in a fixed position.
The Challenge: People 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 basic controls easy to find and lessens the chance of accidentally changing desired settings.
The Challenge: Users were leaning in too closely to the screen to read, sustaining ergonomically risky postures.
Feature Fix: We 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.
The Challenge: If an item slides off the table or is accidentally bumped out of position, which happens often, users easily lose their place.
Feature Fix: The Freeze Frame feature, enabled by a prominent Freeze Frame button, locks an image in place.
The “toyish” look of TOPAZ II’s control panel is driven by users’ cognitive strengths – many people with low vision differentiate color more easily than shapes. We also refined the controls’ tactile profiles so each feels different, making it easier for color-blind users to tell them apart.
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 benefit from differentiating itself with a softer, approachable, and more playful look while providing significantly improved functionality and usability through its new features.
Ethnographic research also identified a mobile user – business travelers and students – whose needs were going unmet. Aware of novel battery and LCD display technologies to make a compact, fully featured video magnifier possible, Freedom asked us to help develop this new product category.
TOPAZ Portable PHD
The insights we gathered while developing TOPAZ II informed the development of TOPAZ Portable PHD and ONYX Portable HD.
TOPAZ Portable PHD is a lightweight (ten-pound) magnifier that sets up easily in less than a minute and folds away just as easily, like a laptop. It benefits from TOPAZ II’s functionality and usability improvements.
The TOPAZ 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.