Label PRomotion | Small Issues Add Up to Big Label Woes

An Aging Population Is Just One Factor that Could Lead to Larger Labels

When it comes to label type size, the eye doctor’s request to “read the smallest line you can” may yield zero results. Prescription labels particularly are garnering greater attention and criticism as consumers complain that the type is too small to read.

Increasingly, reports of safety concerns related to prescription meds are making the news. Of course, the problem isn’t limited to this realm. If you’ve tried to read the lengthy label ingredient list or cautions on a bug spray dispenser, you know the challenge all too well. Or how about checking out that can of pet food to see if the contents appear acceptable for your favorite furry friend?

It’s not a new phenomenon, but it is gaining more attention as manufacturers cram more info on limited real estate. An aging population is another major factor. Four-plus years ago, writer Caroline Mayer wrote on nextavenue.org, “Type is often so small on labels and packages, it can be dangerous to your health…Small print on medicine bottles can lead to health dangers…Have you ever confused conditioner for shampoo — or, when traveling, used that tiny bottle of body lotion for conditioner because the print was too small to read? Or have you ever taken the wrong medicine because you couldn’t read the prescription bottle, as recently happened to a friend of mine?”

This perilous state of affairs warranted attention a year ago from the Research Institute for Aging, which wrote on its news page, “Are Illegible Prescription Labels Risky? According to new research by the University of Waterloo and CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind), prescription labels on medication bottles can post a risk for older adults. From the illegible scrawl on a prescription pad from the doctor, to the small size of print and hard to read labels on medication bottles handed out by pharmacies, misread instructions can lead to errors in taking the medication.”

Mayer points out that the affliction stems from multiple causes: “In their eagerness to create new and fancy products, they often overlook the optical needs of older consumers…Ask a graphic designer why the print on so many products is so small, and the answer is: the young designers themselves. As Gregg Davis, president of the Columbus, OH, innovation consulting firm Design Central, told me: ‘Young designers want to reinvent the world, but they have none of the encumbrances of eyesight challenges. So it’s very difficult for them to imagine why fine print should be an issue.’…Designers also say government regulations and lawyers have helped turn boxes, bottles, and instruction manuals into a fine-print tour de force by demanding so much information that the print must be small to accommodate it.”

Ironically, voluminous legalese itself can cause legal wrangles. A January 2015 article in theexpertinstitute.com notes, “Inadequate Warning Label At Stadium Results in Severe Injury…This case involves a man who was attending a football game on a day when there were multiple thunderstorm and weather advisories for the area…The plaintiff was struck by lightning in the parking lot upon exiting the stadium. The plaintiff claims that the ticket purchase agreement on the back of the ticket was too small to read and therefore not binding.”

A growing global marketplace also is influencing the type size dilemma, according to Mayer. Companies going global need to fit text from several languages into one “document or one bottle to meet each country’s regulations,” she points out.

Use of more readable fonts, cleaner design, high-contrast colors/backgrounds, and extended content labels are remedies, but they can go only so far. As pressure mounts on manufacturers to remediate the problem, it will be interesting to see what solutions present themselves.

Given the challenges to do more and more with limited space, one probable outcome will be larger labels, packages, and the like that can accommodate larger, more readable type. However, this conflicts with efforts to downsize in an effort to save resources and money. Stay tuned.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is president of Lusky Enterprises Inc., a marketing communications and content development company. Since 2008, he has worked with Lightning Labels, a Denver-based all-digital custom label printing company, as a content developer specializing in expert advice articles. Lusky presents common-sense ideas grounded in doing what’s real and right for managing and enhancing public image.

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