Saturday, November 27, 2004


Reader's Digest books: a conflicted user experience

For some years I have been a fan of certain glossy reference books published by Reader's Digest. Covering topics ranging from workshop practice to cooking, the books show excellent information design: clear layout and great line drawings. When I tell my friends how good these books are, I often get a puzzled look of disbelief (What? Reader's Digest?), or a snicker, as though I admitted to liking the decor of dentists' offices. It's about the most uncool brand around.

I find these books in used bookshops or as remainders, and their content rarely dates. I was excited to see an advert in my Sunday newspaper that Reader's Digest has just published a driver's atlas to New Zealand, which looked like another example of great information design. As the book is not available in stores, I filled out a postcard and sent it off. Yesterday my atlas arrived, and it indeed has a very thoughtful layout. I was feeling very happy until I opened the envelop on the box, which had my bill. Pages of leaflets and computer printouts spilled out. I have coupons to pay for my book in installments, coupons to register for prizes, stickers to put on coupons to register for prizes, order forms to buy more books, stickers to put on order forms, and confusing numbers referring to my customer account or membership.

I'm not sure this postal relationship with RD is going to work for me. How can one company do information design so well and so poorly at the same time?

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