Sunday, July 01, 2007


If we decide to go with the flow and think of factoid as describing a true yet trivial thing, I want a word to describe a true, trivial, but oddly compelling experience such as the following, which I share with you here for no other reason than I cannot stop obsessing about it.

The other night we took some friends to see Kiki & Herb's "Year of Magical Drinking" show, itself oddly compelling (Kiki on her upbringing: "if you weren't molested as a child then you must have been ugly") but not what I wanted to tell you about. Before the show we had dinner at Sibling Rivalry, a restaurant whose conceit is that its two chef-brothers create dueling recipes with the same main ingredient. The food was fabulous but the menu made me a little crazy. It listed the dishes on offer in two columns, one for each chef, and headlined each row of two with the featured ingredient, so you'll get, say, two choices starring green tomatoes. At the top of the menu was printed something like "Large plates/Small plates/Entrees/Appetizers" but I could find nowhere on the menu anything to tell me which dish was what, although you could mostly guess from the prices. It bugged the hell out of me that the menu would mention that it listed both appetizers and main courses but would not tell you which was which, so I asked the waiter what was going on. "Are you color-blind?" he asked in return, and upon my affirmative response went off to retrieve a copy of the color-blind menu they apparently keep on hand for so disabled guests. This new menu, marked on the back with a piece of bedraggled masking tape with the words "color-blind menu" penciled upon it, looked very similar to the regular menu, save for the fact that some of the items were printed in italic, a distinction that had been made clear to my dining companions by the strategic use of black and red type on the normal-people menu.

Why, Lord, why? Why, Lord, why? If the appearance of color-blind people in your restaurant is an occurrence frequent enough to require you to print and bind an alternative menu exclusively for their use, you might want to rethink your original design, yes?

It's the little things that haunt us.


Andy Laties said...

Did you disclose your disability to the various picture-book awards-committee chairs under whom you have served??

The editor for Horn Book don't see colors good??

This explains a LOT.

As to your complaint, I would think you could make a bundle by suing the restaurant under the Americans With Disabilities Act or something. You have been psychologically injured and these jerks should PAY.

Roger Sutton said...

Picture book award committees don't work in dim light, thank goodness.

Cliff and Valerie McKay said...

I forwarded this story to a bunch of folks at work. Why is "accessibility" considered to be something that means your (pick one) website/menu/store/publication will be (pick one) ugly/plain/boring?? WHY DOESN'T ANYONE GET THAT THE REASON APPLE IS WHO THEY ARE IS THAT THEY DO GET IT??? Is it such a stretch if you're trying to deliver a service (and make money doing it) that you should focus on your customer instead of how clever and unique you are? What's wrong with universal access or universal accessibility? Were you supposed to believe that this was such a wonderful concept that the fact that you couldn't immediately 'get it' meant there was something wrong with you? That's the message they were sending.

If only it were possible to sue someone for this kind of stupidity. It's the only way it will stop.

Andy Laties said...

Nah. I'd say that Roger wasn't In With The In Crowd of people who could understand the menu. Such humiliations happen only the first time. Next time he can bring a friend to that restaurant and delight in THEM being confused, while he's the expert Insider.

It was a hazing ritual.

Beth said...

Why is it so terrible to have a back-up menu for color-blind people? It seems a reasonable accomodation. Yes, there needs to be a back-up plan, but the red and black probably looked cool to the brothers. Does anyone really think we should avoid red/black art because some people can't enjoy it?

Some restaurants print up large-type versions of their menus. Does this also offend people?

Now I'm wondering if there was a table discussion before you asked the waiter. Did you notice that everyone else was figuring stuff out? I can see a bit of a who's-on-first thing happening. Frustrating at the time, but maybe funny afterward.

Kate said...

I bet the colour-blind issue was not brought to their attention until after their menus went to print and were already in use. Remember when dining at a restaurant was a simple affair?

Suing is a bit extreme. We can't possibly cater to everyone at every time and if we did, I think that world of such extreme political correctness would be uninspiring.

Roger Sutton said...

I didn't feel personally affronted by the menu. I just thought it was pretentious to keep using it when you knew that the graphic design was a stumbling block to enough people that you printed an alternative. (And really: how cool can red and black type be in a dim restaurant anyway?) It's different from a needing a large-type menu for those who find the information itself, not the design, unreadable. Type large enough for the vision-impaired is too big for people with good eyes to read comfortably, so having those two kinds of menus makes sense to me.

As far as perceiving black and red goes, let me quickly invoke Godwin's Law to say that I can make out a Nazi flag just fine.

Andy Laties said...

I thought Godwin was the children's book publisher/bookseller whose wife wrote "Vindication of the Rights of Women" and whose daughter wrote "Frankenstein".

rindawriter said... the first place, color is only a PART of good design in picture books...I have a superb bunch of color cells in my eyes (and I'm not boasting, it is ENTIRELY genetic, not my fault, and beyond my control), but I still tend, personally ,to be attracted to the quality of the line first in picture book art, the drawing itself, the proportions, the spacing, what those things make me feel...I have always had a strong love of good black and white drawings and photos despite my delight in color. The line is what speaks most loudly to me in picture books.
And there is much, much more, the text, story etc. to consider.

So, it doesn't conern me at all that any reviewer of picturebooks might have a color blindness (and there are degrees and varities of the same). Color is a smaller part of the design as a whole there, I would think.

But I think having a "differntly-abled" menu is rather senseless in the first place. I mean they are trying to sell food to you, not colors, not a picture book!

..still feeling creepy that a word like "factoid" actually is REPLICATING out there!

megorx said...

From what you describe, it sounds as though the red/black design was inspired by the "dueling chefs" theme. Of course, they could have differentiated with typeface, but it wouldn't be as aesthetically pleasing as the red and black, which underscores the playful sense of rivalry, as in, say, a checkers game.

In any case, they made a reasonable accommodation for you, so quit yer whining. And be grateful that you don't have a disability that causes every restaurant experience to be a challenge for you.

Very Anonymous said...

All right, quick: What color is the fish on the cover of FLOTSAM? And no asking around. I want to know now if we're going to need an asterisk after the next Caldecott winner's name.

Anonymous said...

I have been laughing all day about the special color blind menus. Funniest damn thing I've ever heard. And since last year's awards had the blogging/committee controversy, I look forward to this year's color-blind competence brouhaha.

Roger Sutton said...

Cadmium red (but, then, I heard the speech too.) It does amaze me that so many people think being color-blind means you see in black and white ("What color is my shirt?" they exclaim.) It just means you can't distinguish some colors some of the time. I totally flunked the test I found via Wikipedia, though, although I also found this pathetic defense of the situation I described above: "Good graphic design avoids using color coding or color contrasts alone to express information, as this not only helps color blind people, but also aids understanding by normally sighted people." I'll resign from the Caldecott so long as we bar from Newbery service anyone who thinks that's a well-constructed sentence.

Andy Laties said...

Up with WHICH you will not put????

Jennie said...

Have you guys encountered the graphic designers' cover critique site?

Here, they talk about TWISTED: