Ihave mentioned before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s blindness to evidence when it comes to the design of medicine information. Nothing has changed. But I couldn’t help noticing an ironic coincidence in today’s email notices.

Jakob Nielsen, ever-focused on the web, today published his Alertbox on the subject of Banner Blindness. Yet again, the research on how people read web sites simply confirms and recapitulates what is known about reading in other media (something I have also mentioned before). Put simply, people avoid reading things in boxes because they ignore anything that looks like an advertisement. See our review of research on boxed warnings for a glimpse into what Nielsen has rediscovered on the internet. Blind spots are quite common, even among researchers.

This brings me to the other item in my email notices—today’s FDA News Digest—which announces:

Certain Diabetes Drugs to Carry Strengthened Warnings
Manufacturers of certain drugs to treat type 2 diabetes have agreed to add a stronger warning on the risk of heart failure. The information will be included in the form of a “boxed” warning, FDA’s strongest type of warning.

There is something deeply ironic in this juxtaposition: the rediscovery of a well-established information design research finding in the ephemeral world of the web next to the blindness to the same research finding in the life and death world of medication.

The irony goes further: the advertiser’s convention of using boxes becomes the regulator’s convention of boxed warnings. But to the public, a box is a box. It doesn’t come with a signal saying ‘Ignore me, I’m an advert’ or ‘Read me, I’m a warning’.

Life being short and busy for most of the public, ‘Ignore me, I’m an advert’ kicks in as the default response. One form of blindness leads to another and the result is that life might be a little shorter than one imagined.