The Tall Book

If you're a man taller than 6'3" or a woman over 5'9", meet your new bible. Cohen, 6'3", gives talls a pep talk, highlighting research that shows they'll make an additional $789 per inch per year over shorter colleagues. Still feel awkward? Visit the Netherlands, home to the tallest people -- with a copy of this charming book. Here's an excerpt. --David Lidsky

the tall book

Want to watch a tall person get agitated? Next time you’re out with one, lean over and whisper airplane seats. “Don’t get me started!” exclaims Ben Butler, 6’8”. “To get my legs to fit, I have to lift my knees up so they dig into the metal on the seat ahead, and my feet are off the floor. One time I was in a window seat in the back of the plane. The curve of the plane was so low that I had to spend the whole ride with my neck curved to the left.” Obviously an appropriate seating arrangement for a paying customer.

“Universal design says that there are people on the fringe, below the 10th percentile or above the 90th percentile, and they are being marginalized,” says Abir Mullick, an architect and director of industrial design at Georgia Institute of Technology and an outspoken proponent of universal design (also called “inclusive design”). “It’s not enough to design to 90 percent.” We’re being marginalized!

Universal design is more of a social movement than a design policy, popular only in countries with diverse populations and a government attuned to other sorts of social and economic marginalization. The arguments for universal design tend to use the same buzz words as civil rights arguments—“marginalization” and “community”—and follow the same lines of logic as well: separate-but-equal is not okay, and neither is the same-but-excluding. Providing fitting seats for only 80% of the community is on par with forcing some citizens to sit in the back of the bus. 


Universal design is often wrongly confused with disability design. "A lot of universities want everyone to move along the same path, so that it’s truly ‘universal’,” says Donohue. “They really push it. They don’t even want you to do switchback ramps at an entrance.” Nor do they want two water fountains, or two tables.” The result is that in practice, designers often produce one-size-fits-all products that are comfortable for almost no one, best illustrated by watching me fill out a deposit slip at my bank’s 32” counter.

There are four broad ways to size a product: one-size-fits-all, adjustable, multiple sizes, or adjustable and multiple sized. To get a sense of which approach tends to be the most successful for tall consumers, I made a chart of some of the products in my tall life, and organized them by approach.[i] <#_edn1> :

As you can see, the one-size-fits-all approaches are a total failure. Lets all say it together: One-size-fits-all does not fit talls. Multi-sized products are, actually, quite successful from a design standpoint—the glitch is a logistical one, manufacturer’s failure to produce an XL size. Adjustable-and-multiple-size options often truly fulfill 1-99th percentile design.

Munich’s subway, the S-Bahn, is a perfect example of universal design. It’s roughly seven feet tall, with a range of comfortable seating options at different heights to fit every conceivable body type, well-placed headrests, and no danger of brain damage on the handrails. Neither space nor cost is compromised, and the seat count is exactly the same as the New York City subway. It’s quite possible. Remember the elliptical trainer? It’s screaming for two sizes of adjustable machines. One could fit the 1-65th percentile, another the 45-100th percentile. Problem solved. Or the public bathroom mirrors? They should be adjustable, or there should be two. Public furniture? I once saw a bus stop bench that had seats at three levels, one child-sized. Brilliant. Yes, some days the tall seat will already be taken by another tall person. But that’s better than all tall people relegated to a life of Non Fitting.  

Tue, June 16
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The Tall Book
By Arianne Cohen

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