SOTW: Number 7

Honda UnicycleLast Wednesday, Honda debuted the U3X, a motorized unicycle that self balances, can move in any direction, and lets you sit at eye level.

It is an divine axiom of good writing that you describe the world around you using your senses. As readers, we want to hear, smell, see, feel, and taste our environment because that’s what gives us the full meaning of the place we’re describing. Hemingway’s short story, “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” carries that axiom in its very title. Hemingway’s writing itself was the perfect example of the greatness of this concept.

But the copywriters for the Honda U3X–competitor for the much more popular Segway–seem to have lost their way in their own surroundings. Clearly, they’re trying to differentiate from the Segway and its elevated position for the rider, putting the user above the masses in the same way that a horse placed the nobility above the peasants. But to describe this position as placing a person at “eye level” is clearly wrong.

Why? Lots of reasons.

  • Eye level changes depending on our own position. So a Segway puts a person at eye level as much as the U3X. 
  • From the image, it’s clear that the eye level of the user is below that of where she would be if she were standing. So, by their ideal, the U3X places the person below eye level. Not the message they want to send.
  • If I’m sitting at eye level, as the copy suggests, am I really at eye level?
  • Museums and contractors put paintings and mirrors at eye level. This is a tenet of good design. But as a taller than average person, I find museum installations and residential mirrors to be anything but eye level.
  • Besides, what’s so bad about being above everyone else and having longer sight lines? I’m not even certain this point is an improvement.

Okay, perhaps I’m fussing over some of the details here, but the main issue stands. The copywriters didn’t say what they meant. They said what they wanted to imply. Their copy was neither precise nor specific.

How would I make this point? Simple. I would end the sentence at “and lets you sit.” Sitting, after all, is a very comfortable position and what we do in every other transportation device we use except for the Segway. Why not make that the differntiator?

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