Recently, I discussed web development with a friend of mine, who isn’t a web developer by trade, but a teacher in various computer related classes, and such he is able to offer insights into user behaviour.
One of the subjects we touched upon, was printing web pages, me expressing my usual annoyance with web sites having separate print versions instead of just using a print stylesheet. Then he gave me a truly rude awakening, by claiming that the separate print version is neccessary, even if inelegant.
He pointed out to me that his students generally _never attempted to print a web page, unless there was a link to a separate print version._
While I can’t offer any hard numbers through usability studies, I trust his experience, and as such believe in his observation.
Further, he pointed out:
* Users have become so used to WYSIWYG(What You See Is What You Get) that they never consulted a print preview before printing.
* The WYSIWYG dependance made users expect web pages to be so ugly when printed, that they just wouldn’t bother printing.
* Users didn’t know where their browser’s print button was, or they ignored it.
So, while separate print versions may be considered evil by web developers, they are not considered evil by the user – _separate print versions is what she or he expects, and as such bad UI(User Interface) has become the norm._
Am I saying that we should stop using
media="print"? Absolutely not. This can be solved in a number of ways:
# Browser makers could implement
# You could, prior to calling
window.print() apply your print stylesheet to screen media, so that the user will get something resembling a preview.
# Instead of offering a print version, you could make the print button lead to an explanation that all pages on the given site will print just nicely from the browser’s print button.
Which solution would I prefer? In the long run, I think we would all benefit from most web sites looking OK on print, and as such, explaining that “This site is printer-friendly” would be better.