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  1. #1
    Mazel tov! bronze trophy kohoutek's Avatar
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    "Print" button/link - Do you rely on users generally knowing how to print an article?

    I know that most designers/developers find having a print link or button within a page to be redundant. I think it isn't. At least not for specific audiences.

    I've been observing some of my friends this winter season and how they use the internet searching the web for Christmas recipes... I asked them how they print their recipes and guess how many of them used the built-in print option in their browsers?

    Well, none. All of them used the extra print link within the page rather than the print option within the browser.

    Granted, none of them are particularly interested in the internet or computers in general. All of them work in completely fields that do not require them to use a computer much, if at all. All of them are University graduates and between 30-60. Two males and four females. All of them have families and children with ages ranging from 6 to 30.

    I am well aware this isn't scientific proof or anything. It's merely a "snapshot" of an ordinary circle of people who aren't particularly interested in computers and the internet and just use them when they need to.

    I've never given this all that much thought. I "assumed" people knew they could print a document from within the browser. This tiny excercise merely taught me that I really musn't assume anything. Ever.
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  2. #2
    Programming Since 1978 silver trophybronze trophy felgall's Avatar
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    For a proper comparison you would need a similar group of people accessing copies of the page without the print button in the page and see what percentage of those can still print the page.

    Web browsers provide about four of five different ways of printing a web page. That doesn't mean that everyone knows all of those ways or would necessarily consider using any particular one. Adding an extra one in the page itself makes it more obvious that you expect people to print the page. It can also make the page easier to print if you place the button a the point where people are likely to be making the decision to print the page since for those who would normally use the menu or toolbar option having the button right in front of them at that time saves their having to move their mouse as far.

    If having a print button in the page itself were truly pointless then all but one of the ways the browser provides would be equally pointless.
    Stephen J Chapman

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  3. #3
    Mazel tov! bronze trophy kohoutek's Avatar
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    I completely agree with you, felgall. This is neither proper nor scientific. I still thought it was interesting because only two knew of an option within the browser's menu. The other four said they would have copy & pasted into a text editor and print from there. All of them found it more convenient to just use the print link provided within the article.
    Maleika E. A. | Rockatee | Twitter | Dribbble



  4. #4
    Programming Since 1978 silver trophybronze trophy felgall's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kohoutek View Post
    The other four said they would have copy & pasted into a text editor and print from there.
    That just goes to show that even when there are four or five ways provided to do something with a computer there will still be people who don't know that any of them exist.

    What's more even when the same options exist in almost every program that exists there are still people who don't realise that the option that exists in one program also exists in the same place in another.

    It would be hard to find many programs that do not have a print option in the file menu, a print button on the toolbar, can print from the keyboard using ctrl-P or where there isn't a print option in the context menu attached to the right mouse button and the contextmenu key on the keyboard (that's the key with a picture of a menu on it immediately to the left of the right ctrl key). Some browsers such as Internet Explorer have even more ways to print than that.

    The thing is that the four people you found who said that they'd copy and paste into a text editor and print from there would have been using one of those same four print options from their text editor that they could have used directly from their browser.

    The only real solution seems to be to do exactly what you have done and put a print button in the page itself in the hope that providing even more ways to print the page will encourage people to actually print it.
    Stephen J Chapman

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  5. #5
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy Black Max's Avatar
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    I created a thread on this same topic not too long ago, and we covered much of the same ground. It's been my (anecdotal) experience that most users don't even know there is a browser print option, and if the site doesn't give them a clearly marked "print this page" CTA, they're left to flounder.

  6. #6
    Mouse catcher silver trophy Stevie D's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kohoutek View Post
    I still thought it was interesting because only two knew of an option within the browser's menu. The other four said they would have copy & pasted into a text editor and print from there. All of them found it more convenient to just use the print link provided within the article.
    Unfortunately web designers of the past have created this legacy problem for us. So many websites don't use print stylesheets, but require the user to click on a "print-friendly" link to get the page in a format that is optimised for printing ... that when people do encounter a website that is designed properly, with a print stylesheet but no "print" link on the page, they have no experience of being able to print straight from the page so they assume it won't work properly.

  7. #7
    Follow: @AlexDawsonUK silver trophybronze trophy AlexDawson's Avatar
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    I tend to focus towards the usability side of web design and can say from experience that the magic of the internal print button has been something which is of debatable purpose. It's really an issue we have perpetuated ourselves as web designers, we gave people browser functionality inside the window to combat the lack of a solution and now that an acceptable solution is available many visitors who don't understand the web automatically look for the built in-page feature in order to print those items (it's become a pattern in itself). If it was me I would try to remove the internal print option and get people used to using the default browser behaviour purely out of trying to avoid using such legacy components within the website but which route you take is entirely up to you. While I can agree that in your case it probably has merits to it's use (due to public appeal and added emphasis on printing) I am a stickler for not trying to replicate browser functionality in-page, so I would lean more towards trying to phase it out over time (perhaps giving a tip on the page stating they can use the browsers default print method).

  8. #8
    Mazel tov! bronze trophy kohoutek's Avatar
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    Alex, I like your idea of giving users a tip on how to print an article via the browser instead of offering a full print link. Hadn't thought of that.
    Maleika E. A. | Rockatee | Twitter | Dribbble



  9. #9
    Follow: @AlexDawsonUK silver trophybronze trophy AlexDawson's Avatar
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    Well the thing is, most people probably don't know the print button in their browser exists (and it has all the useful print settings and stuff there too), sometimes giving the user a helpful tip in the right direction is the only push they need to realise there's a lot more they can do with their browser (to get the best print results).

  10. #10
    Robert Wellock silver trophybronze trophy xhtmlcoder's Avatar
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    Well, from my observations of thousands of students they understand what the browser print does although they seem to totally disregard (print preview) in the majority of cases. The result large printer queues and wasted paper.

  11. #11
    Follow: @AlexDawsonUK silver trophybronze trophy AlexDawson's Avatar
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    I agree that many people know about the print button (established computer users) it's worth noting that if people are using the on-page (more limited) print mechanism than the browser one they either think the on-page method means it's required (due to a lack of print stylesheet) or they aren't established enough with browsers to be in that group. I think the main thing of concern is to try to wean them off the mechanism in preference to using what the browser offers which is why I said about having an on-page tip in it's place. Paper wastage is a big issue, funny thing is most "green" websites don't really account for printed materials.

    PS: Another idea kohoutek, perhaps offer a PDF version of the page so they can have an offline copy which they can print if they feel they need it!

  12. #12
    From space with love silver trophy
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    I find "printer friendly" options are useful when you want to print a multi-page article.
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  13. #13
    Follow: @AlexDawsonUK silver trophybronze trophy AlexDawson's Avatar
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    True but usability studies show that it's a very bad idea to split articles over multiple pages, you should always try to keep an article within a single page (the only exception to this is exceptionally large documents which could take a long time to load, in which case you should break it down into segments). In the majority of cases however it damages the reading flow to snap an article into segments and the result is the reader is distracted to have to navigate to the next section.

  14. #14
    Mazel tov! bronze trophy kohoutek's Avatar
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    @xhtmlcoder: While it would be absolutely wrong of me to say that this has to be an age thing - of course it doesn't - the people who really just wanted it "to work" without having to think about it were those in their fifties and upwards. I have to add, however, that none of them have anything to do with computers, nor do any of them seem particularly interested in them. They're more of the old-fashioned type, two of them are teachers, 2 are medical doctors (one who's no longer working), 1 biologist, and 1 former colleague of mine from my philology classes way back when. So these are all people who work in fields that don't require computer knowledge in their work life.

    If you study now, you must know a few things about computers, so I'd not be suprised if your demographic is far younger than the people I have mentioned?


    @Alex: That is yet another splendid idea offering a PDF version!
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  15. #15
    From space with love silver trophy
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    A pdf version is also better as you don't need to worry so much as to if they will have a certain font installed
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  16. #16
    Programming Since 1978 silver trophybronze trophy felgall's Avatar
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    The thing to AVOID are those "Printer Friendly" buttons that load a separate page for printing. Any web page that has one of those should be immediately updated to add a print stylesheet and replace that button with a regular print button that prints the current page. This of course doesn't apply in those cases where the exact print layout is important enough to use a PDF version for printing.

    The other thing to be careful of when creating Print buttons in the page is that they are only going to work when JavaScript is enabled and so they should be added into the page using JavaScript so that there isn't a broken button there for the people without JavaScript.
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  17. #17
    Robert Wellock silver trophybronze trophy xhtmlcoder's Avatar
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    On a side note; the demographic was extensive it was a Further Education College so from 16-80 are typical ages. I'd say though most people were between 16-60. From all walks of life not all doing IT related courses or even native speakers of the language. Obviously that was just general observations rather than conducted. Then again a lot of the users didn't know you could do print ranges in MS Word.

    But going back to the question; generally there should no need for a website to have to provide a "print button" (with a few rare exceptions) the user-agent provides print facilities in the first place.

    Would I recommend somebody use one for a whole page? Probably not - because you are just replicating browser function for the sake of it and gaining nothing. If the users are lost on how to print then it's a failing of the browser vendor.

  18. #18
    Programming Since 1978 silver trophybronze trophy felgall's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xhtmlcoder View Post
    Probably not - because you are just replicating browser function for the sake of it and gaining nothing.
    By that argument all computer software should have most of the ways that printing can be done removed and just the one way for printing provided - probably ctrl-P since that's the one that has been around the longest and always works even when all menus and toolbars are turned off or where the program doesn't have any menus or toolbars.

    You may as well ask why the software writers started including print options in menus and toolbars in the first place when ctrl-P had already been the standard print command for years before programs even had menus or toolbars.

    The answer is that providing alternative ways to perform the same task makes things easier Providing a print link within your web page for those who have JavaScript enabled makes it easier as it also tells people that it is okay for them to print the page.

    I have even included Print buttons into PDFs that I have uploaded so as to make the PDF easier to print in situations where the PDF needs to be printed. After all not everyone knows that the standard browser menu and toolbar print options don't work for PDFs and that you have to use either the one in the PDF toolbar, the one in the contextmenu or ctrl-P. So printing a PDF from your browser works differently to a regular web page unless you normally print using the contextmenu or ctrl-P. A print button in the PDF makes it easier to print without needing to think about which print options do and don't work. Also a PDF print button has the advantage that it works for everyone and you don't need them to have JavaScript enabled either in their browser or in their PDF plugin.
    Stephen J Chapman

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  19. #19
    Follow: @AlexDawsonUK silver trophybronze trophy AlexDawson's Avatar
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    I think we can agree then that if you are going to have a link on the page for visitors, a PDF version is much more effective and better placed than a "Print" button which either replicates functionality through JavaScript or loads a separate instance. At least with my PDF idea they can save the forests by taking their favourite sections on the go (thumb drive or whatever), reference them online for easy reading and it's all optimized for printing without all the added page clutter.

  20. #20
    Robert Wellock silver trophybronze trophy xhtmlcoder's Avatar
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    I am not even going to entertain (it's beneath us) or consider explaining about "cognitive overload" with regards to multiple non-standard buttons that's slightly departed, or is it...

    Don't anyone bother quoting this post either; because you certainly won't make any sense out of me at the moment and be wasting energy.

    Hmm, PDF (esp.) and JavaScript well, they are other exceptions too as they aren't HTML. Really you cannot call the PDF a web page; that usually has to fall under the OBJECT category.

    In fact that is getting really divorced and we have to discuss whether we mean web-page as in pure HTML or print button per se.

    I was only concerning Button all along and totally forgetting the word "link" which differs.
    Last edited by xhtmlcoder; Dec 23, 2009 at 16:00. Reason: Typo

  21. #21
    Follow: @AlexDawsonUK silver trophybronze trophy AlexDawson's Avatar
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    You aren't making any sense, we were talking about replacing a link which offered a print friendly page / print dialog box with a URL to a PDF document (in an anchor) which the visitor could make use of if they feel it necessary, it's just providing another standardised format in which they could be served the on-page document (in alternate form). Cognitive overload isn't relevant here (it's just a simple link to a PDF version) and by web page we were talking about a conventional HTML file.

  22. #22
    Robert Wellock silver trophybronze trophy xhtmlcoder's Avatar
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    Thanks Alex. I did have a little cognitive overload though and managed to misread the damn thing.


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