PDF's are a Pain in the Butt

PDF’s are a Pain in the ButtLiteracy Weblog)

On WebWord, I found a link to a PDF advocate’s lame critique of Jakob Nielsen. It’s an attempt to sidestep Nielsen’s usabilty observations by mounting an ad hominem attack.

It’s becoming fashionable to pick on Jakob Nielsen these days, due to his visibility and the shift in his website towards self-promotion, but for the record, I do think PDF’s are a pain in the butt.

They are convenient for designers who want to retain the integrity of the documents they designed for print… but something happened to me yesterday morning that illustrates exactly why a “click here to download the glorious PDF” link is a miserable subsitute for even a plain HTML document.

I’m writing this from Washington D.C., where I am attending a convention for advisers of college media. Yesterday, my bags were packed and the car was loaded up, when I suddenly remembered that I wasn’t staying at the same hotel where the conference was taking place. I logged onto the Internet and searched for the conference website — and there wasn’t one. There was merely a link to download the pdf brochure (which I had left at the office). While the five minutes it took for me to download the brochure wasn’t really all that much of a time investment, all I wanted was the darn name of the hotel — I didn’t care about downloading the whole brochure. Because all the conference information was hidden within a pdf, it wasn’t indexed by Google.

Yeah, boo hoo, you might say, the poor guy had to wait five minutes. I can’t help feeling insulted that the two minutes that the designer did NOT spend creating a “Save as HTML” version of his/her precious brochure ended up forcing me to sit through a download. I had already signed up to attend the conference, so I didn’t need the carefully-crafted marketing presentation. I just wanted a quick bit of information. Boo, I say, boo to those who stuff bloated marketing down my throat after I’ve already committed to something.

There. I feel a little better.

Update, 01 Aug: OK, I was wrong. The convention does have a web page. But my hasty conclusion that the site did not contain the information I wanted — a conclusion that was hurried along by the site’s instruction that I click on the PDF link for more information — is exactly what designing for usability is all about. When a design expects its users to be at their best, all the time, then the design is probably flawed.