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One-Minute MarketerPDFs Unfit for Human Consumption

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PDFs Unfit for Human Consumption

This headline is from the (nn/g). For 20 years nn/g has been following the friendly little PDF around the web, and nn/g believes they are not “fit for human consumption” on the internet.

Here’s a snip from the start of the article, “The format is intended and optimized for print. It’s inherently inaccessible, unpleasant to read and cumbersome to navigate online.”  That is strong language, but they go on to say, “Do not use PDFs to present digital content that could and should otherwise be a web page.”  

Through research including eye-tracking, nn/g has found that the format is just not working in the digital space. It may be an easy way to put things on a website, but to read it on a website is not advised. (However, if you are going to print out a PDF, I think the format works really well, but that’s another blog.)

Here are a few of the Usability Issues nn/g highlights:

  • Slow to load.
  • Stuffed with fluff. nn/g has found most PDFs “lack real substance, compared to regular web pages.”
  • Jarring user experience. PDFs don’t look like web pages so the user is disoriented.

We all need to be more empathetic in our design and communications. That means we must put ourselves in the heads and hearts of the intended audience. If we are not going to use PDFs, then nn/g recommends using HTML gateway pages that offer a PDF download without having to open it in a browser window.

Written by:

Mark wrote his first direct-mail fundraising letter in 1981 for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement. The effort raised a few million dollars in undiscovered wills and legacy gifts. From that day forward Mark discovered a love of the big idea that moves the needle. After 12 years at KWWL, Mark became a business owner as a co-founder of ME&V — rebranded as AMPERAGE in 2015. After 25 years of leading creative teams in video production, graphic design, PR, writing and web development, Mark transitioned out of ownership in 2021. Today he serves in an employee role as special projects consultant. He is creatively ambidextrous — son of an artist and engineer — and famous for distilling complex ideas down to a few words and a few visuals. Mark is a writer. When he found that many nonprofits struggled with complex branding puzzles, he wrote the book, “NonProfit-NonMarketing .” He also wrote a novel called “Reenactment.” Mark is an active blogger OneMinuteMarketer® with nearly 1,000 readers each week on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. One of his most popular YouTube videos is on “How to Look Good on Zoom.” One of Mark’s fondest business memories was being named to INC 500 two times and attending the INC 500 conference with other winners. Mark is considered by some a Civil War expert (and that explains his novel). Mark also served as an adjunct professor in the business and in the communications departments at Wartburg College. Mark is a graduate of the University of Iowa and is currently vice president of the University of Iowa Journalism and Mass Communications Advisory Board. Mark is married to state Sen. Liz Mathis, and the two love to travel, even when it means being trapped by a volcano in the Czech Republic for three weeks.