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PDFs Unfit for Human Consumption

This headline is from the nngroup.com (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:

With almost 30 years’ experience, AMPERAGE didn’t hire Mark … Mark hired AMPERAGE. 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. As one of our fearless leaders (and our go-to sommelier), Mark works tirelessly to solve the complex puzzle that is “communication.” He’s written a whole book about it. If Mark were a dog, he’d be an Australian shepherd, consistently herding and providing direction to the AMPERAGE flock. Aussies also have two different colored eyes, which Mark thinks is great. Mark moves the needle by digging into research, background and persona for clients. It is from that solid foundation that he can empower clients to build large branded houses.