Printing shouldn’t be confusing


Lots of articles have been written about the importance of “you are here” navigation within websites and applications. Basically, if a process involves more than one step, you should tell the user how many steps there are in total, and which step they are currently on. Similarly, it’s helpful to give them an easy way to go back and forward in the process without losing all their data.

However, I never hear anybody talking about the importance of providing similar guideposts for tasks that involve printing. In other words, when a process requires printing and then mailing in a document, most usability standards get thrown out the window. A few companies get it right (Intuit’s web applications come to mind), but for everyone else it’s an afterthought.

So, the next time you’re designing a process where you instruct the user to print something, keep a few questions in mind. People will be thinking about lots of things: how many total pages should I be printing, can I reprint a page that failed, which areas do I fill out or sign, where do I mail or fax them, etc. Ignoring these questions and just assuming people will muddle through is a poor practice. Instead, treat the printing and document completion process (if you have one) just like any other part of your design, and make sure people get the answers they need.