Don’t let printer-friendly views become an annoyance


When I click on the printer-friendly view for a web page, I expect to get a simplified version of the page that will print cleanly. Most sites that offer a printable view do this fairly well. However, some sites add a very irritating feature to the mix: as soon as the printer-friendly page loads, the Print dialog pops up without any warning.

Designers who use Javascript to open the Print dialog surely mean well. After all, they’re saving you the effort of having to choose File > Print, or pressing the keyboard shortcut for it. Maybe some users even appreciate it. But for everyone else, it can easily get in the way of completing the desired task. Personally, I always do a Print Preview before outputting the printable page, to make sure the scaling is right. Or, in the case of something like a Google Map, you might want to type notes and directions into the nifty field they provide. If the site shoves the Print dialog in your face, it interrupts your natural flow and degrades the experience.

Anyone who has enough computer skills to find the printer-friendly view certainly knows how to print the page once it appears. In fact, I can’t think of any good reason to ever show the Print dialog right after the page loads up. It’s much smarter to let users press Print on their own, and if you’re still worried they won’t figure it out, give them a button for “Print this page”. The key is to let the user decide when they’re ready to print the document, rather than making assumptions that will be wrong a large portion of the time.