I've seen where businesses try to limit printing usage by limiting users from printing more than 100 or so pages per month with an application like this:


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

However, this seems extremely counterintuitive to me. The purpose of the limit was to prevent a handful of people who print a lot of paper from wasting paper and ink. However, the dialog gives the impression that you can print 100 pages, encouraging people who wouldn't have printed as much as before to print in excess thinking that they need to use up all of their printing credits before they expire (like vacation days).

I've heard people claim that stores add limits so people buy the maximum (haven't verified this at all but it seems reasonable) and it seems like the same effect is acting here.

If you don't show a dialog, then it's hard for the excess users to pace themselves. What is an effective way to do this?

  • The goal would be to configure warnings so as to reduce (rather than encourage) printer waste.
  • This is for a non-paid application (e.g. office environment)
  • What is your UX goal here? Ie when you say "an effective way to do this" what are you trying to accomplish? Is your goal to let all users know there is a cap, or discourage waste, or communicate limits only to high-consuming users, etc
    – tohster
    Apr 19, 2015 at 13:28
  • @tohster the goal is to configure the warnings in a way that will discourage waste Apr 19, 2015 at 13:30
  • @tohster it doesn't have to use real currency: that's just how I've seen it before. A hard limit may be implemented but the dialog doesn't have to be that way Apr 19, 2015 at 13:33
  • 1
    The reason paid (eg a print cafe) vs non paid (eg an office environment) is important is, it has implications for how the UI is designed. For example with paid apps you can charge progressively more, or appeal using money saving rationale. For non paid you may have to use moral suasion or non (or progressively) intrusive warnings.
    – tohster
    Apr 19, 2015 at 13:47
  • @tohster it would be an office environment Apr 19, 2015 at 13:49

2 Answers 2


This is a common UX situation

  • Most users 'self police' and do not need warnings or guidance.
  • You have few heavy users who need to be [gently warned/dissuaded] to avoid waste or abuse.
  • You have isolated cases of abusive users.

This heavily skewed distribution of users is very common in lot of applications (cell phone usage, all you can eat buffets, Netflix audience, etc)

Typically you don't want to inconvenience the majority of users just to avoid bad behavior from the few. You also don't want to create wrong incentives, as you point out.

The most common approach to this is to provide progressive impedence or barriers for heavy/abusive users, while keeping barriers minimal for most users.

Here are some examples of progressive impedence for your situation (for non-paid printing):


A variety of techniques are used here to provide the progression:

  • Hindrances - use of dialog boxes for heavy users.
  • Confirmation - force semi-abusive users to type out an affirmation that they want to print.
  • Gamification - use page scores and green-amber-red to encourage low waste. Instead of the colored circles or meters you can use a tree (eco symbol) which starts with green and empties into red.
  • Hard limits - For abusive users.

The mix of approaches and the selection of progression breakpoints will depend on your specific situation and the behaviors you want to elicit/avoid.

Note that I've displayed the pages left intentionally here for the sake of illustration. The point is, for most users who self-regulate their behavior, you can decide not to show any page counts, show just the icon/meter, or show nothing at all and reserve notices for heavy/abusive users. That's up to you.

Note: You've specified a non-paid environment. For paid situations, there are additional options available like progressive pricing, gamifying saving money, etc.


I understand you're just showing a typical example here, but I think a small adjustment to your example would make it much more palatable to you:

Stop displaying the number of remaining pages. Just show the number used, and tell them if they're close to the cutoff.

Saying they have however many remaining is framing it as a kind of personal, pre-allocated reserve of pages -- something the user already has and can lose. That seems likely to have the negative effects you describe.

But what about just showing the pages they have already used, and advising them that they're approaching a cutoff at 100? Technically the user can do some simple maths in their head to work out what they have left, but it's less firmly framed as something they already have.

Adjustments to framing like that can have surprising effects on user behaviour -- people tend to go to more trouble to avoid loss than they will to ensure gain, even when the value is identical.

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