I do IA for a large manufacturer. Our product catalog has over 500,000 items in it. Each product has at least two PDF documents associated with it. So, at a minimum, we've got a million PDFs in the product database. Plus our Sales and Service teams love PDFs. They are self-contained, printable explanations of products. So we're stuck with PDFs for the time being.

So, two questions for the group:

  1. Is there a way to make PDFs read better on the small screen?
  2. Could print-to-PDF tools be a useful substitute for pre-formatted PDFs?
  • I'm not sure this is question is specific enough to be useful here, but I'll let a moderator weight in on that. That said, I'd pose you this question: how will their day-to-day lives be improved by converting to HTML? Can you walk through some common use cases and detail the benefits? For example, it could be more effective for sales people to share a product sheet that customers can see on their smartphone right then-and-there, before they go back to their desktop computer. – peteorpeter Aug 4 '15 at 14:49

My plan would be to explain to the higher ups in corporate that there are countless reasons that HTML is better than PDF's. Explain that they are smaller files so they will save money in storage and bandwidth, they are more modular so they can be used on all devices without rewriting them saving time and money, and these usability reasons listed below:

Of course the great NN/g has input on this that you might find quite useful.

PDF Usability Crimes

The usability problems that PDF files cause on websites or intranets are legion:

Linear exposition.

PDF files are typically converted from documents that were intended for print, so the authors wouldn't have followed the guidelines for Web writing. The result? A long text that takes up many screens and is unpleasant and boring to read.

Jarring user experience.

PDF lives in its own environment with different commands and menus. Even simple things like printing or saving documents are difficult because standard browser commands don't work.

Crashes and software problems.

While not as bad as in the past, you're still more likely to crash users' browsers or computers if you serve them a PDF file rather than an HTML page.

Breaks flow.

You have to wait for the special reader to start before you can see the content. Also, PDF files often take longer time to download because they tend to be stuffed with more fluff than plain Web pages.

Orphaned location.

Because the PDF file is not a Web page, it doesn't show your standard navigation bars. Typically, users can't even find a simple way to return to your site's homepage.

Content blob.

Most PDF files are immense content chunks with no internal navigation. They also lack a decent search, aside from the extremely primitive ability to jump to a text string's next literal match. If the user's question is answered on page 75, there's close to zero probability that he or she will locate it.

Text fits the printed page, not a computer screen.

PDF layouts are often optimized for a sheet of paper, which rarely matches the size of the user's browser window. Bye-bye smooth scrolling. Hello tiny fonts.

Here is a powerpoint that gives nice visual representations of why powerpoitns can be bad:

When PDF goes BAD: the UX of PDF

And a few more good points found here: Pdf Sucks

  • It may preserve the document's data, but it does it in a non-standard way.
  • PDF files are often larger than text or HTML equivalents.
  • Allows javascript within the document which may be automatically executed with no security, allowing full root access to the machine
  • HTML and XML are superior (because they let people view the content at their favorite window width, re-flowing the text to avoid annoying horizontal scrolling).
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