I'm sure that users would think:

My HP Laserjet says "PC LOAD LETTER" and refuses to print.
Is there something wrong with my PC (Personal Computer)?
Do I need to LOAD a program? Is this an error message?
What does it mean?
Where's my user-manual?

Error Message

This is an obvious user experience problem from the 1990s, and was brought back to mind as I watch Office Space, which uses it in a scene. (Later, the printer is brought to a field where three software engineers stomp on it, beat it with a baseball bat, and one even uses his fists on it.)

The user is intended to know, upon seeing this message, that they should Load Letter-sized paper into the Paper Cassette. However, it is generally recognized as one of the worst Error Messages that mankind has ever seen.

Two actual questions that I'm looking to get answered here:

  1. How did HP come to actually ship printers with this UX problem?

  2. How do we prevent this sort of UX problem from shipping with products in the future?

Did they have enough space for a more understandable message and not fix it where they had the opportunity (a programming matter)? If it was too small for a bigger message (a hardware limitation), was it a conscious cost-cutting measure? Wouldn't the costs of printing documentation (easy for users to lose) outweigh the costs of fixing the product?

Is this question on-topic?

From the help page:

What topics can I ask about here?

User Experience Stack Exchange is for User Experience Designers, Information Architects, and Human Computer Interaction researchers. If you have a question about...

  • Specific UX design problems
  • UX issues that can be solved with expert advice or existing research
  • Questions about HCI and user research

… then you’re in the right place to ask your question!

Emphasis added. If this isn't a "Specific UX design problem," then I don't know what is.

  • Looks like the main cause of user confusion in this was that users mysteriously forgot that ALL messages on the printer had a two-character prefix. Anyone who's ever seen the printer up close even once would have noticed the "01 ready" or "03 powersave" or whatever.
    – Medinoc
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:11
  • @Medinoc how were users supposed to have learned that in the first place?
    – Aaron Hall
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:14
  • 1
    Most of my experience with printers like that was as a user, where I had to figure things out on my own. I was used to the printer either being in working condition, not working but at a point where I could poke around and fix it, or just unfixable. I never saw any documentation laying around, and at that time period I didn't even have access to Google. PC was just particularly bad, because from my point of view, it was saying there was something wrong with my PC computer. I'm fairly smart, and I couldn't figure it out - I think you've got a strange perspective on this.
    – Aaron Hall
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:27
  • My first encounter with a HP LaserJet was in a French high school library. I had seen it in various states (ready, powersave, warming up etc., all preceded by numbers) either when walking by it or when printing stuff, so the first time I saw the French equivalent of "PC LOAD LETTER" (which was "PC CHRG A4") the meaning was obvious, with just a side remark of "Uh, didn't know it could use letters in addition to numbers".
    – Medinoc
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:33
  • The issue is compounded by the fact that "load" in English can be used in the context of a computer program. I do recall wasting time worrying about printer drivers and the print spooler. I don't know why you were so observant of the tiny screen's output, I only ever looked at it when I had a problem.
    – Aaron Hall
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 15:10

1 Answer 1


Learning from History

Looking back into the history of products, you will notice that the design and development process and methodology has evolved over a period of time.

This Article on History of UX design has a good set of examples on the approaches taken by different industry leaders. Some of them were focusing on the engineering aspects, while some on the logistics, and some others on the manufacturing process.

As you would notice in the article the constraints, focus areas and goals were different and depended on the industry.

This resulted in the building up learning curve. The User was expected to know how to use products.

Now as designers we are sitting on the shoulders of giants and need to learn from the usability issues of the past.

To answer the second part of the question, one the best approach to identify and tackle the usability issues is during Prototyping stages. You can employ A/B testing, Heuristic Evaluation, eye tracking and many more. Choosing the right evaluation method involves preparing and researching on the type of users, the product you are testing.

The below links provide a good overview of the testing methods and research reports:



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