Sunday, July 28, 2013

Vertical = Print, Horizontal = Screen

(It’s been a long time, blah blah blah.)

If you are a designer of pages or screens, here is an easy UX issue: vertical pages suggest (or encourage) printing while horizontal pages suggest on-screen reading. (This is a generality, not an absolute truth.) Early in the process, ask the question “what would we like our audience to do?” (You might also ask “what can we realistically expect our audience to do?”)

People still print things. So if you are designing a piece that you really don’t want people to print, try starting with a page size that better fits the screens they are likely to see it on.

Clever computer trickery, such as online “flip books” (Flash files that look like books and make noise when you “turn” the page) may be sexy, but they get in the way of ordinary people trying to get to real information. The same is true of PDF files that use security features to prohibit people from doing almost anything but reading the file online. By taking control away from the audience, you are effectively saying “I don’t trust you, I know better.”

And speaking of PDF fails, PDFs with “reader spread” pages are also part of the “I don’t trust my audience” family. If you are designing a booklet that benefits from people seeing facing pages, why not use the Acrobat Initial View feature to set the file so that page layout and magnification display what you want. That way, if (or when) your audience goes to print your booklet, they won’t be printing 11x17 (or A3) pages reduced down to letter size, then struggling to ready the half-size type.

Compared to the structured content and flexible layout required for e-books and iPads, choosing the right page shape is pretty simple, but it reflects the same user-focused perspective that designers are well-suited to help clients think through. Separating content from form while maintaining some control and influence over the style and presentation of information is a change that many designers and clients are struggling with. Starting with the right page shape is a place to start.