The Web Is Not A Piece Of Paper

I have the privilege in my day job to work with three extremely talented in-house designers. I also work with many in-house clients who, while great to work with, often see the website as the last checkbox to check on a project and nothing more. I am often asked to simply “put it on the web,” and I bet you have been too.

This request often comes in the form of a cringe-worthy acronym: PDF. Just take those beautiful designs those amazing designers did and toss them into a PDF on site. While PDFs certainly have their place, I believe it should only be for documents that are intended to be printed (hence “Portable Document Format”) or in cases where (let’s be realistic) recreating the design is cost or time-prohibitive. On the latter, I try to only use this as a true last resort. One of the greatest lessons I learned at AEA Orlando was that not every viewport has to have the exact same design; they have to have the same type of experience. The same can be said for static graphic design and the web – don’t aim for twins, aim for siblings.

TO2015 Graphics in Terminal 1, Toronto Pearson.
Screen capture of
Siblings, not twins.

This experience is not only limited to visuals – text can suffer the same fate. Take for example an awards program. The program description was already written and saved out as a PDF, so the ask was simply to add the PDF to the site. But this is a bad user experience, especially in an increasingly mobile environment. Why should I make my users download and open a PDF, rather than providing them the information right there on the page? You could make the argument that the nomination form itself should remain a PDF, but that only works if you user base is known to prefer working with paper copies, and that you as the awards program administrator, are okay working primarily with paper submissions.