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Incorporating PDFs to your design is to be done with caution. It's very easy to integrate PDFs to your web design but users are still not geared up for this!
Though PDFs are very useful and easy to add to your web design structure,
users are yet to come to terms with it. So we need to tread to carefully when
you tread on this aspect of web design.
The Evils of PDFs.
More and more websites, especially business ones, seem to adding PDFs to their website – yet users are united in their hatred of them. How on earth did this happen.
PDFs run on every platform and hence its relevance to web design. Also PDFs can be directly downloaded into any computer from the server, not recognized as a virus and the hence it's relevance to a web design strategy increases.
PDFs are marketed as an easy way to re-use print designs and content online: all you do is export the data from your desktop publishing program as a PDF, throw it on the web for download, and you're done. It avoids the whole question of web design, or of having to break up the data into sections and create links between it. What's more, it preserves things like pictures and diagrams intact, so, in theory, nothing is lost in the transition.
So you understand why web design professionals recommend it. You do not need to have an html page and hence the total avoidance of web design to access PDFs.
This appeals a lot to big companies that don't want to pay two people (one
for print, one for the web), when they see a way to make one do. The saving on
web layout looks real to them, because they're never going to be on the
receiving end of the content. In short, the reason people use PDFs is that they
don't understand the web.
They Require a Plugin.
To read PDFs, you need a plug in called Acrobat Reader and this one factor that can affect your web design. Some computers do not have this plugin and it has to be downloaded and this is cited to be a problem by web design professionals.
Like Flash, PDFs require a plugin, with all the downsides that involves. Users have to go and download the plugin (assuming there is a version for their platform and browser at all), and then come back to your site – that is, if they remember.
However, the PDF plugin is even more painful than most. Why? Simply because it takes a ridiculous amount of time to load. It actually has enough time to pop-up a splash screen and explain which parts of the program are loading – this can take anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds, and there's no way to cancel it once it starts. It's painful enough for most users that opening a PDF unexpectedly will cause them to say "argh no, a PDF!" and leave the computer in disgust, only coming back later to close what loaded.
But once you have this plugin, then reading PDFs become a breeze. So if you are including PDFs, always inform the visitor on how to get this plugin and you can link it to acrobat while plan your web design itself.
The Layout is All Wrong.
Even if you know you're loading a PDF and you're happy to sit and wait, what you end up with in the end still annoys you, more often than not.
PDF layouts are nothing but 'virtual pages': they're laid out entirely wrong for the screen. You can't see an entire page on your screen at once without making the text tiny, which forces you to scroll. Anyone who's ever tried to scroll a PDF with columns – scroll down, then back up, then down again... – will know the pain this causes.
This is another factor cited as negative by web design professionals. But we feel that with time, PDFs will be accepted as ordinary needed plugin.
And if you look around, the resistance to PDFs is slowly diminishing and many websites have resorted to PDFs in their web design strategies. As mentioned earlier, it works on all platforms.
Opening a PDF is most often an experience of scrolling past a massive table of contents (that hasn't been made into hyperlinks to the relevant pages), and then trying in vain to find what you were looking for somewhere among the pages. The scrolling in the program is painfully slow, and most of the time you end up giving up pretty quickly.
The Reader Often Crashes.
As a final blow, Adobe's PDF reader program, for all its slowness, isn't even all that stable: it has a tendency to crash people's browsers after a while, especially if they try to use any of the browser's buttons. This upsets your visitors to say the least, and they're not likely to come back to your site again after their browser crashes because of your PDF.
So it's best to provide PDFs as downloadable link in your web design rather
than forcing the user to open it in the browser.
But They're Good for Printing.
But we feel that PDFs are here to stay and it must be made an integral part of your web design process. The recent releases of the plugin, Adobe Acrobat Reader has improved by leaps and bound.
There is another area where PDFs steals the credit. It's their original
intended use: to preserve print layouts over the web so that they can be used
for printing. If you want to give your visitors something that is best printed
out on paper (a complicated graphical page, for example, or an official form),
then the best way to make sure that it survives the journey across the web
intact is to let them download it as a PDF.
What does all this mean? Well, really, it means that unless you want to upset your visitors, the only time you should have PDFs on your site is when they're linked to like this: 'Download PDF (for printing)'. Any content you put in a PDF should always also be available as HTML.
Hope this article has given you some tips on the relation between web design and PDFs. There are more crunchy articles on web design stocked in this site. Access them freely.
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