more printing in siena

1 May 2007, 12:35

After the printing in siena blog entry, a healthy amount of discussion ensued in the printing community. Here are a couple of concerns that I need to address.

‘are you sure this is going to work?’

We are going to user‐test these three new solutions to validate them. If they do not work, we will improve them. If any of them still doesn’t work, we will trash them and go for plan B. This is usability at its best, validating before committing to write code. It is called verified innovation.

‘“just print” without a dialog? cannot work…’

An awful lot of printing today looks like this:

  • user invokes Print…;
  • dialog is shown;
  • user presses Print button straightaway.

My analysis is that the printing dialog in these cases is actually obstructing getting the print done, because the user ‘knew’ that the print was going to be fine anyway, before invoking Print…

We have corroborated this already with user testing. ‘Just print’ has been conceived exactly for this ‘awful lot of’ printing. Nobody is forcing users to forgo the printing dialog, they can and will use Print… in case of doubt about the happy outcome of a print job.

‘but things can go really wrong without a dialog’

This is the reality of today’s printing dialogs: people who just want to print, don’t read them. In these situations they simply do not function as the point of final check and confirmation. You could write in the dialog ‘These print settings will get you fired…’ and without a hitch, the Print button will get pushed.

Thus showing a dialog with printer settings does not prevent in any way ink, paper and energy being wasted on a doomed print. So my priority is to offer those 95% of users 95% of the time the option they need: forget about the dialog.

‘is this like that print toolbar icon in word?’

The developer at microsoft did the following: He took the icon that for years and in thousands of applications has the meaning of Print… (show the dialog) and attached a different function to it (default print without a dialog).


Attach a different meaning to a ubiquitous symbol. No interaction professional would do that. No wonder users are confused. We will do two things differently:

  • two, clearly labelled, different UI paths for the old Print… and the new ‘just print’; two menu items, two key shortcuts, and if you must have toolbar icons, two clearly different ones;
  • a smarter behaviour for ‘just print’ than the print‐with‐defaults that word offers today.

‘too smart by half’

I should have put in a couple of examples of the applications smartening up about the transformation. In siena we discussed spreadsheets avoiding to put the last column on a separate piece of paper; web browsers that instead of formatting for 2.03 pages, subtly get it on exactly two.

Or a photo application not printing on the laser printer but on the color inkjet. This all is applying domain knowledge within the application to get it done. And involves no heavy‐handed meddling in the printing parameters.

‘machines take control over humans’

We want the applications and printer drivers to learn from user’s preferences. I want the printing driver to figure out that I tend to print multiple pages 2‑up, and duplex where available.

siena leftovers

no clue

We discussed the error‐case when either the application or the printer driver really cannot figure out how to ‘just print.’ For instance, this can happen when an application is asked to print for the first time, or when a file is printed for the first time.

If this is the case the print dialog will be shown anyway. And from thereon the precedent is set for this situation.

subtle clues

Part of the ‘just print’ solution is that we subtly communicate that the print is preparing–queuing–printing–ready. So that when users want to, they can get confirmation about the status of the job.

For instance by putting an icon in the taskbar that reflects what is going on. When clicked it could show more details, but else it stays outside of the users’ workflow.

application integration

We also agreed that we prefer that applications integrate their UI for the transformation into the print dialog. This ties the transformation parameters to the preview in the dialog.

We realise however that there are applications where the transformation is a big deal, or a complicated job. An example of the former is GIMP where placing the image on paper is part of the artistic workflow, of the latter is placing a spreadsheet over multiple pages.

Then the UI for this has to be displayed before the print dialog. I think Apple is right‑on in this regard with their drive to get this to take place inside the application main window. And to supply users with hands‑on UI to take control of this transformation.

Finally, it would really not hurt if in this ‘on virtual paper’ view, a ‘just print’ button was offered to bypass the print dialog.

the future is bright

As I am writing this, we are sketching print dialogs. We are discussing usability surveys to get the most out of the tags concept. Stay tuned for more news on that.

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