Mark Anderson takes middle ground on Nielsen usability column
Reflects perspective, opinion of 'ordinary PDF newbie'

Editor's Note: With permission of the author, Mark Anderson from the U.K., we're publishing his response to the June 10, 2001 Alertbox column by Jakob Nielsen that recommends against the use of PDF for documents intended for online reading. Anderson's comments were posted in the PDF Talkback section of the Planet PDF Forum. Share your thoughts, too!

13 June 2001

I should say that, compared to other posters in this thread, I don't have a professional developer or design background. I'm just a grunt Acrobat user with perhaps more than average user experience. Thus I take a slightly different view....

Mr. Neilsen does indeed get a bit confused about PDF & Acrobat terminology, but I don't think that is so relevant.

The gulf between what Acrobat/PDF may or might do and how the ordinary PDF newbie views it is great. If you know Acrobat inside out *and* your source doc design tools *and* have an audience you either control (e.g. corporate) or at least understand, *then* you can do a lot. Certainly, you can avoid some of the Alertbox issues.

For quickly just putting some info up on screen (Web) to share with other Web users, it is probably (sadly) less ideal than just some basic HTML. However, this certainly doesn't invalidate all the useful things PDF can (others have cited these already).

Let's keep in perspective that Mr Neilsen is a usability guy (whether you respect such a role is immaterial). Read his comments in the broad and he reflects an unpalatable truth. He shows that many (most?) users lack software knowledge or the interest to learn it. Their approach is 1-800-WANT-IT-NOW.

Laugh as we might at lazy/unskilled journalists, they are only too happy to rubbish a product/article which doesn't "work" - their definition and not ours sadly. He is advising us how we get our message to such people. This is not a "you're right, I'm wrong issue." Rather, it is the simple principle of selection and maintenance of the aim. If our cherished feature doesn't beat the user's inabilities, out it must go!

If you (the reader) stand away for a moment from your own PDF knowledge, the heart of this topic is the likelihood of non-expert Acrobat/PDF users creating PDFs with appropriate settings and features that counter Mr Neilsen's critiques. It actually requires a lot of knowledge and forethought and skill with the source material tools - hardly point 'n' click! Ted Padova's recent Acrobat 5 ebooks are a good example of fitness for purpose - but how many *average* PDF creators can say "I could do that."

Sadly, resources like Planet PDF are few and far between, and meanwhile Adobe puts way more emphasis on marketing materials (bright colourful PDFs) than on evangelizing 'how-to' articles which would increase the number of 'acceptable' PDFs that Mr Neilsen sees and tests.

Well, none of this puts me off PDF, and apart from his ridiculous suggestion about using v. 3 until 2002, I'd already broadly implemented many of his pointers.

...my 2p worth.

Regards to all,

Mark Anderson

MORE INFO

  • Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox column for June 10, 2001.

  • Read a rebuttal of the column by an Adobe Systems application engineer.

  • Read a response from a "PDF Best Practices" advocate.

  • Share your views with others in the PDF-Talkback section of the Planet PDF Forum.


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