Usability columnist 'undermined his credibility'
PDF 'Best Practices' advocate replies to Jakob Nielsen article
Shlomo Perets launching new 'PDF Best Practices' series
Coming Soon: Shlomo Perets will begin within the week a new series of short articles for Planet PDF on the theme of Acrobat PDF "Best Practices," a topic he frequently writes and speaks about, the latter most recently at the PDF 2001 East conference.
The ongoing series of concise articles will cover his recommendations for producing better PDFs.
The first article will focus specifically on reducing PDF file sizes, especially relevant to interactive and web-based PDFs. See the More Info links near the end of this page to read some of his previous, related articles.
11 June 2001
Editor's Note: With permission of the author, Shlomo Perets of Microtype, 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. Perets' comments were posted in the PDF Talkback section of the Planet PDF Forum and on several related discussion groups and lists. Share your thoughts, too!
In my mind, Dr. Nielsen's shallow observations and
recommendations have seriously undermined his
credibility as a usability expert.
PDF is a versatile file format, with diverse uses.
Many use it for print/press purposes, but other use
it for visually-rich interactive documents,
multimedia, forms, image-based catalogs, and other
purposes. Contrary to Nielsen's statements, the
hypertext and navigation possibilities in PDF files
are limited only by the creativity and skills of the
If that's what one is looking for, it is not that
difficult to find PDF files which are badly designed
and created (including in Nielsen's site). But it is
ludicrous to take these suboptimal PDFs as the premise
for a discussion on the capabilities and suitability
of the PDF format for any given purpose.
The real question which should be asked is what is
the intended use of a specific PDF and based on that,
how well does it serve the purpose. And this is a
usability question, isn't it?
Watching someone try to drive a screw into place with
a hammer could make one assume that the hammer is a
useless, clumsy tool. This could also be backed up
As to Nielsen's specific recommendations:
HTML has its own advantages and disadvantages and
each format should be used when it is most
appropriate for the task at hand. I would not make
any sweeping recommendations in either direction, but
would advocate careful assessment of each separate
case or type of use.
I highly recommend to encourage end users to use the
free Acrobat Reader 5, and producers to upgrade to
Acrobat 5, and not to stick to obsolete versions and
keep complaining in the meantime. Imagine a
recommendation not to move to digital telephony
technology because most people have pulse-operated
- Shlomo Perets, Microtype