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Where is the Print Button?

December 7th, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

Virtually everything I read these days comes from the web – beyond just a few parts of the Sunday paper, I get all my news from online sources. I also read a ton of blogs and whatnot and while I don’t mind reading short pieces on a screen at a certain point I just want a physical copy.

Most news sites get this and accordingly have a print button somewhere on the screen. Lately I’ve been using aggregators like Google News so the articles I’m reading are coming from a variety of sources and inevitably I end up searching for a print button! With all the design guidelines out there and the general commonalities on the web, why is there so much variety when it comes to print options? Sometimes it’s a link, other times a button. I’ve seen the link/button at the bottom of a story, the top, the left, the right…I mean come on, can’t we all just agree on an approach here? I know that the actual formating of the page for printing can be tricky but can’t we at least come to a consensus for *where* to find the darn thing?

I can understand (somewhat) that different sites act differently, but what about good old CNN? If you go to a normal news story – say this one about Katrina relief, you’ll find PRINT THIS at the bottom of the story. However, if you venture over to CNNMoney – say this article about AMT relief, you see PRINT at the top of the story. Sigh. They don’t look the same, heck they aren’t even named the same… Honestly, do news sites actually think people only use one source?

Here are just a few different print options:

Maybe I missed it, but have any of the usability guys provided some thoughts on this? Is it just me, am I just getting cranky? And don’t get me started on pages that don’t even have a Print button…oh wait, my site doesn’t!

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  1. December 7th, 2005 at 22:49 | #1

    Good questions.

    There’s two issues here. One is the ease of which you (or anyone else coming to the site) can find the print function when you want it. The other is whether it’s named consistently or placed consistently on the page.

    The latter won’t guarantee the problem is solved. The former will.

    It’s possible that the first issue could be helped by using consistent imagery/naming and a consistent location placement. However, after studying this problem for a long time, I’ve come to the belief that those things don’t help as much as we think.

    The real question is: if we brought a hundred users to each of these sites, how many would have trouble finding the print feature? If none of them ever have trouble, should we do something about the inconsistency?

    What I want to know is why do we have to have a button on the site to make something printable? Isn’t that fixing a symptom? Wouldn’t it just be better to have the browser’s print button and menu option produce a page that looks great on paper?

  2. December 8th, 2005 at 19:48 | #2


    Thanks for the comment – I’ve been a big fan of your work for some time now, honored that you read this! Your last point is so poignant – why do we need the darn print buttons anyway? The browser already has that function! To use a crude analogy, my DVD player already has a play button – I don’t expect every DVD I buy to have it’s own play mechanism. Along the same lines, if you user can’t figure out how to play a DVD, the answer isn’t a longer manual…

    Frankly, when I come upon a new site, it does take me a while to find the print option; It’s not more than a few seconds (usually), but it just drives me nuts that I have to search for it in the first place. Truthfully, on a given site, users will find the print button. However, I don’t use just one site – I consume dozens and dozens. I’m not so concerned about whether the link/button says Print or Print Page but I would like to see some consistency in location. Is it the biggest issue in HCI today? Absolutely not – but it’s just annoying enough for me to write about! Thanks again for the comment!

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