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I think the Web is an incredibly great way to gather information. Typically, when I find a page with a lot of text on it, though, I print the page on my printer instead of sitting and reading through the text on my screen. Who wants the light of a monitor blaring in one's face while having a recreational read? Give me crisp type on paper over that any day! I feel the same way about all computer-based text delivery systems, such as CD-ROMs and interactive kiosks. If I'm going to read a lot of text, I'd rather do so on paper. As designers, we have to recognize that computer-based presentations pose distinct challenges, and we should not treat our type-ridden web pages the same way we would print.

I advocate breaking up type into small paragraphs. Also, use different weights, such as bold and italic, to make it possible for the reader to skim the page easily and catch the important points. Adding hypertext (text that links from one spot to another, which typically appears underlined or bold depending on the the viewer's browser preferences) is another way to break up screen text into more digestible portions. The idea is to break up blocks of text as much as possible. Assume your readers are skimming, and make it easy for them.

Understand that you're asking a lot of your end user to sit and read page upon page of type on a screen. It's your job to invent ways to hold his or her interest and to bring out the important ideas. You can do so by using CSS, HTML, or graphic-based text.

Printing Web Pages

As if there aren't enough things to think about in web design, here is another wrench thrown your way: If you intend to have your audience print information from your pages, you should design your pages with that in mind. Many people don't realize, for example, that if they set up a dark web page background with white type, the background will not be printed with the file. What results? White type on white paper—or as some might say "a blank page."

I am not suggesting that you have to always use light backgrounds with dark type on every page, but if you know you want your audience to print a specific page, test print it yourself to see whether it is legible!

Some sites get around this issue by creating two versions of the same page—one that isn't printable and another that is. MapQuest is one of these sites.

Figure 2.84Figure 2.84 If you wanted to print a page from MapQuest.com, you would press the Print button.

Figure 2.85Figure 2.85 You might think the Print button would send the document to the printer, but it does not. Instead, it sends you to another page that is suitable for printing.

If you want to create two sets of pages for your site—one that is better for viewing and one that is better for printing, you can follow MapQuest's lead. The objective is to make a page for printing that is as simple as possible—no tables, no frames, no fancy DHTML layers or CSS. While you can print more complex pages, you won't be able to preview how they will print as well as if you keep your design really simple for printing.

Creating a PDF file is another option that you might consider for pages you want to have printed. PDF stands for Portable Document Format. It was developed long before the Web existed as a means of transporting documents to end users who didn't own the software applications the documents were created in. If, for example, I wanted to send a client a PageMaker document, and he or she didn't own PageMaker, my client could still see my layout with all the correct fonts and images intact.

PDF files are created with software called Acrobat, available from Adobe. Once you have the PDF authoring tool installed on your computer, you can choose to print to your printer or to a PDF document. If you print to PDF, you create a file instead of a printout. You can then upload the PDF to your web site (using the A tag and the extension .pdf), and as long as your end user has the PDF web browser plug-in called Acrobat Reader, he or she can see your document. Trouble is, the plug-in is a hefty 3–4 megabytes. If you own any Adobe products, you'll find that most of the CD-ROMs include the Reader but, nevertheless, it is hefty for those who don't already have it.

Figure 2.86Figure 2.86 PDFs are great if you have forms or documentation that need to uphold formatting. The IRS (http://www.irs.gov) uses PDF forms to make tax reporting forms available online.

Figure 2.87Figure 2.87 To view a series of tutorials on how to use Acrobat to create PDF files, visit http://www.adobe.com/products/tips/acrobat.html.

LEARN MORE ABOUT ACROBAT

Visit http://www.adobe.com/products/tips/acrobat.html to view numerous tutorials on how to make PDF pages for your site. You can create a PDF directly from many Adobe tools, or by using Acrobat you can publish just about any other kind of document as a PDF file.

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