User Experience and PDF Documents

Anyone who’s ever been involved in web design, product design or application development has been exposed to the world of user experience (UX). While most people mistakenly think that UX deals simply with visual and interface design, in actuality, there’s a great deal more that goes into developing good user experience; and it applies to much more than web and software. In fact, you should also apply the principles of good UX to PDF documents that you create.

Why UX matters in your PDF documents

Unlike plain text documents, PDF documents allow for a greater range of formatting, layout and image options. With these features’ ability to enhance the aesthetics of your document comes the responsibility of making sure that what you create is usable by your audience. That’s where user experience comes in. By applying even some of the basics, you ensure that your readers are able to consume and understand your content the way you want them to. So let’s take a look at some essentials of PDF UX that you can use the next time you work with PDF software.

Font size and column use

You’re working with a document that contains text so it’s important that you use a font size that’s appropriate for your readers. Too small and they have trouble reading; too large and it makes your document look ugly. Generally, a 12- or 14-point font is a safe choice. As for your font, use something that’s clear and easy to read. Avoid scripts and decorative font styles.

If you intend people to print your PDF document, use a serif font, as serif is easier to read on paper.

In addition to your font choice, your layout greatly affects user experience. While columns are popular in PDF documents, they may cause confusion if they continue over more than a single page. People aren’t sure if they should read straight through one column that extends several pages, or if they need to jump back to the top of the page when they finish a column. Unless you’re creating a foldable pamphlet, consider if using columns will add any benefit to your document. If there is nothing to gain, then avoid them.


Images are an important part of many PDF documents since they give a visual representation of what you’re trying to say. When used properly, they’re invaluable, however, it’s extremely easy to misuse images, which can make viewing a document more difficult.

First, images should never be so large that they require the reader to scroll extensively to view them in their entirety (unless the image is a map or technical drawing).

Also, like your typeface, images should be clear and easy to see. It doesn’t work for users if you have images that have been expanded to the point where they’re pixelated or reduced to a state in which viewers cannot decipher them. Best to use them at a comfortable size and resolution or make another image choice if necessary.

The technical stuff

While aesthetics plays a major part in UX, there are some technical aspects you need to take into account as well.

For one, you shouldn’t create PDF documents that are so large in file size that they take a long time to download. If someone has to wait for your content to download, they’re going to eventually look elsewhere when things start to take too long. Also, you need to make sure that your PDF documents are accessible to those with screen readers, enlarged monitors, mobile devices, and other technologies, as UX applies to everyone, not just those with the most up to date, perfect computing environments.

Following the basics of UX in PDF document creation means you make it easy and even enjoyable for users to view and make use of your content. Make it a goal for every PDF you create.  Using a PDF Editor like PhantomPDF makes the whole process easier.

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