Usability of Paper

I’m not necessarily a proponent of persisting paper-based resources per se, at least not from a sentimental or habitual perspective. Instead, I see a real experiential value to paper–one that’s hard to replicate with a computer. People like to read and use information on paper more than on screen. The experience is hard to replicate. Until computers can truly offer a similar experience to using paper, we’ll still see people using it.

I’ve written on this topic several times already. My now-old “Printing the Web” story over at B&A really marks the beginning of my interest in how we experience information on paper. It’s based on observations of real human behavior, namely that since the advent of the web and widespread personal computing we’ve not at all seen a decrease in the use of paper. This is also at the heart of a recent post on this blog.

Dimtry over at UsabilityPost muses about our attraction to paper as well. See his post “Why We Still Use Paper.” Many of his conclusions are accurate, I believe. We’ve been looking into this at work for a while, and I have evidence to support many of his claims. I would have liked to have a seen a better formulation of his points, though: the text and argument rambles a bit.

A commenter to the above post points to a new flexible, ultra thin screen by Sony. Impressive, but not surprising. We’ll probably be seeing more of this type of technology in the near future. E-Ink, flat screens you can draw on, portable ultra-thin devices: all of these will continue to mirror the experience we have with paper. That’s why understanding the information experience we have with paper resources should be the first line of investigation, I believe.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL


  1. Pingback: Usability of Paper « The Myst Of Digital Whiteboards

  2. Jonathan

    “… since the advent of the web and widespread personal computing we’ve not at all seen a decrease in the use of paper.”

    Indeed, but what makes you think there should be a connection between an increase in the availability of information on computer screens, and a decline in the use of paper?

    Since the advent of the web, most people have been exposed to a lot more reading (or at least visual parsing of stuff on a screen).

  3. James Kalbach

    I don’t necessarily think there’s a direct connection, but others do. I was responding to them.

    That said, there is evidence that offline resources with an online equivalent are declining, e.g.:

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