Jason Fried wrote a post a while back on the usefulness of site links shown on the Google results pages. These are the little site map links that Google sometimes shows under a page result for a domain, which essentially act as navigation links for that site.
Jason’s observation is that in some cases these links are more useful than those provided on the actual site. The site itself may be full of content and feature confusing navigation, while Google’s links are always just that: a set of links. Short and clear.
I think the same can be said for the “print” view on information sites and blogs. Some sites are just so cluttered that the print view is more readable than full version of the page. The print view strips away everything unnecessary, leaving just the stuff you want: the content.
Smashing Magazine has just published a post on web design trends in 2010. It spawned a satirical response from Bradley Joyce. The response of course is true, some sites get so carried away adding ads or extras that the stuff you came there to read gets lost.
I find the same thing with vBulletin forums. vBulletin offers an “archive” view of their forums. It’s basically a stripped down version of the content with no images and a simpler layout. In most cases, that’s all I want. It’s a design that serves its function and so ends up working better than the full thing.
One of my favorite sources of tech news is Hacker News. Every once in a while the links posted there actually lead to a print version of the page than the full thing. It’s just easier to read.
When the print view of a page is so much more readable than the full thing then you’ve got a problem. It’s a symptom of clutter. It’s a symptom of a design that doesn’t do its job. If you find your site in this position, take a good look at the design. Do all the design elements there help make the content easier to read? If not, do they have a good reason to be there? If they don’t, get rid of them.