In the last ten years, I’ve spent an ungodly amount of time answering questions from users of software that I’ve written or that I’ve had a part in writing. Some of them are good questions, some of them are bad questions, some of them are in languages I don’t understand. But there is one question that I hate more than any of them.

“Can’t you fit this all on one page? We have to have this on one page. Also the font is too small.”

The “page” in question is sometimes a webpage, sometimes a piece of paper, sometimes just a window on a screen. But the circumstances are always the same. I am tasked with presenting to the user a large amount of data. The user must see all of this data, because it is all vitally important for some reason or other. There can be no summarization, no averaging of numbers, no rounding; they must have it all. But they must be able to read it all too, so the font needs to be at least 14-point Arial, or better yet, 16-point bold-faced Verdana. Oh, and they need to see it all at once, in one place, so it has to be on one page.

This question doesn’t bother me when it’s about one of my own personal software projects. I just ignore it and move on. Today I got this question from a user of the commercial software product that I’ve been developing for over a year.

The latest release of this product, which went out yesterday, added an HTML-based reporting system complete with customizable stylesheets and a robust template language with support for infinitely-nested loops, variables, and even limited multi-dimensional arrays, all printable and exportable and beautiful. All of this was written in order to meet specific customer needs. What’s more, it was written in Visual Basic 6 for godssake. Needless to say I’m a little proud.

And what was the first comment I heard about this wondrous thing of beauty?

“Can’t you fit this all on one page? We have to have this on one page. Also the font is too small.”