The Printer Moat

It is the ageless challenge in every office – how do you get people to stop printing crap they don’t need? At the end of every workday, there are printouts – Websites, Google maps, 100-page reports – sitting on the output trays – and there they stay for days, weeks, until someone finally tosses them unused into the bin. So how do you convince people to print only what they need? And then get up to retrieve what they’ve printed? The initial solution at my office was to make it as easy as possible to print – have printers at every corner, make sure each one is fully stocked with toner and paper, and ensure that their network names are so descriptive that anyone could find the closest printer, even in the dark, even if they were temporarily blinded (e.g., Color Printer to the Left of the Water Cooler with the Aladdin sticker on the Rear Output Tray).

These strategies did not solve the problem – and I would contend that we (and all offices) should go in the opposite direction – make it as difficult as possible to print anything. Have one computer set up to print. Put it inside a moat populated with poison frogs and hungry gharials (they do not eat humans, but they sure look intimidating). Require users to click through five icons while standing on their head and then enter a code that changes every day to get to the printer dialogue box. Force them to think – do I really need to print out this Mac and Cheese recipe? Is it really worth all the trouble? … If you make it too easy, they will always click Print. They won’t even think about it. Nature does not wire its inhabitants to deal with excess. In the face of plenty, we take more. We are all wired to struggle with scarcity – if there is plenty (or if we think there’s plenty) of printers, paper, money, oil, credit… then we will just take more.


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