In the last post, I discussed simplified user interface (SUI) images as a potential solution to one of the biggest challenges that technical communicators face - keeping content up-to-date in the face of frequent product updates. While I've seen some examples of SUI in images, I've noticed far more examples that take it a step further by adding action as animated GIFs.
Here's an example from the Tips & Tricks in-product help for Dropbox Paper. The in-product help provides structure and context for the task being demonstrated (I realize the GIF doesn't make as much sense here), and there is just a small amount of text with this moving image that explains how to assign a to-do.
I'm fascinated by the SUI GIF for the same reasons I love SUI static images. According to TechSmith, "a simplified user interface graphic can often sustain multiple software versions...before needing further updates. The simplified design is more forgiving to minor interface changes and additions, as it is already an abstract representation of the interface."
A 10-15 second "video" or GIF takes this benefit a step further by illustrating the basics of a single task. From a user perspective, it's much easier to see how to do a task in a glance rather than reading an article or even watching a video with narration and annotations. In other words, with a reduced cognitive load for learning the new task, the user gets some quick success.
Though I recently completed TechSmith's Camtasia 2018 Certification, I've been making screencast tutorial videos since 2011. When I started seeing these GIF images, I knew they could be valuable for my clients. I've started seeing these appearing not only in help centers and in-product guides, but also in nurturing email campaigns when trying out a new tool.
Process for SUI GIF Creation
Even though a GIF may only last 10 seconds, it takes quite a bit of planning, as well as some extra time to create and produce if you want to make a quality image that communicates a task well with professional production quality.
In order to get clear on the process for developing something like this in Camtasia, I borrowed a sample from Unito, which is a tool that I'm testing for automating Trello cards from one board to another (that's not all it does). Reverse-engineering to build this image from one I already had is a little different from building a GIF from scratch, but it will serve the purpose for defining the process.
Here's the overall process for designing and developing an animated GIF: