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:
Camtasia Certification™ Process
For certification, you have the option to go through 10 separate courses and their quizzes - all related to various aspects of screencasting. You can also skip all that and just take the certification test without going through the courses.
I opted for the video courses - just in case I might pick up a few new tricks. The courses include some 15 hours of video content. Thank goodness for watching at double-speed. The narrator does get a bit long-winded at times, and not being a beginner, I didn't need to dwell on every explanation. Overall, the certification courses were very helpful and on point (and I did learn a few new tricks).
The course author's process is much like my own. We'll take a quick look at each of the courses, which walk through the process of creating a screencast.
Preparing to Create Screencasts
No matter which tool you use for screen recordings, you'll want to prepare accordingly - not only with a script and storyboard, but by making sure the environment you plan to record is ready. Turn off notifications and clear your computer desktop of clutter.
Recording Audio and Narration
While Camtasia does offer voice narration tools, like the course author, I find it more efficient to do the bulk of my narration recording outside Camtasia in Audacity. Camtasia's audio editing tools are passable. The one thing in this area that I learned the hard way is that Camtasia does better with WAV files rather than MP3 (as of mid 2018).
Recording Your Screencasts
When you start a new recording in Camtasia, you have the option to control what you capture with this toolbar. You set your area, as well as controlling whether to include the webcam and audio. I find it much more straightforward to leave the camera and audio off (unless you need to record system audio). But recording audio as you go through the recording process has its merits for some situations.
There are some handy menu settings you can use before you start recording, including:
One of the tricks I picked up in the certification course is this option "Restore cursor location after pause". It means that if you pause the recording, move your mouse in the process of whatever you do during the pause, Camtasia will restore the mouse position when you resume recording. I wish I'd known about this time-saving trick sooner!
Once you finish recording, the editing environment allows you to use a number of tools to edit the recording - along with other types of media - into a final video. This course/part of the process focuses on cutting and trimming the screen recordings and/or audio or other media. The timeline helps you understand when a particular item begins to show and when it ends. This course also explains how to manipulate items on the canvas.
This course of the certification process is the longest at 3 hours 12 minutes. Part of the reason is that the author chose a really long sample video (about 10 minutes) for the example and practice. Maybe for version 2.0 of the course, they'll use a shorter example.
Visual effects include things like annotations, scale, opacity, rotation and position of your media.
There are six different types of annotation tools. Between the captions, lines and shapes, you are only limited by your imagination (and time you want to spend) to create everything from a speech bubble to a scene with multiple moving shapes - such as a truck driving across the screen. Note that you won't get sophisticated animation possibilities like you could in an animation tool, but annotations are great for conveying conceptual information and adding visual interest. The blur, highlight, and sketch motion tools are great for enhancing screen recordings. And you can easily show that you are pressing a key in your video by adding keystroke callouts. Just select the type and press the keys you want to show.
This course is super short - these items are generally used in conjunction with editing and animating items in the video.
Animating and Moving Elements
We could play with these tools all day, especially the transitions, behaviors and animations. Suffice to say, there are lots of possibilities. What's important to remember is that you can do more than one change with each animation and you can layer multiple behaviors on objects or text to achieve a different effect. Plan some time to design your animations, because this can get time-consuming, depending on what you want to accomplish.
No matter how great the audio is from an external source, you may find the need to add an extra pause or otherwise manipulate the audio. It's a super-short course in the certification process.
Captioning Your Videos
I haven't done much with captioning yet (but I probably should). Now I know exactly how to add closed captions or create an SRT file to upload for YouTube.
Effects, Quizzes and Interactivity
Transitions and cursor effects offer more options for editing and enhancing your videos.
I've avoided quizzes and interactivity in videos until now. Many of my clients host their videos on You Tube (where these features aren't available), but when the video is hosted on a website, adding interactive elements like quizzes, a table of contents, and interactive hotspots are really great ways to add engagement.
Producing and Hosting Your Videos
The last course in the process is of course discussing the options for sharing your videos.
Now, you've completed all of the courses, and passed each of their quizzes with at least 80% (it's easy to retake a quiz - I did have to retake one because I'm no longer a Mac user and I skimmed over that part). You can now request your certification, which doesn't take long. And you can get the correct settings to use to add it to your LinkedIn Profile.
Camtasia for Customer Education
Camtasia is my tool of choice for creating screencasting videos, although sometimes I use it in conjunction with other tools. And screencasting videos are my favorite form of customer education. They are short, practical, and thanks to Camtasia's updated tools, full of possibilities.
If you'd like to watch my sample video from which the opening image for this post was derived, you can find it here: http://bit.ly/2xKGu24. I'm not the world's best narrator, but it gets the job done.
The Camtasia Certification courses are only available if you have a Camtasia 2018 maintenance plan. Find out more at TechSmith's site. You can take courses in their new TechSmith Academy (that don't lead to certification) for free.
Captivate has always been an option for recording your screen and automatically generating different types of eLearning based on those recordings. But did you know that it also records video demos?
As a freelancer, I often have some flexibility and discretion on which tool I use to do a project. I have used Camtasia for screen recording videos since 2011. I've also created videos with Captivate for some projects, when certain aspects of a project suggest that it would be a more efficient tool for the job. But I hadn't ever tried the video demo functionality until recently.
Let's take a look at the different demonstration and simulation options before detailing the video demo option.
Before you record a demonstration or simulation, you can set Global Preferences to customize your recording and resulting slides.
In addition to these global preferences, you can set the style of objects to use for text, success shapes and captions, failure shapes and captions, hint shapes and captions, highlight boxes, text entry boxes, rollover areas, and smart shapes. These work in conjunction with your Object Style Manager to set the type, font style, size, color and other aspects of the items that will be generated in addition to individual screen shots. Use these options to save lots of time in getting the project to look how you want it to look.
Captivate makes it simple enough to start recording with just a few clicks, so even beginners can get a successful recording right away. However, as a robust tool, there are many nuances and steps to finessing a recording process that we're not going to cover in this blog post.
The Video Demo option in Captivate records a smooth motion video rather than individual slides like it does for demonstrations and simulations.
Unlike some aspects of Captivate, there's not much need for addressing complicated settings before you start recording. You choose the working folder location and whether or not to record mouse movements. In the recording window, you select the size and whether to snap to the application window, region or a custom size. You also choose whether to include panning, audio, and the webcam. (So you don't have to be talented enough to record yourself and the screen at one time after all.)
But Captivate doesn't exactly record what you do in real time, which provides some interesting options for modification.
For the separate recording from the webcam, you can resize and re-position it, but you can't crop it. If set up before you start recording, you can pick a different background, though I found it didn't do a great job of cutting me out from my office surroundings. Maybe if I had a backdrop with greater contrast or a green screen, that would look better.
When you end your recording, it plays automatically, with a tiny button labeled Edit to access the editing features. You can also process and upload the video to YouTube directly from here if you don't need to edit it.
However, in addition to the editing options listed above, you can add text, shapes, highlight boxes, images, animation and characters to the video. You'll publish it to your computer with options for controlling the video quality (like frames per second). You'll end up with an MP4 file that you can use just like any other MP4 file. Or you can import the CPVC (Captivate Video Composition) project directly to a slide, working it into a bigger eLearning project.
The Interactive Video options to use overlays and return to a position in the video from elsewhere via bookmarks (such as for quiz remediation) introduce some great possibilities for learning. These are new as of Captivate 2019, but that's a topic for another day.
This week I attended a session of the Virtual Summit on Advanced Practices in Technical Communication, well-timed in relation to this topic. The session was “How to Start Small with Video and Get Big Improvements in Customer Support,” presented by Martin Ceisel, technical writer for ESET North America. For Martin’s team at ESET, videos enhance their knowledge base and product-specific online help, as well as providing “customers another way to troubleshoot on their own.” You can view his presentation here.
Technology and internet speeds have made videos more accessible than ever. In the Cisco® Visual Networking Index™ (Cisco VNI™) forecast from June 2016, the prediction is that global IP video traffic will be 82 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2020, increasing threefold from 2015 to 2020.
On their TechSmith® Blog, the makers of Camtasia (my preferred tool for creating tutorial videos) provide several reasons your company needs video on their blog, including:
Of course, you can do one-on-one or larger group webinars to demo your products and offerings and teach your customers how to perform the tasks they need to get the most out of your product. But having a video to demonstrate a task allows customers to view it whenever they want. It also frees the time of one person (or a few people) repeating demonstrations multiple times.
The short answer to the question of when to use tutorial videos: anytime that viewing a task in action is better than (or an important supplement to) reading about it.
There’s no need to be overwhelmed by the thought of the task of developing a video library. Videos of an ideal length of 1 ½ to 3 minutes each can usually be done in just 2-3 hours. And I love the ESET strategy of releasing 1-2 new videos a week, growing their audience and their subscribers.
Let me know in the comments how your organization uses tutorial videos!
For this particular sample, I am working toward a comparison of two different types of projects. I'm using a more advanced feature of Microsoft Word to illustrate the two different types of projects. Because of the comparison aspect of this example, I did things a little differently than I have in the past. But the overall process is basically the same.
There are also SME reviews along the way, depending on the project.
If you didn't watch the sample video from the image above, you can view it here.
And good luck with your videos!