Imagine that you're trying out a new technical product. You're excited about the possibilities of how this product can solve a problem for you. You know that there will be a learning curve, but you hope that will be less of a pain point than the problem you are trying to solve.
But when you get into the product, you quickly get overwhelmed by a busy interface and too much noise on how to use it. It's so complex that it loses that shiny excitement you felt at first. You end up never really even getting started.
I'm fascinated with using SUI for various customer education content, and have previously written about SUI images and animated GIFs. But where does SUI fit into video?
The above example is a recording I grabbed (with Snagit) while my latest Camtasia upgrade installed. The "video" is similar to an animated GIF, but it's a little longer and shows more than one task, though in a more conceptual, rather than in a step-by-step way.
I've been thinking about SUI for a while and wanted to find ways that I could incorporate it into my content. But the trick is that while grabbing a screen recording is fairly easy, a more simplified version is actually more time consuming to plan and produce. I wanted to see how SUI could have a place in my videos and still remain affordable.
I know there are a number of benefits to using SUI in video that might justify the higher cost for development anyway. The SUI helps focus the viewer's attention on the simplified contents and reduces cognitive load. This means the viewer is more likely to remember important aspects of the video later. (Though I'm not aware of any studies that have specifically asked this question - yet.)
Another benefit of using SUI in video is that sometimes it's just not practical to screen record an example. It seems counter-intuitive, but sometimes it really is simpler to simulate the environment and the exact pieces of content that you want to illustrate than to try to get an environment perfectly prepared for a screen recording. And in some cases, you may only get one shot at a recording.
Using a SUI approach reduces the stress of having to get the recording right with only one take. And you can use SUI elements to cover up personal or localized details. In the example below, some of the details are in Swedish, but since those details aren't important to explaining this concept, I just masked them.
This example brings me to pointing out a difference between SUI images and video. Sometimes, the motion is a really important ingredient for explaining a concept.
The use of SUI in videos seems to be limited to small snippets of a larger video, like in this example, or with micro-videos of less than a minute long.
I talked with Matthew Pierce, Learning & Video Ambassador for TechSmith. He's got a number of suggestions when planning to use SUI in video. First of all, you have to approach the building process for a SUI video differently. It's more like creating an animation, rather than a screen recording. You'll want a good storyboard showing the basics of what you want to include, perhaps with some instructions on how to approach the movement of each individual piece of the visuals. It might be helpful to do an actual recording to help you understand everything that's happening in the procedure you want to illustrate, and reverse-engineer to the storyboard to help with building the animations.
On the other hand, you want to keep the animations as simple as possible and limit the number of things shown at one time. Remember the goals of reducing the viewer's cognitive load (to help them better remember) and making the video more immune to future UI changes. It's not a time to get fancy and show off all of the cool things you can do in Camtasia.
Matt says that at TechSmith, they use art from UX designers, make some images based on UI designs and graphics provided, and have some basic interface elements available as Snagit Stamps. (It sounds like they have quite a library of images to reuse in different ways). There may be 15-20 image pieces for a simple Camtasia animation.
We talked a bit about a problem I'd come across in my early attempts to "cover up" in Camtasia screen recordings. In a basic recording, you get the screen and cursor both - they are somewhat separate, in that you can control the opacity, scale and some other features separately, but they aren't truly different layers. So you can end up with an annotation (whether text or shape) masking the cursor movement. Matt says that at TechSmith, they solve this problem by using a separate cursor image, which is animated to look like it's pointing and clicking. Another benefit to taking the few extra steps of animating a cursor is that you don't have any of those inevitable mouse wobbles that I don't always notice when I'm recording, but that become super obvious when I'm editing.
Let me know in the comments if you have any of your own applications, benefits or tips for using SUI in video.
For more on Snagit: https://www.techsmith.com/screen-capture.html
For more on Camtasia: https://www.techsmith.com/video-editor.html
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:
We all know a picture is worth a thousand words. In documentation and customer education, a clear image can make or break how well end users understand the accompanying text.
The problem in customer education for technical products is that frequent product updates can render some or all of your educational images out-of-date.
I've been fascinated for some time with one solution to this problem: the simplified user interface (SUI). Here's an example from Outlook's "Coming Soon" in-product guidance.
So what's the big deal? The SUI image takes a bit more time to prepare than a screen shot.
But that extra time pays off big with two main benefits.
For example, in the following image, I was able to easily and quickly simulate the Outlook environment by using a real Outlook environment and then masking the information for the purposes of this educational content.
And honestly, this is a quick and dirty example that's not nearly as visually appealing as the above Outlook example.
If you are localizing your educational content, you already know how complex that can make your project. Using SUI images means you could potentially use the same images across content in multiple languages.
The good news is that Snagit 2019 by TechSmith has a new feature that automatically simplifies your image. Just grab your screen shot and Snagit does almost everything else.
Here's a demonstration using that same "real" screen shot from Outlook.
Ok, maybe the image is still not perfect in under 5 seconds. But those colored rectangles can be styled or removed individually, and it's easy to add your own if you can't find the right balance using the Auto Simplify feature. (Tip - use the Detail slider to change how Snagit interprets what needs to be simplified in the image.)
With just a little more time and customization, here's that same image.
It might not look as awesome as you could do by mocking it up in Photoshop, but it gets the point across quickly and without any advanced graphics skills.
To learn more about why and how to use Simplified User Interface images in your content strategy, you can read this article from TechSmith, one of many they have on using SUI.