Squares v circles on screenshots?

We were asked:

“Do you know whether it is better to use squares or circles to indicate something on a screen shot? I use circles with thin border & compliment with an arrow. My colleague uses squares & the Subject Matter Expert prefers circles. I was  just wondering whether there is a best practice for this or not.”

It’s a good question.

Gestalt theory states:

“Elements with a point of interest, emphasis or difference will capture and hold the viewer’s attention.”

This indicates the reader’s attention will be drawn towards contrast, which means the element that is different from others in some way. So there is an argument for having a different shape if that element doesn’t stand out. However, shadows, colour and thick borders can also create contrast effectively.

We would say if you are highlighting a button, or some area that is roughly square or rectangular (such as a window or a field), use a square or rectangle. You can add emphasis by making the surrounding area darker (so the key area is in a spotlight) or perhaps an arrow.

You could use a circle if you wanted to point to a spot or an area that is small in size. Circles require less space, so they are good where you need to have a number of elements highlighted within the same screenshot.

Arrows are often affordances, something that affords the opportunity for that object to perform an action. They are good for highlighting an action. They can also work to help the user focus on an area of a screen, and are often used for that purpose.

It also depends on the graphics tool you are using. If it’s easier to create circles than squares, you’re more likely to use circles. If it’s easy to add an arrow, you’re more likely to use arrows.

What do you prefer: squares or circles? Do you have standards for which to use, and when?

Estimating production times for screencasts and elearning

Screencasts and video based learning content are growing in popularity, and we’re seeing a rise in the number of enquiries for this type of content.

Estimating the time required to develop this type of content can vary quite considerably. The easiest way to estimate the time required is to use metrics based on the duration of the screencast or video.

A simple walkthrough of a task or applications screen can take between 10:1 (ten minutes to produce  one minute of a screencast) and 100:1. The most generally quoted figure we’ve seen is 30:1.

If you want to add audio to your screencast, this is likely to be closer to 200:1. That’s because you’ll probably need to write a script, record the audio, adjust the audio quality, add the audio to the animation, and so on.

If you want to include video of a presenter, this will make the presentation look more professional, but it will mean you’ll need to allocate more time to development and production. In this case, you’ll be looking at a ratio closer to 300:1.You can reduce the time by using avatars (images of a presenter) instead of a real presenter. Adobe Captivate comes bundled with sets of avatars to help you do this.

Another factor is the level of professionalism you want to achieve. It can take time and effort to produce high quality audio and video. Lighting, in particular, can be a challenge. Adding quizzes and exercises will also have a significant impact on the time required. Creating your own music bed (a musical background to the narration) will also increase the time required. In the past, we’ve purchased audio background music files under licence, as it saved time.

What’s your experience? How long does it take you to create this type of content. Please share your thoughts below.

Will online video replace the written user guide?

TED’s Chris Anderson says the rise of Web video is driving a worldwide phenomenon he calls “Crowd Accelerated Innovation” – a self-fueling cycle of learning that could be as significant as the invention of print.

He claims

What Gutenberg did for writing, online video can now do for face-to-face communication…Information often can be taken in faster by reading it, but there is a necessary depth and richness that is often missing…In fact our brains are exquisitely wired for the medium of video.

But to tap into its power, he claims organisations will need to embrace radical openness.

Here is his 18 minute presentation:

If he is correct, what does that mean for technical authors and others who are writing instructional manuals?

His presentation is based on the assumption that video is available on demand, that we live in an ‘always on’ connected world. It also doesn’t take into account the fact that in Europe video chat on mobile phones never took off, yet text messaging has exploded.

Clearly video will play a role in technical communication, and this is something I’ll be covering in my TCUK conference presentation next week (on creating an emotional connection with users). It will also be the theme of my article on “The emotion factor” that’s due to be published in the November 2010 edition of the STC’s Intercom magazine.

What’s more likely is we’ll see a blend of both video and the written word – two mediums that require different skills to deliver effectively.

What do you think?

(via Presentation Zen)

Managing a documentation project – a guide (and a test of Camtasia)

This a short video overview of managing a documentation project. It’s something we put together as a test of some of the functionality of Techsmith’s Camtasia software.

Download Camtasia Studio for Free

Techsmith are currently offering version 3 of Camtasia free of charge. Simply download the demo version of Camtasia Studio 3 and request a registration key. The current paid for version is version 5, so the free version doesn’t have all the features you’d expect in Captivate or Mimic . You can upgrade the free version to version 5 for half price.

http://download.techsmith.com/camtasiastudio/enu/312/camtasiaf.exe