In a previous question, a person asked: what are the Best/Standard Practices for Creating & Building Help Files for End User?

My question is related, but already assumes that offering videos for "how to" instructions is a good approach for helping a person quickly gain insight into how they can use a particular software product. By videos, I don't mean YouTube videos, but rather .swf files made with a product such as Camtasia Studio (TechSmith) or Demo Builder (Tanida).

One of the answers (by Ben Durnell) in the old question included a comment I agree with and is the type of guideline pertaining to this newer question.

Videos are very helpful, but try to keep them short and limited to performing a certain action or learning a specific concept.

Another decent practice to follow, or at least one that seems commonplace today and also user-friendly, is to offer a list of videos and have an individual movie come up in a modal window when clicked.

Anyway, what are the guidelines to be aware of in this task?
What misguided or beneficial "film editing" approaches does one need to be on the lookout for?

  • An example of how not to do it: ground-control.org. Not pleasant voices, showing the people but they aren't neatly dressed, doing silly things, taking a ridiculous amount of time to do basic things, not giving the broad overview of what it can do, et cetera ad miserium. That video could be done better as a two minute or even one minute video than the twelve minute video that it is which makes you want to cry (if you ever get that far). Aug 7, 2011 at 15:35

3 Answers 3


We produced a short video of Handcraft last summer (no longer available) and learned a lot. We might use what we learned in the future to do something again, but one of the most important lessons was that it's hard to get right. Because you have some priorities on the user experience side (like Csongor says, keep it short and simple, etc), you're creating quite a handful of work of a different nature to writing web copy or designing UIs. The biggest things you need to deal with aren't related to production, but start at a conceptual level:

  • What will you talk about?
  • How do you summarise your message in 30s/1m/2m?
  • What tone of voice are you looking for?
  • What kind of pacing feels right?

Basically, first you need to decide on how best to represent your product or whatever you want to talk about in video form. That can be challenging if it's your first time because you need to think visually and temporally as opposed to depending on, say, text and UI controls to help you.


I guess these might be things any director is aware of and focusing on, but obviously as a UI designer my experience isn't necessarily in that area. Here are some things we tried to get right (bear in mind it was a video about our entire product):

  • Keep it high level. Rather than spending a lot of time talking about details, you want to give your audience an alternative way to introduce themselves to your product. So talk about the same stuff you talk about in the copy on your product page. That includes the product pitch, who you are, why you made it, etc.
  • Don't talk too much. Let the video do the talking, since that's the point of the medium. Highlight some things here and there by narrating, but allow the video to explain itself. This means you need to figure out how to highlight features of your product in such a way that they speak for themselves. This was really hard for us since our product is technically complex.
  • Train your voice or hire a voice actor. For our video I did the narration because I have a British accent and all my colleagues sound like typical Dutchmen-trying-to-speak-English. I learned a lot doing the narration because it turns out that even if you're an animated speaker normally or when doing presentations, narrating a video somehow turns you into a monotonous robot. So you need to learn the script and iterate on it until you don't drone it out. No one wants to listen to a nasal voice boringly listing off product features.
  • Write a great script. Prepare for the video by writing down exactly what you're going to say, at what pacing, and when. Then sit down and do it over and over again until you feel comfortable (even if you plan to hire someone to do the eventual narration, it's good to know what the pacing is like yourself). If you can't write the script yourself, perhaps you should look into getting a writer involved, but be warned, as they might not be the best person to write about the product - you'll need to bring them up to speed on how best to represent it. Content strategists might be a good approach.

As for film editing, you really need to be in a quiet or sound-proofed room and get a decent microphone first or the quality of the video will suffer. We ended up with a bunch of static noise in the background that could have been circumvented by not using a laptop microphone. Beyond that we cut the script down to what it needed to be after several attempts rather than using video editing software to artificially modify it. I think that was a good approach because it made us focus on our message and pacing rather than just putting something in the video and expecting software to fix it.

Hope that helps.

  • 1
    +1 "train your voice or hire a voice actor". We recently did some videos and luckily someone on our team had a great voice for presenting.
    – Janel
    Aug 5, 2011 at 15:09

Videos are good but if and only if they are well-made. This sounds obvious, but I've seen tons of useless videos so far. I have never done a video for a product, but main guidelines might be (if I'm on the user side):

  • keep it simple
  • keep it short
  • communicate the message clearly
  • focus on small tasks
  • give a proper name and description
  • provide a text version also (for accessibility reasons)

Presentation of multiple videos depends on the number of media files - if you have only 3-4 use a list with big thumbs (played right in place - no popup needed), if there are more you should consider to use regular lists with proper description (proper description and tags are important in every case) - maybe smaller thumbs (however small thumbnails are sometimes more disturbing than useful).

+1: always keep in mind the target audience!


When I was working for IBM, I worked on a product with a lot of abstract concepts, WebSphere MQ. We decided that the underlying ideas were so complex that a different approach beyond the usual help file stuff was necessary to get them across to the user.

So we produced a 'QuickTour' Product Video along the lines you mention; it is long, but the Flash swf video is broken down into short, limited sections which the viewer can take in at his or her leisure.

You'll also observe that in addition to being produced in several languages, we also catered for the blind user by including a text-based equivalent which is in English only. It not only repeats the video text, but also a description alongside of what the video is showing.

Hope this helps.

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