Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
Watch the #$&! manual
Instructional designers have long used artwork to supplement the written word. But frequently, the old adage of "a picture is worth 1000 words" doesn't hold true in technical documentation. For example, it's common to encounter instructions whose text fully narrates and describes that which is shown in the artwork. This might be because the legibility of the art is poor, or there are too many distracting elements in the piece and the reader won't be able to discern the important elements. But sometimes it's simply because the writer is more comfortable with words and they're unwilling to polish the imagery to the point where it can carry its full share of the instructional burden. As a result, artwork is almost always relegated to a supporting role, and is often the first thing to be dropped when deadlines or budgetary crises emerge.
But what happens when artwork is the primary medium of communication? Examples of this used to be few and far between but recent developments, in tools and the rise of 4th-party documentation, is feeding what Jon Udell has called "screencasting." That's the process of capturing a real-time image of your computer's screen, adding narration and perhaps supporting material, then "broadcasting" the resulting instructional video online. Jon's O'Reilly network article, Screencasting Strategies, reviews the process, covers tools for Mac and Windows, and links to some sample files that are worth watching. Will RTFM eventually become WTFM? Stay tuned for our film at 11:00.