Re: Screen captures

Subject: Re: Screen captures
From: jimmy -at- breck-mckye -dot- com
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2013 17:45:08 +0000

Screen captures are only useful if they help the user find an element in a UI that they are unlikely to locate themselves by providing them a visual context, and a cue to look for when they use the application for real. They are not helpful when they show things the user would locate trivially, or don't provide enough context (my favourite example was a manual which illustrated the step "Click OK" with an image of a sole, lonely OK button, cropped such that even if the user couldn't find it on the UI, the image still wouldn't help them locate it).

Therefore, if you're looking for facts on when you should and shouldn't use screenshots, look for research on the kinds of scenarios in which users fail to locate UI elements. From my own experience as a UX designer, some common cases for this are:

- When an element is not exposed upfront, e.g. it is only provided on a hover state, or as part of a dialog panel that would not be reached naturally;
- When an element is placed below the fold, and the UI does not adequately indicate that content sits below the scrollpoint;
- When an element of very low visual weight is positioned above an element of extremely high visual weight;
- When multiple elements are densely clustered;
- When findings of usability tests indicate that it's been a problem before!

This is an over-simplification, but it serves to illustrate the point. Think about circumstances where it's actually useful to show an image, and think about the ways that image *actually* helps when you frame them.

If you wish to validate whether images are necessary, you should try to validate it with user testing rather than surveys. Observe users actually using the interface with the document at hand, and observe their use of the content. Simply asking users 'could images be useful' won't get you good data, because respondents _always_ say yes, no matter the reality (after all, who says 'no, this extra content could never be useful?').

I like the idea of thumbnails, though - effectively, you're not showing the images (and incurring the disruption in layout and whitespace) until a user actually wants a cue on how to find something. And showing the image in a modal dialog means you can display it at full size without incurring the constraints of your document layout.

If it becomes a toss-up, I prefer to avoid images. They create innumerable layout problems and large rivers of whitespace. They turn simple, one-page procedures into unwieldy, multi-pages messes. They add a significant overhead to maintenance and need to be duplicated for every OS, platform and regionalized release.


On 2013-02-10 17:13, Anonymous wrote:

Please post all responses to the list as individual replies will not be
forwarded to the original poster.


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My current position has a corporate policy that discourages screen
captures. In the documents I'm working on (I just inherited them) there are
numerous screen captures. Right now for pretty much each procedure that
spawns a new screen or dialog box there's a screen capture at the start of
the procedure. It's a complex software product and I believe the screen
captures add value. I don't believe we've surveyed either the development
team or the user community. The documents are currently published as PDFs
but may be additionally be converted into web-based documents in the future
(both the PDF version and the web-based version would be available to
users).

How much value do you believe screen captures add?

Are you aware of any research as to how much either real or perceived value
screen captures add?

Do users want them even if we don't (they can add significant maintenance
issues but I'm okay with that)?

I'm considering proposing using conditional text capabilities and have a
couple possible scenarios:

One would be to produce two versions of the documents... one with screen
captures and one without.

For the HTML-based version, an option would be to produce documents with
clickable thumbnails that would allow the reader to expand the thumbnail of
any screen capture to full size. The clickable screen captures would have
to have their own home on a server somewhere.

Thank you.
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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
STC Vice President Nicky Bleiel is giving a free webinar on best practices
for creating mobile help.

Learn more: http://bit.ly/WNaCzd

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

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References:
Screen captures: From: Anonymous

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