Are you a fan of your Screen Captures?

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Are you a fan of your Screen Captures?

Postby erinep23 on Fri Nov 07, 2014 1:53 pm

Is anyone out there really proud of their screen captures? I do a shadow thing that I'm not too fond of (see attachment) using Snag It. If you think your screen capture is the bee's knees, would you mind sharing it? I need some ideas. Images just aren't my thing.

Thanks in advance!
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Re: Are you a fan of your Screen Captures?

Postby RamonS on Sun Nov 09, 2014 7:03 am

Years ago our good friend Andy Robertson (he runs gamepeople.uk and does work for the BBC, Forbes, and a bunch of other outlets) not only made a compelling reason to ditch screen captures in favor of screen portraits, but also gave instructions on how to do it.
See
http://techwritetips.wordpress.com/2006 ... portraits/
and
http://techwritetips.wordpress.com/2006 ... portraits/

Screen portraits also make localization easier. Eliminate any and all text from your images and instead place numbers that are referenced in a legend. The legend can be easily translated (just text) as opposed to making an exactly sized screen shot for each language and redoing them all once something changes. Alternatively, you can also turn the screen portrait into an image map so that users can click on items to receive more information. With screen portraits I would remove any shadows and other decoration of that kind. If you come across very complex screens with a lot of stuff on there I would craft an overview showing the logical areas as boxes and then provide separate help for each logical area on the page. These will show parts of the page and a nicely looking torn edge effect on the applicable sides will illustrate that this is not the entire page.
Using screen portraits cuts back on maintenance work even when you do not localize help. A small change in layout or text on the screen will not make much of a difference in regards to the screen portrait. For example, having more options added to a drop-down or a grid. The text will be shown as horizontal lines. What needs to change is the topic text content which is much easier to modify than taking new screen shots. I can't stand it when I see help with a screen shot that is clearly outdated. It only creates confusion letting the user wonder why this or that does not show up in her/his version of the application.

Another approach is to limit screen representations of any kind to a total minimum if your are creating online help. In that context the user has most likely the page or form open right next to the applicable help topic. There is not much reason to show the screen content 1:1 in the help again. Some may even be confused by it. Creating printable documentation is a different story, in that case the application is probably not running and having a 1:1 image might be of help here. Then again, printed manuals are a so out. There are still places where they come in handy, but probably more like work order descriptions for specific tasks that need to be readily available for an operator. Everyone else either uses a desktop or a mobile browser these days. Save some trees, please. Less or no screen representations make for more compact topics, especially task topics will most likely benefit more from a screen video instead of a bunch of screen shots that consume a lot of space.
I have yet to investigate if a screen video using screen portraits is the way to go, but I don't think so. I would want to see virtual reality. Stuffing the videos in a drop-down text block at the end of the topic (not everyone will need it) and having them only for the task topics will limit the scope of rework necessary. And the rework can happen at any time assuming you provide help from a server. The new screen videos can be dropped in even after the new version with the changes went out. Prioritize the areas that need work. Adding and editing a record is likely more important than tweaking things in a custom subreport.

Finally, my answer to your question is "No". I am not a fan of screen shots. Andy Robertson and others gave compelling reasons why doing a bit more upfront work will save big in the long run. There are better solutions including not having screen shots or portraits at all.
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Re: Are you a fan of your Screen Captures?

Postby SteveS on Sun Nov 09, 2014 2:31 pm

There is also the question of why do you need screen captures for material viewed on a computer monitor?

Unless you want to draw attention to a particular feature it is likely your screen shot will look the same as what the user can see anyway.

One approach is to put the images in a toggler, so users who want to see the screenshot can expand the toggler, everyone else will ignore the images (or be blissfully unaware they exist).

As for personal tastes in screen shots, I try to avoid cutting off buttons as has occurred in your sample image. If I need to crop the image to fit a particular size restraint I will edit the image, removing white space between the elements rather than cutting parts off.

The other thing to keep in mind is your user's expectations. Tey probably won't notice the things that annoy you. They are looking for crisp images that impart the information they are looking for...
Image
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Re: Are you a fan of your Screen Captures?

Postby erinep23 on Mon Nov 10, 2014 10:03 am

Thank you for the feedback!

Okay - so I am going to come off as the world's biggest dumb a** by asking this, but I don't really understand what a screen portrait is. I reviewed the articles you suggested, but I'm not entirely following...my interpretation is that we are meant to create a mock-up of the original screen image with only the bare essentials, with numbers included that correlate to the directions in the text? I did a practice one. I'm attaching it with the original screenshot. Is this similar to what is expected or am I way off the mark?
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Re: Are you a fan of your Screen Captures?

Postby RamonS on Mon Nov 10, 2014 12:26 pm

A screen portrait does not contain any form of text. Text is replace by a horizontal line (or vertical), anything square (text box, memo field, etc) gets replace by a square/rectangle, anything round gets replaced by a circle. You want a black & white representation without text and only color fill areas that have color in the application as well, for example page headers.
Your example is heading somewhat in the right direction. As mentioned above, replace text with a line, line thickness is based on the font size. I would keep the tabs, the grid, etc.
I played with screen portraits yesterday and followed Andy's suggestion of drawing the shapes on a new layer. I then selected the background layer (the original screen shot) and painted over the text with the applicable background color leaving only tab separators, horizontal rulers, and a few significant drop-down arrows in place (in the page header of my app there is one colored orange and two colored white). Those drop-down arrow glyphs give nice reference points, the horizontal rulers and separators are in a light gray in the application, so I kept those on the background. The page header was already a color filled box so I did not have to draw a new one. I then merged / flattened the layers into one.
I would provide that as an example, but only later I noticed that I drew a white circle over some of my black shapes ruining the whole thing and I forgot how to snap lines so that they are straight. My first attempt looked like a quick drawing from a 3 year old with a coffee ring on it....I threw it away. I will give it another try at some point soon. Tech writing is more a hobby for me now and it just happened that I have an opportunity to work on a demo help project.
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Re: Are you a fan of your Screen Captures?

Postby SteveS on Mon Nov 10, 2014 2:21 pm

erinep23 wrote:...Okay - so I am going to come off as the world's biggest dumb a** by asking this, but I don't really understand what a screen portrait is...

No dumb a*** (Aussie spelling) questions here, we're all in the business of transferring knowledge using words and images!

When I played around with screen portraits I thought of it as creating an image that looks something like what I see If I squint at the screen so that it is blurred. The image looks very similar to the real thing but the fine detail is obscured. That way if the fine detail changes the image in your help documents is still OK.

I think the basic concept is to identify parts of a screen using non-text cues. So, if the user wants to add a name to a name field, rather than drawing their focus to the label "Name" you try to attract their attention to the text box used for name instead. If you want to add information about the field/ label/ text box you can do it in the topic, rather than using callouts or other text in the image itself.

HTH
Image
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Re: Are you a fan of your Screen Captures?

Postby erinep23 on Mon Nov 10, 2014 2:58 pm

Oh, that is a far better description than what I read on the blog. I have a good idea now. Thanks bunches!
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Re: Are you a fan of your Screen Captures?

Postby RamonS on Mon Nov 10, 2014 5:13 pm

Thanks Steve for explaining what I tried to say. :lol:
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Re: Are you a fan of your Screen Captures?

Postby erinep23 on Tue Nov 11, 2014 8:10 am

No! lol I was saying thank you to both of you.
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Re: Are you a fan of your Screen Captures?

Postby SG on Wed Nov 12, 2014 1:32 pm

In your original post, did you put the frame around the image in Snagit? If so, I think your images will look better if you frame them first (you can also create a minor 3d framing effect), and then apply the drop shadow. It looks like you're applying the drop shadow and then framing the image.

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Re: Are you a fan of your Screen Captures?

Postby RamonS on Sun Nov 16, 2014 6:53 am

Since I owe you an example, here is one that I put together. Here is the screen shot from the web page of the application:
NewUserBackground.png


After thinking about what to replace, how much work it would be, and how it would look I decided to only replace text with lines leaving all other non-text features as is. Based on the font size the lines are wider. I drew the lines on a new vector layer and for the labels that are in one column I copied and pasted the shapes and aligned them using the grid. Once done I hid the shape layer and used the dropper and paint brush to paint over the text in the background. Finally, I merged the two layers into one image:
NewUserPortrait.png


The intention is to show this screen portrait at 75% size in the help (or at least smaller to save space), scaling it before insertion..and after what seems to be a line that is too wide where the "Favorites" are. That is easy to fix in the bitmap image. Equally easy to fix later is adding or removing items as long as the general layout remains the same. I also need to add the numbers to the portrait, but I first have to try on a copy of the image how it would work out best and if I should do that before or after scaling down. It might also be better to scale the background first...hmmmm. Anyhow, in order to keep maintenance as low as possible numbering will not cover any of the items in the image. That will make it easier to renumber if necessary. And I probably should save the file with the separate layers in the native format of the application (I used my crusty PaintShop Pro 6) and save out the merged layers as a new file. It will take a few more tries to get the procedure optimized, but this being my second try ever I was able to knock this out in less than five minutes. I am sure with more experience that will be even faster....and tremendously less time than taking and sizing the screen shots for all languages (we currently support four languages) and redoing them every time something changes.
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