by Lisa McCarty
A team of technical communicators was asked to develop a 90-second video tutorial to introduce the user interface for Revit 2011. As one of the technical writers, I was thinking, OK, this is a simple introduction to the main areas of the UI – the video will highlight and describe each area – let’s list the topics and get this done. The next day, a product designer joined the team…
The designer suggested using iterative design for the video.
Each team member would independently design the video. We could create a draft video or a storyboard or just a list of topics – whatever we would like to do. This seemed vague and a little outside of my comfort zone – a storyboard? You mean you want me to sketch something? What are the requirements? What tools do we use?
“No, no it’s not like that – let’s just share our ideas and go from there.”
Iteration 1: So, my first design was pretty much a narration script with associated screenshots. When we came back together everyone had done something slightly different – one writer created a draft video, another writer had a storyboard layout, others had written scripts.
When we shared our designs, we were able to see the common topics and discuss where someone introduced a different topic or included another level of granularity. One person covered the UI areas clockwise, one person discussed them in the order you might explore the screen, yet another version focused around a scenario.
I’m thinking, OK, now what? We have all of these designs and we’re no closer to having a 90-second video – time’s a-wasting!
Iteration 2: Back to the drawing board. We completed another iteration individually to refine the design. Incorporating concepts we liked from other people’s approaches, we came to a consensus on the topics to be covered.
Now, this seems like progress. I’m starting to relax a little. I’m just going to have to take it at a different pace I guess.
Iteration 3: Working in pairs, we developed four different design options for the video – varying the order of presentation, the style of narration, and the level of action in the video. It was satisfying to see all of our ideas result in four distinct (yet similar) designs. We presented our options to the larger UX team to get feedback on the aspects that people liked or disliked, identifying what worked and what didn’t work.
Iteration 4: We incorporated the feedback into a single design iteration that we would use to produce a prototype.
Often a technical writer works alone. That’s not to say that we don’t solicit feedback through reviews, but usually we are responsible for developing the content quickly, in line with feature availability and product release schedules. Rarely do we have the time and multiple resources to try several different designs or approaches to the user assistance. Having the time and freedom to work on the design iterations for the prototype video, revealed several benefits to this approach:
- Pace of development – The opportunity to go off and come up with a design, rethink the design, and start again is refreshing and promotes creativity.
- Generating ideas – Having a team of people share ideas opens up the possibilities and can result in a more targeted end product.
- Review and feedback – Considering feedback from a team of reviewers improves the design and clarifies the content.
This was only the first video in a series of learning videos to support the new user. Though we didn’t have the luxury of time for the entire team to complete multiple design iterations for each video, we did adapt the principles of iterative design to our development process. Incorporating a team review after each design and development phase gives some breathing room and allows the designer/writer to take a step back and think before moving forward.
Video development continues to be an iterative process. Even after we published the final videos, we identified some areas through usability testing that need to be modified. Some videos tried to show too much, some were too fast. We are undergoing yet another iteration of these videos to improve the user experience.