Examples of Perfect Screencasts
Michael Pick's screencasts on WordPress.tv are, in my opinion, perfect screencasts. They're the best I've seen -- and I'm not just saying this because the video quality is crisp and the audio is rich. Pick blends filmography techniques with screencasting. Instead of the typical screencast that focuses almost entirely on the screen, with a disembodied voice narrating at length around a cursor's boring movement, Pick fills his screencasts with eye candy and motion, moving from visual to visual as he narrates, giving you a conceptual understanding more than a detailed nitty-gritty how-to. His videos are dynamic and engaging. Like a good movie, you forget you're watching a screencast and are entranced by the choreography and motion, the music and narration.
Here's an example.
For more sample videos, see Michael Pick's portfolio. I emailed Pick to find out more info about the toolset he uses to create the videos. He said,
It's a bit of a grab bag: Screenflow (for capture), Final Cut Pro, Adobe After Effects and Ableton Live are the main apps I use, with occasional Cinema 4D. I think you can get away with using Screenflow (mac) or Camtasia (Windows) for the basics though - the rest are "trimmings."
Some of these applications aren't easy. I downloaded Adobe After Effects today. After about an hour I learned how to do a simple animation using keyframes. Final Cut Pro is a Mac application, as is Screenflow. Ableton Live is an advanced audio manipulation application, what perhaps an audio engineer at a recording house might use. I'm familiar with Camtasia Studio, but it's limited when it comes to dynamic motion. Unless you're recording your screen, you can't make things move in the video. For example, if you have a visual diagram you're using to explain a concept, you're limited to a basic image. You can flip from one image to another, sure, but you can't do what Pick is doing in his videos, with full-blow motion of non-screen objects. I'm hoping this kind of effect is possible in Adobe After Effects. Overall, I've come to the following conclusions about screencasts. Engaging screencasts have the following characteristics:
- Brevity. Good screencasts are short -- two minutes or less.
- Eye candy. Good screencasts keep you visually entertained, moving from image to image fairly quickly.
- Clarity. Good screencasts are visually clear and size well in your browser. The videos zoom in on the parts of the screen being explained. HD may be an option.
- Rich audio. The audio is loud enough to listen to comfortably and has a rich, deep sound.
- Background music. Good screencasts sometimes have cool background music that adds to the entertainment appeal.
- Scripts. The narration isn't off-the-cuff but is scripted. Even though it's scripted, the narrator reads it in a dynamic, upbeat way.
- Focus. The video focuses on a specific topic, rather than providing a 10 minute rambling tour of seventeen different features.
- Title slide consistency. Good screencasts have consistent title slides that are visually attractive.
For more information on Michael Pick, see this interview by Blog Design Studio.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.