Recording user videos for the Corilla beta release

Do you watch user videos for the products you buy? As technical writers, we’ve watched the rise of the user video only slightly lagging the abundance of services like YouTube. Which then blossomed with the emergence of dedicated content companies like Wistia and to some degree even Vimeo.

A portion of the technical writing community (and developers) are vocal in their dislike of video content. Which is great as a reminder that there is not a single persona for users or customers let alone the channels to satisfy their needs.

In my days as a technical writer at Red Hat, I did a deep dive study on the creation and consumption of user videos. The findings? That they are kind of awesome. Which fits pretty well with Corilla’s mission to make technical writing awesome.

Corilla’s first user videos

So I’m here in our old office space at NUMA in Paris on a Sunday, recording user videos for the beta release. I hope to get these done today so I can send out another round of personal invitations for the beta signup tonight. And certainly for the public release coming this week.

For those interested, I’m following a rough workflow that I’ve picked up from Diana Potter. She’s a great customer success and creative content talent over at Customer.io, and I had the pleasure of meeting her at Write The Docs in Prague in 2015. And you get the pleasure of catching her presentation on YouTube.

Our method

It’s mostly covered in Potter’s presentation, but for the record, we’re taking a “use what we’ve got” approach to the first few. Given our time is short and I’m working from what fits in my backpack while visiting the Paris office, I have to keep it simple. So here we go:

1. Scope the videos required

A ten minute pen and paper exercise to sketch out what would best suit onboarding. I figure a decent workflow summary would give an end-to-end look for new users. I also decided to add a short video about topics (where we write our content with the Markdown editor and save with Corilla’s version control), and one about collections (where we group topics from the content library to publish to HTML documentation or content collections).

2. Write the script

Starting with the overview video, I wrote a script out to cover the end to end process with a mind for pacing and prominent features. This avoids the risk of the clicking around the UI and saying “um” and “ahh” a lot.

What’s awesome is that I wrote each script as a unique topic in Corilla, as well as a summary topic about the project. This means I can use each of them on their own, or group them all as a single collection. I’m reminder every time I use Corilla how much I love it – even in this case solving the problem of otherwise having to dig around a single giant Google Doc with an awful Table Of Contents. Or a bunch of Evernote files that I can’t view published together. Problem solved!

3. Record the audio

I’ve busted my iPhone headphones in transit and have our microphones back at the apartment in London. But I do have a Zoom H4 audio recorder with me. Using that, I recorded one take as a reference, and then about two to get one that was sufficient.

4. Create the project file

I decided to use iMovie to work quickly. There’s a lot I don’t like about the UX for this use case, but it’s on my Macbook and good to go. I dumped the audio in and chopped it up a little for section referencing.

5. Create the title card

A quick title card for the videos, making sure to save this off as a template for the future. Intended to save these to Wistia, I had a look at their stream optimisation and chose to stick to 720p, which gives me the native res for the title cards as well.

6. Practice the product sequence

With my voice on loop and on loop and on loop, I have a succinct guide to practice the product sequences. Creating a new topic, writing some content with Markdown, saving with with our inbuilt version control. Creating a collection, adding topics to it, previewing the HTML output on the fly. Awesome. It also shows where there’s not a logical sequence, so I have some ideas about basic vector/static images.

6. Create some static designs

These are beta videos so I’m not going to put any time into animation or typography. But I can throw together some vectors and pace those to the video. I’m not the company designer (we’re hiring one if that’s you), but I have a solid vector icon library and they suffice as illustrating a feature or flow.

This might shock some designers, but I used one single Photoshop file, and used Groups for each of the sets of sequences you will see in the video. For the ones that look like pretty static animations, they are just exports with sequentially more layers visible.

7. Record the browser interactions with Quicktime Player.

Another “it’s already there” is the use of Quicktime to click’n’drag and record my browser. I do one full take before realising I had some extra browser tabs open. Urgh.

8. Dump it all in iMovie

I threw the JPEG files quickly into iMovie. Next the video elements. A few cuts and edits and we’re done.

9. Upload and enjoy

I chose Wistia because they are fit for purpose. Great streaming videos with no other popups or other advertising or playlists jumping into our content. Which is the downside of Youtube of course. Plus the analytics of Wistia show simply where people skip forward or back or drop off. This will help us make better content (for you!).

10. A quick blog post.

This. You’ve now read it all. I’ve been inspired recently to show more of our working as we go. If you think there’s something I can be doing more efficiently, or if you have any comments or tips, please let me know. We reply to all email and tweets.

And go check out the first of our user videos! Would love to know what you think.