Screencasts are in hot demand. They are easily made and seem to solve a problem. Handy, nice looking videos for any site. But there is a catch. Having a screencast is like saying: my product is difficult. And when used for the wrong reasons you might even scare customers away. Here are some dos and don’ts.

First of all, don’t use a screencast to showcase or sell your product. Animated images of your app/website can be part of your video presentation but not the whole enchilada. Be creative and show what your product can do for the user, how it can solve a problem and make them happy. Not how to find and press the right button. That is a negative message.

Don’t use a screencast if your product is simple to use. That makes if more confusing! And if your product isn’t simple to use but it should be, then redesign your product or user interface. I have seen way too many screencasts that simply cover up a product’s flaws.

A screencast should help. The best help is personal advice. So use this opportunity to let them hear or see the person who made it:

  • Any screencast needs a voice over, why not do this yourself? Start with your personal introduction like this: ‘Hi I’m Steve, the developer of this website, and I’m going to help you set up your account’.
  • Another option is to make a green screen recording or a webcam-like recording and show yourself on-screen. You could use an actor to do this or really do it yourself.

Some short tips:

  • Don’t confuse a screencast with a webinar or video tutorial
  • Don’t rush it;  users need to be able to replicate the steps
  • Incluse a big ‘PAUSE’ button
  • Include an ‘open as pop-up’ button
  • Flying over your app or website like a 3D game is cool but confusing
  • Make extensive use of titles and text to structure your story and relax the eyes.

And at last a personal annoyance. Apple, self-proclaimed masters of user friendly software, included a totally un-understandable screencast about some odd-named feature in their new iTunes 9 software. Basically a cover-up for bad user interface design! The horror, the horror ..