I recently announced the launch of a project I have been working on called Eat.ly which lets you take pictures of your meals and track them online. While not everyone gets the practice of taking food photos, it was nice to see a hat tip in the NYTimes to the growing number of people who are photographing what they eat.
Soon after opening up the site to the public we found that while some people understood the site right away, others did not. So we decided to make a simple, concise, and very visual video tutorial explaining Eat.ly which is now live on the homepage.. Below is the result:
So how did we get to this point? I thought I would walk through the thought process and steps taken, as I feel they can be applied to any startup looking to build a howto video for their project.
Without question a strong team is the main ingredient and below is our list of folks who contributed:
Laura Miller (Voice Over)
Writer/Producer: Adam Perlis and Drew Putzel
Editor/Motion Graphics: Adam Perlis
DP: Drew Putzel
Music: Ben Kogan
Audio Engineer: Dan Pinshaw
Outline and project scope
The first step is to outline exactly what you want to video to convey. You should narrow it down to a few simple points which are probably not all the features of your site or service, but convey the most important aspects. For us, this was concentrating on strong food visuals and how Eat.ly could become a part of your daily routine. The important points to note are that length of the video and features you can cram in become very important.
I believe a good rule of thumb is to keep your video under 2-3 minutes – after that it is hard to capture peoples attention. Our goal was under 60 seconds, and we ended up over with the final being 1:10.
1. URL of your site
2. Value proposition
3. Story and integration point to a users life and behavior
4. Show don’t tell what someone has to do
Screencasts can be great, but are not necessarily the best way to show off your app. In the case where the real world plays a role, it is hard to narrate over a screen and mouse demo to truly explain the value of what you are trying to present. Plus, precious time is wasted with things like logging in, app load latency, and the “super user” problem people will encounter.
Super User problem
This is an issue that many services suffer from because the founders and power users are getting a much different experience. This is why logging into your service as a new user is critical. You and other power users are having an experience that takes time, dedication, and a lot of work to build up a profile and get things running smoothly. Always assume your users do not know about your service and do not have an account.
For this reason we decided to do a transparent overlay showing the site features but not focussed on any one point so that nobody would get overwhelmed or confused.
Having a script is a necessity. It was the guiding force behind the timing, the shots we needed, and keeping us on track. By having a video that was narrated we could calculate the timing simply by reading the script aloud and mocking up which shots would appear and when. This provided the framework necessary to actually move to production.
Things will change. Things will go wrong in shooting. You must be ready to adapt.
The point of a script is to have a framework (much like a product spec. or scope of work) but they are malleable and you should be ready to adapt. Our original script was only slightly different than the finished product, because we went over it again and again which was well worth the time.
Much like anything else you have to have someone own the project. This may sound obvious in a small group but asking everyone their opinion introduces a committee like problem and things start to slow down. In this case, I cleared the general ideas and principles by our group – then made some decisions based on our collective goal; getting a video online 🙂
The group think and committee problem is the biggest challenge throughout this type of project. Its core to what you need, but not core to what you are actually doing. It is a video, not a feature of a web app. Its easy to lose site of this during a project.
Map out how much time you think it will take, then double it. That is basically the advice I got from my friends and creativeproducersbrains behind this project Drew Putzel and Adam Perlis. You have to have a well lit, quiet, hopefully private location. Ideally you will NOT have to return and do anything over again. Not only is this agonizingly hard to do, but it can take up a lot of time and delay things tremendously.
This is probably the area I know least about and am forever indebted to Adam Perlis who did all the editing on the Eat.ly video. We tried for the right blend of affects you didn’t realize were there, with some things to make it look timely and fresh. I did not realize half of the affects that make a spot look like it is from the last decade, prior decades, and even specific years. The time, work, and energy that goes into editing should not be overlooked. I know Adam worked hard on this video, and although I do not know the hours put it, I am sure it was a lot.
Simple is always better
Sound is expensive! We learned that getting a musical background and even sound effects through commercial channels is very expensive. (Relatively speaking for a low budget side project.)
Sticking to the narrative and script helps you drop extraneous ideas and changes that you want to introduce later on. The roadmap is there for a reason – stick to it!
I personally used and am a paying customer with Vimeo. They have a great setup for embedding a video on your own site and the stats you want behind the scenes. I have used Vimeo for a number of projects and they are great.
It is a good idea to have a video explaining what you do. People may not understand your elevator pitch, or have time to grasp what you are talking about. A video allows them to come back at their leisure and dig into things when they have the time.
As I mentioned you are only as good as the people you work with, and in this case I got to work with the best. I am extremely happy with the result and I hope that sharing my experience was helpful.