Thursday, August 05, 2010

The bandwidth discussion continued

Yesterday's blog about bandwidth and information attracted some very insightful comments and got me to thinking more about the issue of "Do videos take advantage of their bandwidth?" In other words, are they proportionally better given how much more information they convey?

The ensuing discussion brought a couple of things to mind. I remember from one of my technical communication courses that line drawings are often preferred in a manual (over photographs) because photos have too much detail. Drawings help focus the reader on the detail you want to draw attention to. I find the same principle with low fidelity wire frames over screen prototypes. I think the same can be said sometimes of video--is the fidelity a value-add or a distraction?

Another interesting paradox I noticed is that we tend to assume that videos are good for the neophyte. And Ken Hilburn makes an interesting point about how we instinctively filter out the unnecessary detail of a video. But that is more true for the experienced user than the neophyte. For example, I once tried to teach my mother-in-law how to use Yahoo email. She had a hard time getting through the browser because she thought everything was important. I was constantly saying things like "that's a banner ad, ignore it," or "that's the disclaimer text." We forget how media literate experienced users are, and how adept their filters are.

Where all of this has led me is not to dismiss video, but to approach it with a designer's eye much the way Tufte would have us look at a chart, namely, is each byte of information worth the bandwidth. Another way phrasing the question is "Am I taking advantage of the bandwidth?"

Let's revisit the example of the dobro video. If the purpose were to instruct, then maybe a good design would be to have a synchronized split screen of closeups on the picking hand and the slide hand. That way the bandwidth would be more fully invested in the information of value.

(BTW, please don't take this as being critical of those generous musicians who share on YouTube--I am so grateful for what they do for absolutely free.)

So if you are thinking of doing video, ask what is the information of interest and plan the video to put its bandwidth on that information. Eliminate spurious mouse movements, focus on fields of interest, shade out non-relevant areas of the UI, etc. When we do traditional video, we point and focus the camera. Same mindset for screen captures--don't just sit the "camera" on a tripod and shoot the whole landscape.

Wow, makes me want to wear my director's beret. Hoping for cooler weather soon.


Michael Hughes said...

As long as I'm laying out the pattern for making truly effective dobro training videos, and since the dobro is played flat, put the camera above the dobro and shoot down, so the viewer sees the player's hands oriented as his own would be.

Ken Hilburn said...

Tufte's fundamental principle about chart junk is that you should remove every pixel that doesn't help tell the story. I believe this works for instructional videos as well. As Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry said: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Great conversation, Mike!