Creating great software designs is a tricky process. To do it well, you need to keep a whole lot of different people happy: the stakeholder, the end-user, perhaps a steering committee and almost certainly your own project team. We need to involve each group at various points along the way, checking our design ideas against their needs, expectations and preferences.
Sure, we can do this by sending around written descriptions, or by putting together sets of screen-shots. Neither of these methods really gives much of an impression of how a design feels to use and so this is where an interactive model or prototype really earns its keep. We can get great feedback in a very short space of time and use that to shape and refine our design before costly development phases begin.
In an ideal world, we’d be able to get everyone around the computer and conduct a real hands-on feedback session. However, in this age of distributed working it’s not always possible or even desirable to get everyone together.
This is why tools like the excellent iShowU HD Pro application can help. In a nutshell, iShowU HD Pro is a sophisticated screen capture tool which runs on Mac OSX. It offers a very slick and high performance way to record ‘guided demos’ of pretty much whatever you want, provided it’s running on your machine.
Whilst iShowU HD Pro isn’t the only software to do this sort of thing, it’s certainly one of the most effective and powerful. One of the neatest things it offers is great flexibility in how it handles larger screen resolutions; it’s possible to set it to either scale from a fixed point, or pan with the mouse pointer, and various other different behaviours. Although at first this seems unnecessary, it means that it is quite easy to tailor the capture presentation to suit the requirements or limitations of its destination. So, if you want to capture something at a lower resolution up to YouTube, then it’s easy – there’s even a number of pre-defined settings and resolutions to help.
Other great features include easy audio and even video capture (using the in-built iSight camera if you have one), so that you can include a ‘mini you’ in a corner, which can add a bit of personality to proceedings. I found it best to reduce the size of the video overlay so that it didn’t interfere with the actual presentation too much, but since you can also change its position and even opacity you should be able to find a position to suit.
Nice touches, such as fine control over the format, frame-rate and size of the output, means that the generated files needn’t be huge, and therefore will stream well over the web. I’d recommend anyone interested head on over to the iShowU HD video page to find out more, as they do a far better job in describing how this all works than I could.
Of course, this is all very well and good, but the purpose of this review is also to show where this can fit in with a remote workflow, especially where communicating designs is concerned. Well, in itself it is simply a very handy and powerful way of recording what you are doing, but in combination with a cloud-based shared disk solution, such as that offered by DropBox, it can form part of a very powerful and surprisingly interactive way of communicating ideas and designs back and forth with a remote client. In combination with a fast and quick-to-use wire-framing tool like Balsamiq and its superb presentation mode, it’s possible to create the next best thing to a guided demonstration, which can of course be watched again and again (apologies for the somewhat lacklustre demo