Two Useful Visual Communication Tools

August 9, 2008

I’m always happy to find tools that aren’t just cool, but actually improve my productivity or ability to communicate more effectively. Here are two tools I discovered just this week.


From the folks that brought you Camtasia and Snagit comes Jing– a very nifty screen capture application that has me salivating. Techsmith describes it as “an always ready program that instantly captures and shares images and video..from your computer to anywhere.”  Videos or images taken of your desktop can be uploaded to screencast.comand linked to from your blog or wherever. You can also save files locally or send it out immediately via email or instant messenger. Sweet.

In terms of It’s raw functionality, Jing is a bit like a scaled down version of SnagIt and Camtasia. But the value-add here is how it improves your workflow. As the FAQ puts it, Jing is designed to be “fast visual communication shared with others in a variety of locations.” So while I wouldn’t use it for for a technical writing or software training project, it is an awesome way to quickly take a picture or video that I want to share with a colleague, the IT help desk, or my Aunt Virginia. You can also annotate the images with text, highlighting, arrows, and other nifty things. All in a manner of seconds. Extra sweet. That’s just the kind of scrappy, seamless workflow I want.

I often question the “ease of use”  and speed that software companies brag about in marketing spin. So I’m gonna test out how easy it is to quickly add a insert on this page a screen capture of my current desktop, along with a simple annotation. OK…here I go….

Yup. That was pretty easy! I was able to snap a picture of a custom region, annotate it, upload it, and paste the embed URL (which was saved automatically to the clipboard) — all in about 2 minutes. Nice.

PowerPoint’s Slide Show Pointer Tool – Great for Storyboard Sketches

When I’m doing instructional design, I storyboard a lot in PPT. Usually I’ll mockup a screen layout and make some attempt at describing an image that I want an artist to create for me. Wouldn’t it be easier if I could just draw a crude stick person, instead of searching for lame clip art? Yes it would! Well, now I know how to do that right in PPT. I don’t even need to switch to another application. Here’s how:

  1. Switch to Slide Show mode.
  2. Go to the slide you want to design.
  3. Right click.
  4. Point to Pointer Options.
  5. Select a style (I like Felt Tip Pen).
  6. Use your mouse and cursor to sketch your image.

Now exit out of slide show mode.

You will be asked if you want to save the ink annotations. You do.

Voila! The slide now has a nice, simple sketch that you can use to communicate your idea with your artist, programmer, or whomever. Below is a sketch I did in just a few seconds. A big benefit of this approach is that I don’t have to switch to another application. I also don’t have to save the image to a folder somewhere and then insert it. It is saved automatically right in PPT. That’s a big time saver. In the example below, I want to convey to the media guy that I want an image indicating that a badly written report is not useful to the audience and ends up as total waste. For our team, a simple picture tells a story easier than describing it in text.

Another benefit is that a sketch like this could be used in a rapid prototype to share with a client. They’ll get the idea better than they would with just text-based storyboard, and you potentially save cash by not wasting expensive graphics time in case they don’t like the storyboard.