Supporting the Support

Whenever I start to think that my portfolio isn’t meaty enough, or that I’m not publishing often enough, I try to gently remind myself that the vast majority of my projects (both at work and for freelance clients) is for internal/personal use only. Weeks of my life every year are spent on software tutorials and home video compilations. I try to remind myself that I complete these projects with pride and that each of them meet their specific goal, even if that goal is meant for an extremely narrow audience.

When we release a new product (or make changes to an existing product) at work, a large task for me is working with service and support to provide comprehensive documentation. Sometimes a technical drawing with call outs is sufficient in a document, sometimes I shoot step-by-step photos, sometimes I even shoot real-time videos as reference for our field team.

For our newest product, the product team was clear that they wanted to join the 21st century and provide support videos for simple tasks that customers/users could complete themselves. This allowed me to create a new video standard somewhere in between the high caliber needed for product videos and the (relatively) low production effort put into internal-only videos. I was lucky enough to work with a patient product team that trusted my expertise while sticking to what they believed was best for their customers (such using subtitles only, which I fought tooth and nail).

In the Fall of 2014 (after months maybe even a year of pre-production), a product manager and I spent one full week filming the most necessary videos. By the end we were both lying on the floor of the conference room (my make-shift studio space) laughing with delirium and unable to remember what our notes meant and what we still had to do. She and I still use that as the standard to gauge how stressful a project is. And I now limit all video shoots to one week, period. If the shoot requires more time, we take one week off. Period.

As the videos were started before market release of the product, some parts and procedures changed, and we’ve been re-filming and re-editing as recent as last month. The video I have linked in this post is one I’m particularly proud of, because of how long it took to get all the details right. Making sure the dye in the bottles was dark enough to be seen in the lines, but not so dark as the viewer couldn’t tell what color it was supposed to be…unscrewing the line fittings without blocking the view or making a mistake…and accidentally using up all of the dark blue gloves so that we had to switch to light blue in later videos. (I now buy my gloves in bulk, put my name on the box, and lock them in a storage room. Continuity is serious business.)

What I love most about support videos is the learning opportunity they provide. When I attend conferences / symposia, I can hold my own talking with curious prospective customers about any product that I’ve done support videos for. And at it’s most basic point, that’s why I chose this profession; I wanted the opportunity to gain knowledge and access to things that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. So even when I produce for a closed audience, I’m still growing.