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Simple Steps For Great Screen Captures

Capturing screen shots of software products, web sites and other on-screen items to be included in your media productions, is a common enough task and may initially seem to be fairly straightforward. However, without some fairly simple preparation, the final results can look lackluster or just plain bad. I’ve read articles which focus solely on the software to use, but while selecting the right tool is a necessary prerequisite, it takes a bit more than that to get great screen captures.

Here are some tips for getting great screen captures for use in any kind of media production. Electronic forms of production (e.g. web and PPT) are a bit more tolerant of weaknesses in the process than print, but by aiming for a print standard of quality in the original screen capture, the resultant images will be great for just about any usage.

Contrary to popular belief, graphic images do not have a meaningful dpi (or ppi) measure. They have width, height and depth (color) yielding a pixel count with each pixel representing a unique color in a color model. The number of bits per pixel (bpi) is also referred to as color depth – more bits equals more available colors.

Some file formats include dpi information, along with other metadata, stored inside the file. This metadata however, merely provides guidance to software applications about the intended use of the image; it means very little in practice and can be changed very easily, with no actual change to the quality or size of the image.

It is important to note that dpi and ppi are not interchangeable measures (and they are frequently misused); generally speaking a pixel is comprised of several dots; on a conventional display for example, a pixel is made up of a red, a green and a blue dot. It is more common to speak of the “pixel” resolution of a screen, and it is more common to speak of the “dot” resolution of a printer. There is great variability between printer types and manufacturers and of course professional printing equipment.  dpi and ppi become relevant only when the image is displayed or printed as it is the resolution of the display device or printer which determines how large an image of fixed dimensions will appear. Despite the fact that dpi and ppi are not strictly interchangeable, you can use an approximate rule of thumb, as a 300×300 pixel image on a 150dpi printer will print as an approximate 2” square, on a 300dpi printer as an approximate 1” square, on a 96dpi monitor as an approximate 3” square. Common screen size today is 1280×1024 pixels called SXGA or 1.3 Megapixels. So a full sized screen capture at that resolution sent to a 300dpi printer will usually produce an image of approximately 4.3” x 3.4”. Bottom line: the more pixels you can capture at the very start of the process – the greater likelihood of getting good quality in the final production. Read more …

Hot Dating Tips for Marketers

Why aren’t more marketers using ISO 8601, the international standard for date and time formats?

Everyone with a marketing role has a need to eliminate ambiguity from their communication, and this is such a simple thing to fix that I am always surprised to see highly localized and ambiguous formats for dates used in materials being designed for international and multi-cultural audiences.

For example, 01/03/09 represents a date. However, 01/03/09 is ambiguous. Which of the following legitimate interpretations does it mean?

  • 9th of March 2001
  • 3rd of September 2001
  • 1st of March 2009

Fixing the year, by making it 4 digits long helps a bit, but is still ambiguous:

  • 01/03/2009 (January or March?)

You may try to improve the situation by spelling out the date as in the three examples above, but they are also local formats that won’t mean much in non-English speaking countries.

What’s more if you want to use dates like this elsewhere, in filenames on a computer  for example – the computer will be unable to return any meaningful sorting for those files based on the filename, as either the day of month or the month will be the main sort key.

ISO 8601 prescribes a simple date format: 2009-03-01 with the year first, which can be easily and unambiguously understood around the world.

A huge added advantage of this format is when collating or sorting materials – computers interpret that date properly, even when it isn’t recognized as a date.

For example, the following filenames which include ISO dates will sort properly just about anywhere:

  • Marketing Plan 2008-02-02 – final.doc
  • Marketing Plan 2009-01-20 – draft.doc
  • Marketing Plan 2009-01-24 – draft.doc
  • Marketing Plan 2009-02-05 – final.doc

Not one of the other popular formats would produce a useful ordering from such a sort.

It is probably one of the easiest things you can do to remove ambiguity in your communication around the world.

Further reading:

Wikipedia has a very approachable entry for ISO8601, and you can find out more about the benefits of using ISO8601 on the web at the W3C.

10 tips to improve your presentations

A presentation is essentially about getting some important ideas out of your head and into the heads of your audience. Sadly, that simple fact is missed by the vast majority of presentations that I see. Sitting through an uninspired presentation with no flow, unintelligible main points, too many slides, too few slides, overcrowded slides, slides full of bullets in tiny fonts, and no consideration for the audience can be mind-numbingly painful. Sitting through a conference of such presentations is excruciating.

There is a better way, and it doesn’t start with laying the blame on PowerPoint. However, my number 1 tip is:

1 – Never, ever, EVER start with PowerPoint

Using PowerPoint does not make you a bad person, but using it improperly can make you a very bad presenter. If the first thing you do when you have to start developing a new presentation is open up PowerPoint, then you are setting yourself up for failure. PowerPoint can be a great tool to assist you in delivering your presentation effectively, but it is not an effective tool to help you start the layout and design of your presentation. Use PowerPoint to help illustrate your presentation, but do the planning and construction elsewhere.

2 – Define your objectives

Define YOUR objectives for the presentation. Why are you doing this? Your audience members will only be able to take away 2 to 3 key ideas from your presentation, so you had better make sure that YOU know what they are from the outset. If your presentation is one of many in a busy conference schedule, the likelihood that your audience will remember more than those 2 or 3 ideas is diminished further.

Consider your audience’s objective for attending your presentation. Assuming you know what you want to say, do you know what your audience wants or expects to hear? If you cannot align these two objectives then you have a problem, or perhaps an opportunity. If your goals are different from those of your audience, then one of your key objectives has to be to convince your audience that what you want to say is more relevant and more important to them than what they expected to hear. That becomes your key idea #1, and you will need to make that point convincingly or you will have a dissatisfied audience.

Read more …

Fight the Bull

Whatever your project, writing copy is hard work. Writing great copy is even harder work. While it will not help you to be more creative with your message, a handy tool called Bullfighter might help you clean up your prose.

Bullfighter works with Microsoft Word and PowerPoint and can scan your documents for occurrences of clichés and jargon – basically the kind of stuff that tends to creep in to copy while you weren’t really looking. Bullfighter makes a useful companion to the usual spell and grammar checks, and like them should be used with caution.

First time users of bullfighter can get a shock, as what may have been previously considered pretty good copy is ripped to shreds. It can however, really help you to identify certain types of undesirable writing habits, and learn to eliminate them.

Bullfighter is free software. It hasn’t been updated for quite a while now, but it does what it does quite well and is definitely worth a download.

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