Video: Great Medium, Wrong Application.

Users often want to use videos for instructions. It makes sense. Video seems like it would be a fantastic medium for instructional design. Videos are highly visual and they allow an expert to explain all the aspects and nuances of an instruction in real-time.

Perfect, right?

Not so fast!

Despite the many great qualities of videos, and the fact that they can be a great teaching tool if used correctly, they’re actually not always the best way to incorporate visuals into your digital instructions. To learn a bit more, I talked to SwipeGuide co-founder and resident instructional design wizard, Daan Assen.

Let’s Ask Daan.

Hey Daan, thanks for doing this. Can you tell me a bit about yourself and why SwipeGuide is such a great tool for learners?

Of course! I’m one of the co-founders of SwipeGuide, so I’ve been using my background in knowledge-management from the very beginning. It’s simply a great tool for putting knowledge in users’ pockets. Our guides are based on minimalist design principles, backed by research on how to make instruction more effective for everyone. We’ve embraced these evidence-based principles and made them one of the core aspects of our design.

Very cool. Every time I use SwipeGuide, I notice an emphasis on great visuals. Why is that?

Visuals are really, really important. People live in a visual context, and we have to remember that when we make user guides. Images are processed by our brains so much faster, like sixty thousand times faster, than text. It’s simply the most efficient way to deliver important ideas.

Also, images have much less ambiguity than text. An image makes it clear what a situation entails, and what needs to be done. And when we combine the efficiency and clarity of visuals with simple text, it’s a very powerful way to communicate.

Well, video is such a rich visual medium, and can deliver a lot of information. Doesn’t this mean that it would be great to use in a digital user guide?

You might think that, but it’s actually not the case. In general, video is great. It’s an effective medium for visually explaining concepts in depth. But at SwipeGuide, we’re much more focused on procedural knowledge; how-to and step-by-step information for users. To that end, video has limitations.

The main problem with video is that it dictates the pace of learning for the user. Imagine that you have to explain a twelve-step procedure. In a video, once a viewer is at step five, they will probably not remember step one. With procedural knowledge, the user can decide the pace of their own learning and move through steps in a way that allows them to learn best. In a properly designed SwipeGuide, users can easily swipe through steps at their own pace while performing the task in parallel.

Therefore, it’s much more effective to use clear, still images or animated gifs because they make a much smaller impact on the pace of learning.

Try it Out!

Take a Swipe through a simple, effective digital user guide below.

That makes a lot of sense. I can imagine that video could present other problems for users as well.

Absolutely. User guides should focus on simplicity and user-friendliness, and video can be quite a difficult format to work with. Translating or captioning videos in different languages can be expensive and time consuming. You also have to consider the time it takes to create and edit a professional-quality video, not to mention the increased bandwidth needed to support such rich media.

Could you elaborate on what makes gifs so effective in user guides?

Sure! Gifs are great to use in situations where one image isn’t enough, like when you need to demonstrate a very specific movement. For example, turning a lever or nozzle in a very particular way. In this case, a short animated gif is very effective at capturing this motion without affecting the pace of the learner. A video, even if it’s ten seconds long, creates an uncomfortable amount of waiting time in a user guide.

Awesome. One more thing, is there an easy way to incorporate images and gifs into the SwipeGuide CMS? Do you have any tips or best practices?

It’s actually very easy to do. SwipeGuide’s user interface is drag and drop, so images and gifs can simply be dragged and dropped into the guide. We actually have some great tips on our blog about creating effective images that can really enhance the SwipeGuide experience.

Sounds great. Thanks for your time Daan!


  • User guides should be simple.
  • Your instructions should use a combination of simple visuals and simple text.
  • Procedural instructions must allow users to learn at their own pace.
  • Video does not allow users to learn  at their own pace.
  • Instead of video, use simple images and gifs paired with text.

The takeaway is simple. Stay away from using videos in your user guides. Instead, use clear images and simple animated gifs to communicate effectively and to let users learn at their own pace.

About Daan Assen.

Daan is an entrepreneur who believes design can have an incredible impact on the way we learn. He’s used his expertise in instructional design to implement e-learning strategies in several multinationals over the years. He focuses on bringing research-proven minimalist design principles to facilitate digital transformation for enterprise solutions.