Better Communication: Annotating your screenshots

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We spend a lot of time talking about communication. And I mean, A LOT.

Here's why: Not a single person on our team works together, physically, in the same office.

We have a virtual office. When you combine HipChat and Basecamp, throw in some Google Hangouts, sprinkle some Skype, and tie it all together with text messages, emails, and telephones, what do you get? Our virtual office.

This is part one of a series of posts on how we communicate better everyday. We spend a lot of time looking back, deciding what's working and what isn't. Everyone chimes in. It's so crazy we even talk about how to use HipChat. It's all for a good cause though: the quest for better communication.

Communicating around a project is hard. Like I mentioned above, we're a remote team. Our clients are remote as well. We're hardly ever in the same office with them. Over the course of a few years, we've realized this:

Words alone usually suck

We use words a lot. However, oftentimes we're talking about something we're building. We're talking about a particular user experience or front-end, what the client is ultimately paying us for.

They don't care much about the backend. They trust our judgement - that's what they've hired us for. However, they do care about what they see, feel, and touch. Seeing tangible things makes them happy. It makes us happy too.

This is how we make it work. And, this is what you should be doing if your clients can't see you every day. 37signals mentions this in their latest book, Remote: Office Not Required.

Show them work often. This is the best way to chip away at a client's natural situational anxiety. Look, they're paying you big bucks for your work, and it's totally natural for them to begin feeling anxious the moment they send you the deposit. Show them what they're paying for. When they see the results of your efforts, they'll feel a lot better about the relationship.

Here's what we're trying to do about it

In an effort to get better at showing our work, we've started to annotate screenshots. Here's an example.


Take a screenshot. If you're using a tool with the capability, you can annotate, highlight certain parts of the shot, and point to things you're seeing. This gives you a reference point for things you want to discuss.

Nothing is more frustrating than having a conversation about something you can't see. Sometimes, it works, but most of the time you need a visual aid. Remember Speech 101?

Don't worry about being perfect. You aren't sharing your screenshot with millions of people. It just needs to be good enough. Does it help you solve the problem you're pointing out? If it does, you're doing a good job.

When you need something more than a screenshot, screen recordings give you added benefit. If you're using OS X, you can easily use Quicktime to start a screen recording (they're using screenshots with annotations, too!). You can even use your voice to annotate what you're seeing along the way.

We've found screenshots with annotations to be a successful experiment. I hope you try it out if you haven't already.

Looking for the tools to download so you can get started annotating your screenshots, here you go: