By Dan Steiner published October 16, 2015

Want to Explain How-To? Do It Visually With These Free Tools

visually-free-tools-cover

When you want to teach your audience how to do something, visualization is one of the easiest and most effective ways to build awesome media. While we’ve talked about more obvious ways to visualize an instruction such as a SlideShare presentation or a video, here are a few newer, more creative ways to visualize your how-to instruction.

Instructographics: Best of two worlds

An instructographic is the type of an informational graphic that presents step-by-step instructions and is particularly popular on Pinterest.  Infographics are very popular on Pinterest. These visuals are chained images that walk you through the steps of how to do something. There are two versions:

  • Image only: Use descriptive images in each panel to clearly show what to do without further instruction.
  • Images paired with detailed or simple instructions: Explain each step as the viewer moves down the linked images.

Your format choice shouldn’t be a matter of preference, but of need. If you can genuinely show how to do something with images only, do it. If you think confusion is possible or the images can’t show everything, provide context.

When you pair images with text, make the text concise. (Remember, many people see your graphic as a thumbnail: Make it clear and minimal.)

Instructographics are great for SaaS (software as a service), e-commerce, and retail, among other sectors. Here are a couple examples:

  • Frozen whipped cream: Walgreens put together a timely and effective holiday instructographic and curated it on its Pinterest board. Using only images, the graphic shows viewers how to turn the whipped cream from the can into a frozen topping for hot chocolate. Notice how the first panel shows everything needed to create the project.

walgreens-reddiwhip-instructographic

  • DIY snow globes: Although the connection may not be obvious, eCollegeFinder.org sponsored an instructographic about how to create snow globes in a jar. I share this as a great example of a visual tutorial that incorporates succinct text below images to explain what’s needed and how to create the DIY jar snow globe.

Online Colleges

The free version of Canva is absolutely enough to create awesome instructographics.

Besides using Canva to put together instructographics, here are a few other resources to help:

  • Icon Finder – icons available to visualize words more effectively (Make sure you use the “free” filter when searching.)

icon-finder

Click to enlarge

Create an interactive flow

WhatFix is a newer option that has made visual instruction highly interactive. It’s an awesome solution for a digital walk through the site or for explaining how your product works. WhatFix flows are usually short, leading a customer further down the conversion funnel.

To create a flow, you’ll need a FireFox plug-in or a Google Chrome extension. When that is installed, it’s easy. For sample flows, proceed to this page and try playing any of them.

whatfix-sample-flow

Click to enlarge

You can embed the WhatFix widget on your site or have users view it as a YouTube video.

Here’s an example of a WhatFix flow explaining how to verify your phone settings on Facebook:

whatfix-flow-facebook

Click to enlarge

If you install the browser extension, click “Live” to see the instruction playing on the page explained in the flow chart. Here’s the same Facebook mobile-settings flow but in “Live” mode:

whatfix-flow-facebook-live

Click to enlarge

You are likely to find the free version sufficient. The pro accounts allow you to host your flows locally, remove branding, etc.

Harness the power of animated GIFs

Surprisingly, animated GIFs have not been used nearly as much as you would think for instructing others on how to do things. People aren’t taking advantage of it. Your efforts are going to stand out. What could be better than that?

Here’s a quick GIF showing how to use the search feature on the Content Marketing Institute site:

visual-instruction

Click to enlarge

To make your own animated GIFs for tutorials, try these tools:

  • GIF Brewery — Usually used as a video preview generator, this tool enables you to make mini animated GIFs from video clips. Only available for Mac OSX … sorry Windows and Linux users.
  • Recordit – Make GIFs using rapid-take screenshots. Crop your desktop to match the segment you want watched then record, enhance, and you’re done. Perfect for screencasts.
  • EZGIF – Select images, string them together, save your GIF. It is that simple. The site also has a video-to-GIF tool, resizer, and various editing tools.
  • Gyazo – The screen-capture and screencast tool supports both animated GIFs and videos with a free download.
  • Cockos LICEcap – The open-source application captures a segment of your desktop and creates an animated GIF. Great for doing digital, software, and other tutorials.

Each tool has a different strength but it comes down to using what you find more convenient. You can create GIFs from videos or images, or start from scratch. From there, you can share them on social media or other sites. They also are great for including in blog posts as a visual break in the text.

Note: Twitter now allows animated GIFs to play in a post (as do Pinterest and Google Plus). This should give you an idea of what GIFs can do for your site.

Bottom line

There are lots of various ways to create a visual instruction. First Site Guide identifies some of the other major formats:

visual-instruction-more

Click to enlarge

There’s no reason to focus solely on one type of visual content to instruct your audience. For example, an instructographic can be repackaged into a presentation (each step as a separate slide) and uploaded to SlideShare. The presentation can be repackaged into a PDF-format guide (a mini e-book).

This repackaging path can be as long as you want it to be: The more tools you have, the more opportunities you have to market and remarket your visual how-to content.

Do you have any tips for visual how-to tutorials? Leave them in the comments.

Looking for more ways to maximize the impact of your content by adding great visuals? Try one of these 27+ Handy Tools for Better Visual Content Marketing.

Cover image by Mconnors, MorgueFile, via pixabay.com

Author: Dan Steiner

Dan Steiner is a technology entrepreneur, author, and marketing consultant. He currently serves as CEO of security firm Online Virus Repair Inc., while also running Avila Web Firm, a web design and Internet marketing agency based out of San Luis Obispo, California. Additionally, he is an active mentor and volunteer at startup events throughout the region. Follow him on Twitter  and LinkedIn.

Other posts by Dan Steiner

  • http://thebrokerlist.com/ theBrokerList

    Excellent article and so glad to learn about all of these options. As a website we are always looking for the most effective ways to educate and assist our members! Thanks for this detailed post!

    • Dan Steiner

      Glad it helped you! Thanks for reading.

  • http://www.bigskywords.com/ Greg Strandberg

    Good ideas, but I feel they’re better for small businesses or content teams than individuals. I say this because…gosh, that looks hard.

    I’m not the design-type, more the writing type, so this doesn’t look easy. Now if I had someone on my team that was good with this, then I’d let them do it. I bet we could get an awesome post out each week, and I know it’d do good on social media (especially Pinterest) long after.

    Boy, I need a team.

    • http://howtowriteeverything.com/ Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Hi, Greg. I hear you. Working solo can make certain projects seem out of reach. Like you, I’ve had my own writing business for years. I had never produced an infographic until a few months ago when a visual idea came to me (a flowchart showing How to Write a Sentence). I engaged a designer and produced an infographic. It has brought a lot of attention to my website. Well worth the experiment. And it was a blast. If you have an idea for a visual piece, you might find it worth hiring a freelance graphic designer just for that project.

      • Dan Steiner

        Infographics are a different experience, aren’t they? It’s not quite as simple as hashing out a killer article these days! :)

    • Dan Steiner

      There are a lot of resources online for quick graphic help these days. Maybe try one of the talent pools like Fiverr or Upwork? It’s a great resource to have available to you, and it will beef up your content big time!

  • Arundhathi

    Very good article with most advanced resources and tools. I have learnt and have drawn the benefit of being a visitor @ your most prestigious, reputed and professional site.

    Thank you,

  • Arundhathi

    Very good article with most advanced resources and tools. I have learnt and have drawn the benefit of being a visitor @ your most prestigious, reputed and professional site.

    Thank you,

    • Dan Steiner

      Glad you liked it!

  • http://SalaryNet30.com Laura Corman

    This is something very interesting that is worth paying your extreme attention ,a very good chance to work for those people who want to use their free time so that they can make some extra money using their computers… I have been working on this for last two and half years and I am earning 60-90 dollar/ hour … In the past week I have earned 13,70 dollars for almost 20 hours sitting ….

    Any special qualification, degree or skills is not necessary for this, just keyboard typing and a good working and reliable internet connection ….

    Not any Time limitations to start work … You may do this work at any time when you willing to do it ….

    Just know how I have been doing this…..….see this (webiste-Iink) on my !profile!` to know how I am working` on this`

    dfkgvrt^%&^*^&

  • http://ReportMom.com barbara galvan

    This is something very interesting that is worth paying your extreme attention ,a very good chance to work for those people who want to use their free time so that they can make some extra money using their computers… I have been working on this for last two and half years and I am earning 60-90 dollar/ hour … In the past week I have earned 13,70 dollars for almost 20 hours sitting ….

    Any special qualification, degree or skills is not necessary for this, just keyboard typing and a good working and reliable internet connection ….

    Not any Time limitations to start work … You may do this work at any time when you willing to do it ….

    Just know how I have been doing this…..….see this (webiste-Iink) on my !profile!` to know how I am working` on this`

    9vv

  • http://www.wpbeijing.com/ Activ Hub- China Digital Intel

    Nice, thanks for this. In what Moz states is 90% reaction, I just read the headline and scrolled / scanned the rest. But will store this for when I have time to work though it, practically work through it I mean. I tend to side with +Greg Strandberg, even though we have a 16 person team, the luxury of time is a problem.