Okay, let’s get something straight. Product tours are very rarely sexy. They are very rarely rad. But they’re important. When done well, they’re the quickest way to get the low-down on the features about the goodies you want to get your mitts on. Once potential customers cross the threshold of generalized doubt or indifference toward a product offering, product tours can reel them in with juicy details that appeal to their geekier side.
It’s with a little tredpidation that I share with you three exemplary product tours from Elastic Creative. Why trepidation? Well, the tours are for Adobe’s new CS3 suites, and since Adobe is a Motionographer sponsor, perhaps you’re questioning my impartiality. Fair enough. But I assure you, no one from Adobe has encouraged me to post anything about their new product line whatsoever. Cross my heart and hope to die.
What I like about Elastic Creative’s approach to these tours is the way in which they abstracted certain parts of the UI and juxtaposed them with the various media elements. Instead of trying to throw entire screengrabs at us or doing some kind of disorienting zoom in/zoom out dance, they isolated the relevant parts of the UI and showed us (in a kind of imaginary real-time) how those parts relate to media creation.
For about a year, I did a few product tour-type animations for a Flash-based animation and interactivity studio in Austin. They’re not easy. You have to walk a fine line between simplifying the experience of new software and still presenting an experience with enough sophistication to merit interest and, ultimately, a purchase. I think Elastic did a pretty damn good job at that.
Using a different approach entirely, Apple’s iPhone animations attempt to present the viewer with a more holistic experience of the product. Their animations are modeled on the discovery process that one usually undergoes when fiddling with a new gadget for the first time. The ghostly cursor implies a first-person perspective, and the step-by-step walkthroughs function as much as a manual as they do marketing.
This, of course, is all perfectly on target for the iPhone’s tech-savvy audience. Apple wants you to feel like you already own the phone, like it’s here, in the palm of your hand. Their product tours are, in this sense, virtualized test-drives. They are bites of the whole enchilada, so to speak.
Both the CS3 and the iPhone approaches are effective. It’s all a matter of audience and purpose. I’d love to see more examples of product tour animations, if you guys know of any.