This week, our task is to experiment with and analyze one of Jane Hart’s “Top Tools for Learning 2016.” Considering the tool from both a technical perspective, as well as from a leadership and organizational perspective, this post will discuss both the pros and cons of integrating Clarify into one’s digital toolbox.
What is Clarify?
Clarify is a screenshot generation and management tool. The application is designed to streamline the process of taking screenshots of your computer and compiling them into a format that can be useful for training, client presentations, customer service, or any number of other applications.
The app consists of the screenshot engine, which allows you to simply drag your cursor over a section of your screen to capture the content into an image format.
Once you have the capture, Clarify lets you add formatted text, annotations, highlighting graphics, and links. (This document was created through Clarify).
Thanks for downloading Clarify for Mac
I went to clarify-it.com to download the app. Super simple, attractive site, that was easy to navigate and quick to download.
(Interesting feature sidenote… when I screenshot the browser window, Clarify pulled the <TITLE> tag from the website’s HTML and automatically added it to the document. This is super handy!)
The application needs to be added to your applications folder, and the installer provides a simple shortcut for doing so by a drag and drop. (left)
The editing application has a very comfortable and easy to use interface, offering a consistent user experience that most computer users are used to. Right away, you’ll recognize formatting options like bold, italics, paragraph justification, and font formatting. A few of the icons were unfamiliar to me, but the app offers tooltips when you hover your mouse over an icon (very helpful!)
Leadership and Organizational Applications
A tool like Clarify can be extremely helpful in an organizational setting. The application allows you to create documents that can help you communicate policy and/or procedure. Implementing new practices in an organization can be very difficult for many reasons. Providing clear, accurate, and attractive documentation can help leaders and change managers improve adoption rates and reduce employee (or customer) frustrations! They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, a picture (screenshot) may help organizations save time and money in the development of their training, policy, or technical support documentation.
As a real world example:
A few years ago, my team was consulting a retail outlet that sold locally-made products from vendors across the state. They sold items mostly on consignment, though some were done wholesale. We recognized that the retail floor staff was bogged down with managing vendors rather than selling product and interfacing with customers. With 100+ vendors looking for payments, sales numbers, and inventory counts, things were getting out of control.
We devised a web-based vendor portal that would allow individual vendors to log in and see all of their data in (nearly) real time. The portal connected to the store’s point-of-sale terminal system and updated the data approximately every 6 hours or so. It would alert vendors about low inventory, and provided numerous customizable reports such as monthly sales, most popular products, trend maps, and so forth.
I developed an internal training document for all retail staff that included step-by-step instructions for many different functions. Given the wide range of technical expertise on the staff, the document had to be clear, concise, and VISUAL! Thus, it contained screenshots of nearly every section of the portal, with annotations, highlights, and special instructions or tips. Clarify would have been an ideal tool to use!
Similarly, I created a user guide that was distributed to all vendors along with their portal credentials. In this case, it was very important for us to brand the organization. May vendors sold products at many other locations around the state. We wanted to make sure that we were distancing ourselves from the competitors, and did so by creating a positive brand association with this cutting edge tool (that no other retailer offered). For this initiative, Clarify would not have been sufficient, as it does not have the depth of customization and control that I needed.
Do I really need/want this tool?
I’m always hesitant to download more third-party apps because I’ve found that more often than not, they do not provide a significantly better solution than either built in OS tools or tools I’m already using. For me personally, apps like Clarify take time to learn, time to build a habit around, and seem unnecessarily disruptive to my process. I believe this is a biased opinion because of my professional experience and knowledge using titles like Photoshop and other image manipulation/presentation/training tools.
In order to create, for example, a simple tutorial for a client on editing their website, I would do the following.
- Take screenshots using Mac’s build in capture utility (Cmd+Shift+4 from ANYWHERE within Mac OS).
- Drag and drop the screenshot from the finder into either a document or directly into an email
- If I need to add annotations, graphics, or anything like that, I would use Photoshop or Illustrator (for multiple page docs)
- If it’s a simple demonstration of what something looks like or which button to press, I would drop it in an email and add formatting, bullets, numbered lists, etc.
- In general, I would prefer to use screenshots embedded in an email rather than creating entirely separate documents, but I can see the benefit of the latter, especially in illustrating long or complex processes.
I am a firm believer in reducing digital bloat by way of fewer apps, generating fewer unnecessary documents, and taking fewer steps in my processes. In the example above, I would rather not complicate things for myself or my client by creating another document that we both have to save. I can accomplish almost anything I can do in Word (for example) in my email client. Now, that information is stored in the cloud, accessible via multiple email clients, and perhaps more collaborative. We don’t conflate the issue with software compatibility questions, firewall attachment restrictions, filesize limitations, or untrustworthy formatting.
However, as I mention above, email may not be suitable for creating long or complex documents from your screenshots. If this is the case, and the client/customer need warrants the creation of a new document, I would want to have a lot of control and flexibility over customizing the document.
Challenges in Using the Software
- Clarify documents are saved with a *.clarify file extension, making them unusable from any other application.
- You can export a Clarify file to a doc/x format, but that basically makes a Word doc that you could have just created to start with. The doc/x export provides 3 out of the box formatting options. When using those, the document includes some “styling” to headers, colors, and fonts. (Example 1 below)
- The PDF export option does the same, but offers 4 formatting options. (Example 2). For me, this is moderately useful. Clarify allows for some customization through the onboard PDF template generator. You can add a logo and specify fonts, colors, page sizes, margins, etc.
- You can apparently build your own custom HTML templates! This process is terribly complicated. In my opinion, if you can follow these steps, you could probably build your own HTML pages from scratch, again using existing tools.
- Yes, in a large organization, an IT specialist or instructional designer could setup these templates for less tech-savvy content creators for publishing on an intranet, for example.
- To make the most use of an HTML output, you’d want to post it to a web server, which you cannot do natively from within the app. Thus, you have to have a separate FTP client and available web server.
- Preferences: Clarify offers some customizations for things like user interface and export options.
- Exporting options are tied to some popular services like Dropbox and WordPress and Evernote
- Sharing to the above services requires several steps of setup and authorization.
- Publishing to Evernote seems redundant.
- Sharing the .clarify file on Dropbox means that your collaborators need the Clarify app as well.
- WordPress sharing options are limited and seem to be complicated by many technical issues associated with publishing to the web (image uploads, permissions, updating, WordPress cache and image management).
In conclusion, I will not be adopting this tool into my regular workflow. For some individuals and organizations, Clarify may provide a quick and easy way to share annotated screenshots. However, I would caution leaders against trying to force the adoption of this system. As illustrated above, the features of this program are well covered by other existing programs and utilities. The benefits found in Clarify’s convenient packaging, in my opinion, are not sufficient for the effort that might be required to spread adoption.
Author, Didier Bonnet, in a 2015 article at Harvard Business Review, was quoted as stating that poor communication about the (comparative) benefits of a new tool is key to ensuring adoption in organizations: “Employees need to understand why [the new technology] is an improvement from what they had before” (Knight, 2015). In the case of Clarify, I’m not entirely convinced that the solution is better than what I had before. I would be hard pressed to champion the adoption of this tool in my organization. It’s also not the type of tool that would necessitate organization-wide adoption.
As a piece of software, it’s a fine application. Easy to use, fast, and very niche in purpose. It does what it sets out to do. That problem Clarify solves, however, may not need to be tackled with yet another app on your hard drive.
Knight, R. (2015, March 19). Convincing skeptical employees to adopt new technology. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/03/convincing-skeptical-employees-to-adopt-new-technology